Equalities

Scouts and Guides consultations on admitting the non-religious
The Scout Association and Girlguiding UK are both consulting on changing their membership pledges to be inclusive to the non-religious. Please take action today by responding in support of the proposals.

Humanist principles lead the BHA to support equality and oppose discrimination and humanists have been deeply involved in campaigning against discrimination, from homophobia to racism, for decades. Since the late 1990s in particular, legislation, regulation and active measures around equalities and anti-discrimination has seen radical changes. Three new equality ‘strands’ of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age have joined gender, race and disability as protected equality areas in law.

The three equality Commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission – have been superseded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which opened its doors on 1st October 2007. The EHRC provides institutional support for all six equality strands, and its remit also covers human rights.

The BHA was involved in these developments. Our Chief Executive served on the government’s steering group when the EHRC was being developed and on the reference group for the 2006 Equalities Review and Discrimination Law Review. In the EHRC today, however, there are no Commissioners with expertise in the non-religious belief element of the religion or belief equality strand, although there are specifically Commissioners with expertise in religion.

We welcome and actively promote measures to increase equality between individuals and outlaw irrelevant discrimination. Unfortunately, however, equality legislation often has exemptions for religious groups which mean that much egregious discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and of sexual orientation continues as legal.

What are we doing?

 

We campaign for stronger equality laws against irrelevant discrimination, particularly in the context of the ‘religion or belief’ and ‘sexual orientation’ equality strands. We make representations to Government, Parliament, Commissions and NGOs on our position on equality. For examples, see our articles and submissions under this page. We were also engaged in campaigning for a Single Equality Act- an Act which was passed in 2010.

The BHA lobbies and campaigns on a variety of discrimination issues where we consider the discrimination to be unlawful. We sometimes also raise issues that are not covered by discrimination legislation, for example in services provided by organisations that are not classed as ‘Public Authorities’ (see also our campaigns on Public Service Reform and Human Rights). One example is our ongoing lobbying of the Scouting Movement, which only accepts members and youth leaders who have religious beliefs (or are prepared to make a promise to a god).  We also work with other equality organisations on shared issues; for example though membership of equality networks such as HEAR.

If the BHA hears about situations in which humanists or others with non-religious beliefs appear to be discriminated against, we take the issues up with the relevant body whenever we can. Recent examples of our support against religious discrimination have been our involvement in supporting a claimant in an employment tribunal, and making an intervention on schools admissions in the High Court. Discrimination on grounds of religion or belief may be unlawful when it relates to employment or vocational training, when it relates to the provision of goods, facilities and services, or when perpetrated by a ‘Public Authority’, when it may be covered by the Human Rights Act 1998. However, even in these areas there are numerous exceptions.

We also comment on issues where the right to express a religion or belief affects the rights of others in society to be treated fairly, for example where pharmacists can refuse a service to the public if it conflicts with their beliefs.

What can you do?

Tell the BHA if you feel that you have been discriminated against on the grounds of your beliefs, whether or not you believe that the discrimination is unlawful. We would like to hear about examples of discrimination in any context. Similarly, we would like to hear about situations where non-believers are ‘forced’ to take part in religious services of any kind, are expected to pray (or expected to be present where prayers are said), or where religious symbols are displayed in what should be civic, inclusive and secular places. If you have experienced harassment or been insulted because of your humanist beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, please let us know about that as well.

We can use the examples you provide in our campaigning work, for example in submissions to Government, either in the form of figures about the incidence of discrimination, or – but only with your permission – as a specific example of discrimination. If you have a story to tell, please also let us know if we have your permission to use your name.

You can also make the Equality and Human Rights Commission aware of any examples of discrimination in any context by calling their helpline.

You can also support the BHA’s campaigns by becoming a member. Campaigns cost money – quite a lot of money – and we need your financial support. Instead or in addition, you can make a donation to the BHA.