Parliamentary human rights report finds concessions for religion in Equality Bill are too great
March 12th, 2010
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the publication of a new report from parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on the Government’s Equality Bill. The report, published today and produced following changes to the Bill in the House of Lords, makes a number of important recommendations.
In January, the House of Lords – including the Bishops who sit in the Lords as of right – voted to water-down protection for gay people in employment. However, the Committee’s report states that the Bill as it now stands does not comply with the European Equality Directive.
The report also investigates exceptions in law to permit discrimination by state-funded faith schools. The legal argument made by David Wolfe QC, representing the BHA in its intervention in the landmark JFS case, is reflected in the Committee’s report. The report criticises the Government’s justification for laws concerning discriminatory admissions criteria in faith schools, suggesting they may be misinterpreting human rights law. It further claims that employment regulations in faith schools may also be in breach of the EU Directive.
Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs at the BHA, stated, ‘By refusing even try to reverse the Lords amendments that give special exemptions from the Equality Bill to permit organised religions to treat lesbian and gay people unkindly, unfairly, and discriminate against them, the Government is acting disgracefully. What the Select Committee report suggests is that the Government is a passing legislation that may actually be unlawful because it is breach of the European Directive.’
‘We also welcome the report’s suggestion that the Government’s approach to faith schools may be in breach of equality law and human rights principles. Time and again, the government has bowed to religious pressure to allow religious schools and organisations to discriminate in ways which would be unlawful for other organisations. It seems that they have now also opened themselves up to legal challenge at European level.’
For further information or comment please contact Naomi Phillips, 020 7079 3585.
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.