Realising human rights and equality
The first decade of the twenty-first century in the UK saw:
- unprecedented measures to increase equality between individuals and outlaw irrelevant discrimination, culminating in the Equality Act 2010
- positive developments in human rights with the coming into effect of the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law
- the foundation of the UK’s first Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
We were involved in advocating and supporting all of this progress and our then Chief Executive served on the government’s steering group to plan for the EHRC, and on the reference group for the 2006 Equalities and Discrimination Law Reviews.
Human rights law is of particular importance to us since it establishes beyond doubt that it is unlawful to discriminate between religious and non-religious beliefs.
Today, we concentrate on resolving situations where principles of human rights or equality are compromised in law or policy and where people are unfairly privileged or discriminated against because of their religion or belief. This involves defending existing protections from attack or repeal; working to end unjustified exemptions from equality and human rights law, such as many of those enjoyed by religious groups; and working for the enforcement of equality and human rights law in key areas where it is not being enforced.
For example we work for:
- an extension of section 6 of the Human Rights Act to treat religious organisations providing public services on behalf of the state as public authorities
- an end to the exemptions from the Equality Act for religious groups which allow much egregious discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and of sexual orientation to continue lawfully
- equality in employment for some posts such as ‘chaplains’ in prisons, the armed forces and elsewhere or non-teaching jobs in religious schools which are unfairly reserved only for religious people or people of particular religions
- an end to the exemption from equality law for non-denominational organisations like the Scouts and Guides, whose rules exclude non-religious people
- incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into UK law
- a fair and just balance between the right of one person to express or manifest a religion or belief and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination, where the two may conflict