Fundamentally, equality must work both ways

Fundamentally, equality must work both ways Daniel and Amy McArthur of Ashers Bakery in Belfast

This week I thought I’d concentrate on my three favourite weekend religious shows.

Last Friday night it was a relaxing  Leap of Faith  (RTÉ Radio 1), when presenter Michael Comyn covered ‘Aifreann’, a new Irish language Mass setting with music composed by Kevin O’Connell and premiered in the Pro Cathedral last Sunday. This was a timely commission by seven families mostly connected to UCD.

From one of these families Linda O’Shea-Farren spoke of how excited, “almost giddy”, they were in anticipation of the first performance. Those commissioning thought it was time to advance from the familiar O’Riada Mass, but wanted something accessible, something that could be sung by school and parish choirs. For the premier they were thrilled to have the Palestrina Choir under the direction of Blanaid Murphy – a “magnificent choir” of “high calibre”.

O’Connell explained that this was his second Mass composition, having previously done one in Latin. He regarded the commission as a privilege, but also a big responsibility – this wasn’t just a concert performance but had to fit right in with an actual liturgy. He thought music could be an “intensification of prayer” rather than a distraction and this is what he had tried to achieve.  We could also sense the enthusiasm in choir director Blanaid Murphy and we heard from two very articulate and enthusiastic young singers from the choir.

Last Sunday morning’s Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) featured a thorough debate on the often neglected issue of prison reform. Presenter Róisín McCauley wondered about getting the right balance between retribution, rehabilitation and protection of the public, and in the debate that followed it was the rehabilitation angle that got most of the attention.

This is certainly the most humane angle, though the debate might have been more rounded if the voices of crime victims had been included.

Author and criminologist Phil Scraton wanted to see a suite of alternatives to prison, suggesting that prison should be a last resort, and that repeat offending was more likely if the right supports weren’t  in place.


Former Chief Probation Officer Briedge Gadd referred to the old simplistic categorisation of prisoners into “mad, sad and bad” and thought only the “bad” should be in prison. Former Prison Governor Ed Tullett thought too much was being expected of prisons (presumably given current resources allocated) and that they should primarily be focused on keeping people safely in decent conditions while they served their sentence. All contributors seemed unhappy with the present UK prison system but differed somewhat in what they saw as solutions.

The show also dealt with last week’s judgement in the Ashers Bakery case (the ‘gay cake’ affair), but mainly in the context of what it meant to be a Christian business or a Christian in business. David Smith of the Evangelical Alliance thought the judgement was a win for freedom – freedom from “compelled speech”, from having to express support for a message you profoundly disagreed with.

More broadly he explored the tension between the values of Christianity and those of “the fallen world”. He pointed out rather usefully that many values were non-controversial in business – e.g. truth, honesty, integrity, but conflicts did arise in relation issues relating to sexuality and personal autonomy. He favoured resolutions that honoured God and neighbour.

That same case was also discussed on last weekend’s Sunday Morning Live (BB1) when the debate was more polarised, with two clear ‘sides’. The question posed created sides more than exploring common ground, which might have been more interesting, as all contributors seemed to be in favour of freedom and tolerance in their own contrasting ways. Gay rights campaigner and journalist Owen Jones was worried about the precedent the judgement would set – what more refusal of business would we see?

Campaigner Jayne Ozanne thought the Ashers stance, objecting to the pro-same-sex-marriage message, was a case of the “aggressive undermining of people”, though I’d say it Ashers owners, Daniel and Amy McArthur, who were above all on the receiving end of aggression.

Pastor George Hargreaves saw the Equality Commission that took the original case as the “villain” of the piece, stressing that Ashers already had the gay complainant as a customer but objected to the message, not the person.  Marie Fahy of Catholic Voices supported Ashers, suggesting that religious beliefs were fundamental to who we are, and that in terms of equality, if it works one way it has to work the other way as well.

Pick of the week

EWTN, Sunday, October 21, 10.30am and Wednesday 7pm
Fr Owen Gorman and his guest, Catherine Wiley, talk about The Catholic Grandparents Association.

Horizon: The Nine Months That Made You
BBC4, Monday, October 22, 11.15pm
The nine months you spend in the womb could have more lasting effects on you today than your lifestyle or genes.

EWTN, Thursday, October 25, 8pm and Friday, 11am
Patrick Kenny brings the heroic life of World War One Military Chaplain, Fr William Doyle to life through a new book and film.