The importance of keeping public services inclusive, secular and free from ‘unnecessary and unjustified’ religious discrimination was the central message informing written evidence prepared by the British Humanist Association (BHA). The memorandum of evidence was submitted to the special parliamentary committee which is scrutinising the Localism Bill, following its introduction to the House of Commons.
The Localism Bill sets out the government’s aims in creating the ‘Big Society’, including a new right for local people, communities and faith groups to bid 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.
The BHA also submitted its memorandum of evidence to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, drawing attention to the significant equalities and human rights concerns regarding the contracting of public services to religious organisations.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘The new community ‘right to bid’ for local services as proposed in the Localism Bill contains no measures to prevent groups with unshared or even extreme religious agendas from taking on the delivery of public services. Not only is there a risk of some groups using publicly-funded services as a vehicle through which to proselytise, the law permits discrimination by religious groups against staff and service users. We believe that is totally wrong and that the law needs to be amended to protect against such practices.
‘As the Localism Bill begins its passage through the House of Commons it is vitally important than ever to provide MPs with the information and evidence they need to make the case themselves of the need to keep our public services shared and secular.’
The BHA’s memorandum of evidence is the property of the Public Bill Committee until they publish it, so it is not yet publicly available. For more information on the BHA’s position, visit humanism.org.uk/campaigns
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.