Localism Bill offers chance for inclusive secular public services

The government’s Localism Bill offers a chance to have fair and inclusive secular public services, but only if parliament makes changes to prevent religious discrimination, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has warned.

The Decentralisation and Localism Bill, introduced to parliament today, sets out the government’s aims in creating the ‘Big Society’, including a new right for local people, communities and faith groups to take on the delivery of local public services. 

The BHA works independently and with others, including religious organisations, human rights organisations, trades unions and women’s groups, to promote inclusive public services that do not discriminate on religious grounds in employment or in the way they provide services. Despite efforts by humanist MPs and Peers during the passage of the Equality Act 2010 to outlaw such practices, there remain significant legal exceptions for religious groups to discriminate in various ways.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘Special privileges afforded to churches, mosques, faith-based charities and other religious organisations providing public services, which permit potentially wide-spread discrimination against those of no religion or with the wrong religion, will only create barriers to participation in the Big Society.

‘We want to see policies that promote real inclusion of all people regardless of belief. That means policies which do not permit refusing employment to a person for a publicly-funded position just because they do not believe in god, or which do not permit making prayer a requirement in order to receive a service. Unfortunately, current government policy allows all sorts of exclusive and discriminatory practices to take place in the provision of services by religious organisations.’

‘The BHA works closely with others, including religious groups, and we know that our concerns to have fair and inclusive secular public services are widely shared. Parliamentarians have an opportunity through the Localism Bill to make legislative changes that will rule out discrimination by religious organisations when they are working under public contract to provide services. Such moves would finally treat civil society groups equally and fairly in practice.’

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips, 07540 257101 or 020 7079 3585.

Read more about the BHA’s work on Services and Communities.

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