By Toby Cohen, CEN
PUBLIC OPPOSITION to the Equality Bill has forced the Government to promise amendments clarifying that it will not change the current legal position of religious employers.
A petition on the Prime Minister’s website has attracted over 14,000 signatures by people calling for the removal of provisions which they fear would restrict religious bodies to only insisting on employees conforming to the religion’s teachings if their job was confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine.
David Skinner, a Baptist who started the petition, said: “I have spoken to many people who feel this is the first time they have been able to make themselves heard. They feel failed by their Church leaders.
Anglican Mainstream is the only group standing up for people like me.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, had spoken against the Bill during its second reading in the House of Lords, where he said: “We are told that the Bill is intended simply to harmonise existing antidiscrimination laws, yet we find that the provision made in 2003, for religious bodies to employ people who share their faith, is being significantly narrowed.
“It does not reflect the reality of how churches work and it goes way beyond harmonising existing law. There is a danger here of legislation by stealth.”
A new report by Christian charity CARE has published a legal opinion by John Bowers QC explaining that the Bill could make it unlawful for a church to choose a priest of a particular gender or sexuality.
Dr Daniel Boucher, author of the report “A Little Bit Against Discrimination?” said: “The Equality Bill is a direct assault on the freedom of all faith-based organisations, from churches to charities. This Bill will make it unlawful for those organisations to employ people who are committed to a particular set of religious beliefs.
This Bill in its current form is a further blow to the faith-based voluntary sector and will leave many people unable to access services they always have.”
An Equalities Department spokesperson said: “The Government has already listened to a wide range of views from stakeholders including the Church of England and will amend the Bill to make it clear that there is no narrowing of the exceptions for organised religion and religious organisations.”
Dr Philip Giddings, convenor of Anglican Mainstream, who signed the petition, said he was skeptical (sic) that the Government would really back down from the reforms in the Bill: “It’s part of their equality agenda which has been clear all along and therefore there is a strong political commitment to it… What will achieve change will be pressure through Parliament, and that pressure is being applied in the House of Lords.”
Mr Skinner also sees a secularist agenda controlling the Government’s actions which will not rest until society is rid of religion: “This doesn’t affect just Christians, although we’re the first in line, but it will be the Jews, and then the Catholics — and eventually, it will be rather like Nazi Germany. “There is no such thing as homophobia, because there are no such things as homosexuals. Homosexuals are the invention of a German in the 19th century who was a pederast.”
Dr Giddings said: “There is no doubt that the language and actions which are used and taken by some individuals are hateful. I think that the existing law already provides for an adequate way of dealing with that.”
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