In a shock move, the government has awarded a contract to provide vital services for trafficked women to the Salvation Army, withdrawing funding from pioneering women’s charity Eaves Housing, which had previously been commissioned to provide those services. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called the decision ‘deeply concerning’ and has called on the government to make assurances that religious groups working under contract will not be able to discriminate or proselytise in the provision of public services.
The Salvation Army, an evangelical organisation, has previously declared to parliament that it would ‘impossible’ for it to be ‘religiously neutral’ in the provision of public services. The Salvation Army’s position statement on homosexuality also details homosexual behaviour as ‘self evidently abnormal’ and condemns gay people to a life of celibacy.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘It is deeply concerning that the government has considered it appropriate to stop contracting with an organisation specialist in working with victims of sexual trafficking, motivated solely with regard to the well-being of those women, and handing over control of those services to a church motivated by a clear mission to evangelise.
‘These services are provided for some of the most vulnerable women imaginable, who will now have little choice other than to have a service provider that is allowed by law to discriminate and proselytise in the way they provide that service, and which itself is vocal in its inability to remain religiously neutral, even when providing vital services. What is the government thinking?’
Ms Phillips continued, ‘The BHA has been working for many years, including with our supporters in parliament and through the End Violence Against Women network, to highlight the very real problems of unquestioningly contracting with religious groups. We have urged successive governments to make changes to the law before services are contracted to religious organisations, at least to mitigate the damaging effects of religious discrimination in the provision of public service, especially when those services are for vulnerable and essentially captive groups. Unfortunately, so far those representations have fallen on deaf ears. If groups such as the Salvation Army are unable not to evangelise in the provision of public services, that should bar them from being awarded contracts.’
Following the government’s response last week to parliamentary questions regarding equality protections in contracted public services and religious groups, the BHA has written again to the government to seek assurances that it will not permit religious discrimination or proselytising in the provision of public services by religious groups.
For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 07540 257101.
The BHA is a member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf 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.