A group of witches is claiming religious discrimination because they could not use buildings belonging to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury.
Sandra Davis, High Priestess at the Crystal Cauldron, said she was “appalled” that the Diocese would not let her Pagan group hold their Annual Witches’ Ball in its social club.
“My congregation is shocked that in this day and age there can be such religious discrimination”, she said.
“We’re normal people who follow an earth-based religion and want to enjoy ourselves.”
She said her reservation of Our Lady’s Social Club in Stockport was originally accepted, but she was later told the event could not be held there.
Revd John Joyce of Shrewsbury Diocese explained: “Parish centres under our auspices let their premises on the understanding users and their organisations are compatible with the ethos and teachings of the Catholic church.
“In this instance, we aren’t satisfied such requirements are met.”
The outcome of any legal action may depend on whether the Roman Catholic social club is held to be a religious organisation or a commercial one.
The Equality Act 2006 makes it unlawful to refuse to provide goods and services on grounds of religious belief.
Churches have some religious liberty exemptions to protect their ethos. However, these exemptions are not available to an organisation which is mainly commercial.
The issue of whether faith groups should be forced to provide services in a manner that conflicts with their religious ethos has been hotly contested in a spate of recent cases.
Numerous Roman Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to sever ties with the Church because new laws force them to consider gay couples as adopters.
A Christian care home in Brighton lost £13,000 of public funding because it refused to adopt a barrage of ‘gay rights’ measures. It won the funding back after launching a legal action.
The Christian owners of a guest house in Cornwall are being sued by a same-sex couple because the guest house has a ‘married couples only’ policy for double rooms.
Commenting on the witches case, religio-political blogger Cranmer said: “The acceptance of diverse religious paths is intrinsic to liberal democracy and tolerance of differing views is wholly necessary in a pluralist society.
“But the statutory obligation increasingly being placed upon churches to accommodate practices and beliefs which are antithetical to Christian teaching and tradition is the real persecution.”
He added: “Perhaps if the witches had all been lesbians, their case would have been incontrovertible.”