The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the debate of important issues regarding equality and religion or belief in the Second Reading of the Equality Bill in the House of Lords. The Bill aims to bring together existing equality legislation into one Act and to simplify and clarify various aspects of equality law .
In the debate held on the 15th December, Former Cabinet Minister and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston CBE, expressed his concerns regarding the possible widening of exemptions in the Equality Bill that would allow a greater scope for certain employers to reserve some roles for people holding a particular religion or belief.
Citing the example of employment in a faith-school, Lord Macdonald said, “A voluntary-aided school can impose religious requirements on all teaching posts and can also take religion into account in promotion and pay decisions without ever needing to show that the teacher being discriminated against needs to perform any religious role at all”.
He continued “There is no good reason for allowing religious organisations performing public functions on behalf of a public authority to apply religious tests to their jobs.”
Baroness Turner of Camden, a Vice-President of the BHA, addressed the issue of a balance between rights and respecting individual religious beliefs. She said, “The Bill seeks to promote understanding and tolerance for the right of individuals to believe in and practice religion. This should not, however, involve the right to impose religious beliefs on persons who do not hold them.”
She went on to state “We must make it clear that culture and/or religion offer no excuse for harassment of people protected on grounds set out in the Bill. Our law must always prevail.”
Baroness Murphy warned of the potential future dangers of allowing some aspects of the Bill to pass in their present state, commenting, “I see a real danger of creating parallel, separate services for different religious groups, which lead to further divisions in society and to unfair employment practices.”
Naomi Phillips , the BHA’s Public Affairs Officer, said, “This is an important piece of legislation that will draw together the wide range of equality legislation that has developed over the past few decades. Whilst the principle, and much of the content, is extremely welcome, we believe it is essential that the Bill be amended in order to tackle the ingrained discrimination against non-religious people in our equality laws. Peers supportive of the BHA have clearly articulated their reservations regarding aspects of the Bill that will allow discrimination on the basis of belief.”
For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585 or 07540 257101.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious, campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief.