Symposium on religious opt-outs a great success

Together with the South Place Ethical Society (SPES) and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), the BHA’s Humanist Philosophers held a symposium exploring the phenomenon of making exceptions in law and policy for people who hold moral and religious objections. The symposium brought together experts from law, political theory and philosophy, to thrash out the issues. The symposium will inform further, detailed work by the BHA over the coming year.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, commented, ‘We are keen to develop our thinking on conscientious objection and related issues, not least because more and more we are seeing people claim the right to behave as they want according to their beliefs, even when that means they refuse to provide a public service, such as the Christian registrar or counsellor who both refused to provide services to gay people. Recently we have been disturbed by the growing trend for political Christian groups to bring cases of alleged discrimination against Christians and then, when the courts have found no evidence of discrimination, to claim instead that the whole system of law is in fact discriminatory against religious people and that adjustments should be made to law to place Christian actions beyond the law. Theocratic arguments such as this are being advanced in the name of equality for Christians and we need to be able to expose them for what they are.

‘Discounting the political element to these cases, the issues raised by them are complex and individual cases and circumstances are different. We want to be able to say clearly when an exception made to accommodate religious or other conscientious objections is never acceptable – perhaps when those actions would be of a severe detriment to another person, or when providing a public service – and when accommodating people’s beliefs may be reasonable, such as permitting the wearing of a Sikh bangle in school or conscientious objections to compulsory military service. This process of policy development is timely and important, and we hope that it not only develops our own policies, but that it will inform the work of others in this area, providing perhaps a more nuanced critique than is often heard on these kinds of situations; conflicts that will always exist in a diverse society such as ours.’

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, on 07540 257101 or 020 7079 3585.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the growing population of ethically concerned, non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for a secular state and an end to discrimination based on religion or belief.