LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland runs the risk of denying public service to people with “talent and ability” if people with strong Christian convictions are kept from public office, according to the spokesperson for the country’s Catholic Church.

Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is running to replace Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who announced she was resigning on Feb. 15.

However, Forbes – a member of the Free Church of Scotland – has come under fire for her personal belief in traditional marriage norms, including saying having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith.”

She addressed the concerns in a post she published Thursday on her social media platforms.

“I feel greatly burdened that some of my responses to questions in the media have caused hurt, which was never my intention as I sought to answer questions clearly. I will defend to the hilt the right of everybody in Scotland, particularly minorities, to live and to live without fear or harassment in a pluralistic and tolerant society,” Forbes wrote.

“I will uphold the laws that have been won, as a servant of democracy, and seek to enhance the rights of everybody to live in a way which enables them to flourish. I firmly believe in the inherent dignity of each human being – that underpins all ethical and political decisions I make,” she said.

In an interview with The Herald, Catholic Church spokesperson Peter Kearney claimed that in Scotland’s “pursuit of diversity we have embraced conformity.”

“There is absolutely an intolerance of certain types of difference. We are less tolerant of people’s religious orientations. Some of the things that have been said about religious opinions leave a lot of Catholics and a lot of Christians feeling marginalized,” he told the Scottish daily publication.

“Human rights law describes certain ‘protected characteristics’, among them: Race, gender and sexual orientation, which cannot be used as a basis for discrimination. It is important that we remember religion is also a protected characteristic, deserving of respect,” Kearney said.

“If someone was deemed unsuited to office on the basis of any other protected characteristic there would, quite rightly, be outraged and indignant reactions. As a society we will be guilty of hypocrisy if we don’t defend everyone’s right to freely hold, manifest and express their religious beliefs,” he told the newspaper.

He brought up the recent Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would have made it easier to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, which is legal recognition of a change in birth gender, including lowering the age to receive such a certificate to 16.

Most of the major parties in Scotland – including the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats – refused to allow members to vote their conscience on the bill. The legislation passed, but was later blocked by the national government in London.

“The political parties should have allowed a free vote on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. It is a very obvious example of a contentious moral issue,” Kearney told The Herald.

“The danger here of not allowing individuals to vote according to their conscience is that it will dramatically reduce the pool of people who want to go into parliament. People will believe their views won’t be respected. We run the risk of denying ourselves people with talent and ability,” he told the newspaper.

“We do have evidence that this debate is leaving people feeling very, very uncomfortable,” he continued, citing a poll by a Catholic group on the issue.

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone entering elected politics who didn’t have ‘deeply held views’, whether they are economic, social, environmental or religious views shouldn’t matter. What matters is that they don’t impose those views on others, but instead respect differences,” he told The Herald.

“Previously this was possible by political parties allowing certain moral matters such as: Abortion, same sex marriage and assisted suicide, to be treated as matters of conscience, where parliamentarians were permitted to vote freely in accordance with their conscience. This was an example of tolerance, sadly it has given way to conformity in politics,” he said.

Despite the controversy in the media over Forbes’s religious beliefs, she has the most support in the first poll of SNP voters. She is the preferred choice of 28 percent of party members. Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has 20 percent, and former Minister for Community Safety Ash Regan has 7 percent.

A previous version of this story said Forbes led in a poll of SNP members. The poll was of voters who had cast the ballot for the SNP. We apologize for the error.