The man who insisted on helping me onto the bus the other day couldn't have been more polite. He had seen my cane and correctly assumed that I was blind. On making sure that I was seated, he sat beside me and started a conversation. He began as so often seems to be the case for me: was I, by some chance, a Christian?
I'm not religious and believe that people should keep their faith and their place of worship to themselves. Evangelical opportunists don't think this way, though, and see me as ripe for spiritual saving. I'm not fleet-footed and obviously don't see them coming; like it or not, I'm a sitting target at least once a week.
I tactfully declined the man's offer to attend his church and turned the conversation to discussing his beliefs. They were typical of the views espoused by what is known as the religious right - no alcohol, no drugs, sex only after marriage and anti-gay. They're beliefs I associate with tub-thumping televangelists in the US, but too often forget are also held by a good number of people in Hong Kong, some of them influential. Our finest schools are, after all, church-run and the model of their teaching, although not in the majority evangelical, is copied by the school system in general. We shouldn't be surprised to know that 30 or so schools teach creationism rather than scientifically accepted evolution.
These are matters of concern that I was reminded of last week when talking to Mike Vidler, defending lawyer in the case of a transsexual named in court papers as W. The woman, who had surgery to change her sex and has had her identity card amended to reflect her new gender, wants to marry her boyfriend, but the government won't let her. It has taken the matter to the High Court, insisting that same-sex marriage is illegal. Vidler argues that it isn't about gay marriage, but of a woman having her rights violated. Hong Kong's civil law says that all people are to be treated equally. Preventing W from marrying would seem to be against the spirit of the law. But legislation talks about only men and women, not transsexuals, which is why a judge's ruling is necessary. That the government has decided to fight W's case in the courts rather than write transsexuals into laws raises questions. Vidler is worried it's about religion. He's concerned that there is 'an entrenched contingent' within the civil service with strong right-wing religious views. He fears those beliefs are being brought to bear in some government decisions. There are glaring examples to back his worries.
Take the case five years ago where the Education Bureau awarded a contract to the Christian-right Society for Truth and Light to train primary school teachers in human rights. The openly homophobic organisation, which has no track record in human rights education, won the deal ahead of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, which is respected internationally. Amid a community outcry, the contract wasn't renewed when it came up for review. The society has also come under fire for its involvement in the censorship bodies - the broadcasting, and television and entertainment licensing authorities.
Among others with extreme religious views to win government favour is Christian Zheng Sheng College, which operates a faith-based drug rehabilitation programme on Lantau Island. Drug treatment in Hong Kong comes not under the Health Department, but the Security Bureau. Among known evangelical Christians in the government are Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong and Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung.
It's odd that faith, not medical science or human rights practitioners, have been turned to. We live in a pluralistic society, after all, and our laws were written to reflect that. There are many religions in the world and they are all to be respected; people have the right to their beliefs. But no religion has the right to impose its faith on our civil law, which applies to everybody.
Our laws are sacred and can't be escaped. They're not like my encounters on public transport with evangelical Christians: I simply have to get off at the next stop to end the preaching. God, no matter whose he is, has no place in our government's policies.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post