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Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes findings of call for evidence on religion, belief and discrimination

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has today published the findings of the call for evidence it ran last year on the place of religion or belief in the workplace and in service delivery. The findings highlight routine and structural discrimination against the non-religious, but also see some evangelical Christian groups claiming that the equality and human rights framework discriminates against them.

The report saw employees and students complaining about ‘unwelcome ‘preaching’ or proselytising, and the expression of views that were hurtful or derogatory towards other faiths and/or towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.’ It also found that ‘In health and social care environments, some respondents were concerned about practitioners outlining their own beliefs to vulnerable patients and clients. In addition, one organisation reported that staff and service users were harassed by groups with a religious ethos outside clinics offering pregnancy advice and abortion services.’ The report also highlights that ‘non-religious contributions were ignored in remembrance ceremonies’.

In education settings, it was reported that ‘A number of service users described school admission policies that were perceived as being advantageous to people with a particular religious belief’, ‘referred to unbalanced religious or non-religious curricula in teaching’, and ‘it was mentioned that pupils had been denied access to school buses because of their religious denomination’.

Overall, however, the report found that ‘Some Christian respondents and those from other religions or who held non-religious beliefs tended to see protection [by equality and human rights legislation] of a wide range of religions and beliefs as a positive development’, with some seeing it as a ‘wholly positive development’ while others ‘argued that the pluralistic approach had not gone far enough’. ‘By contrast, some evangelical Christians felt that Christian beliefs had lost their place in society and that this made it more difficult for them to express these beliefs in the workplace and in service delivery.’

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘What this report highlights is routine and structural discrimination against non-religious service users and employees particularly in the provision of public services such as school admissions and the curriculum and pastoral care in hospitals, and in civic settings such as participation of remembrance ceremonies. This is within a climate of constant declarations by the Prime Minister of Britain being a Christian country, despite the fact that over half the population are non religious.

‘The report demonstrates that there are religious individuals and organisations who wish to have a more privileged position afforded to their beliefs in the workplace and wish for employers to go above and beyond reasonable accommodation for their beliefs. This narrative is particularly ironic given that 1.2 million state school places are reserved for Christians in the first instance, that the Church of England has 26 reserved seats in the House of Lords, and that Christian groups are increasingly contracted to run public services, and are able to discriminate in employment and service provision whilst doing so. It is these issues that the EHRC must address.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the findings of the EHRC’s call for evidence: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/largest-ever-consultation-reveals-widespread-confusion-over-laws-protecting-religion-or-belief

Read more about the BHA’s work on human rights and equality: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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