Equality Bill is no attack on religion

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has spoken out against moves to permit wide discrimination by religious employers on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation, sex and marital status.

At present, discrimination in employment on grounds protected by equality and human rights law, such as sexual orientation, is permitted in narrow circumstances when the role is “for the purposes of an organised religion”. This would include priests but not accountants or youth workers. However, peers are set to discuss amendments in today’s debates of the Equality Bill in the House of Lords that seek to grant religions even wider exceptions from the law.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘It is vital that the Government and fair-minded Parliamentarians from all sides do not accede to the demands of this increasingly minority and backwards view. The line being taken – particularly by the Church of England but supported by other illiberal religious groups – seeks to steal away hard fought legal rights to equality, to privacy and to be treated with dignity.

‘It is disheartening that the Government has seemed to bow to pressure from increasingly unshared and bigoted perspectives, tabling an amendment to its own Bill which will prevent gay people from taking up employment in a wide range of posts when the employer is religious – even in such areas as youth work or public relations.’

The BHA has also expressed its deep opposition to proposals to continue to allow discrimination on grounds of religion by religious organisations, even when the organisation in question is provided a state-funded public service.

‘Public services are increasingly contracted to religious organisations, even though many continue to use the exceptions in law to discriminate against staff, because they are not religious or hold the ‘wrong’ religious beliefs,’ continued Mr Copson, ‘Those desperate to retain significant religious privileges through exemptions from our anti-discrimination law will oppose good amendments to the Bill that seek to protect frontline staff, such as care workers and employment advisers, from this unjust religious discrimination.’

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.

Parliamentary time permitting, employment for the purposes of organised religion, and employment exceptions for organisations with a religious ethos, will be debated today in the House of Lords.

Read the BHA’s briefings on these issues for Lords Committee stages – sexual orientation discrimination and religious discrimination.

Read more about our work on the Equality Bill.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.