We are fully committed to freedom of conscience, belief and expression and a society where human rights are valued and where there is equality before the law.
Conscientious objection is not a new concept and, for example, humanists and religious people alike have exercised their right to refuse to go to war at times of conscription. Historically, conscientious objectors have suffered some sort of penalty for making a refusal on matters of conscience.
Today, increasing numbers of claims are being taken through the judicial system in an attempt to establish a right to a degree of religious exceptionalism which risks prejudicing the rights of other people. Although those asking for accommodation of their beliefs may use the term ‘conscientious objection’, there are only three instances in English law where there is a clear legal right to object on grounds of conscience, namely regarding abortion, technological procedures to achieve conception and pregnancy e.g. IVF treatment, and military service in times of conscription.
Elsewhere it is preferable to refer to claims for ‘religious’ or ‘moral exemption’. This is certainly more accurate when describing a refusal by an individual to provide a service or to undertake a duty on grounds that it goes against their personal beliefs, for example when a religious pharmacist refuses to dispense emergency contraception, when a civil registrar refuses to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, when an employee breaks the dress code or health and safety rules by wearing or displaying religious symbols at work, or when an employee proselytises or prays ostentatiously in the workplace.
None of these is a simple issue and we believe that a fair balance must be struck between the manifestation or expression of belief and the rights of others where there is a conflict.
We work to expose claims of alleged religious discrimination that are in fact the proper restrictions on religious behaviour that is unlawful or unjustifiably infringes the rights of others whether in employment, service provision or elsewhere.
We work to oppose any attempts to establish wider exemptions for religious people from the Equality Act 2010 to ‘accommodate’ currently unlawful behaviour on alleged grounds of conscience.