In a major new report out today, assessing equality and human rights law in relation to religion or belief, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has argued that the law needs reviewing to reduce the amount that religious schools can discriminate in the recruitment of staff.
The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has been involved in a long-running legal case at the European Commission level on the matter, has welcomed the EHRC’s findings. The report, which has been published alongside new guidance, rejects the argument that further rights to discriminate should be given to certain religious employees, as some have been calling for.
Amongst other things, the EHRC has concluded:
- The law around ‘faith’ school employment in England, in allowing religious schools to widely discriminate – often against every teacher – on the basis of religion in who they employ, is ‘arbitrary’ and goes beyond what is permitted by European law. UK law should be reviewed (and hence, possibly, amended) so that religious schools can only discriminate where there is a genuine and legitimate requirement that the occupation has to be filled by someone of a certain faith – for example, for the head of RE in a religious school that teaches faith-based RE.
- There should be no change in the law to explicitly require employers to ‘reasonably accommodate’ employees – because in fact, employers have to do this already, to the extent to which such accommodation does not lead to discrimination against others. Any changes would therefore either have no impact or actually enable certain religious employees to put their colleagues or service users at a disadvantage.
- Commercial organisations should not be permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief, or sexual orientation.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said of the findings, ‘It is very welcome that the Commission has confronted critics of Britain’s equality laws head on. For too long now, we have seen an ever-more vocal minority of Christian lobbyists demanding increased rights to discriminate against others.
‘The EHRC has rightly rejected their arguments, and instead correctly identified that, if anything, the law needs to be amended to limit such discrimination, especially when it comes to religious schools.
‘We will be taking these matters up with the Government to ensure that all people’s freedom of religion and belief is upheld.’
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Read the new report and guidance: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/religion-or-belief
Read the EHRC’s press release: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/common-sense-approach-needed-religion-and-belief-work
Read the BHA’s previous news item, ‘Calls to “defend religious liberty” are in fact special pleading for Christians’ rights to discriminate’: https://humanists.uk/2016/12/01/bha-calls-to-defend-religious-liberty-are-in-fact-special-pleading-for-christians-rights-to-discriminate/
Read more about the BHA’s work challenging ‘faith’ school employment laws: https://humanists.uk/2015/02/20/european-commission-re-opens-investigation-whether-uk-faith-school-laws-break-european-employment-laws-uk-government-shifts-position/
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work around human rights and equality: https://humanists.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.