Thursday 7 January 2010

The Chimes of Freedom

Next Thursday, 14 January, Amendments to the Equality Bill are to be voted on in the House of Lords. These amendments have the potential to remove the right of every citizen to live according to their religious faith and conscience, especially with regard to employment and the way their places of worship operate. The Equality Bill will strike out all exemptions on the basis of religion which will mean that all will have to conform to secularist values and ideology, whether in places of worship, the workplace and even the home.

Sign the on-line petition to the Prime minister here, asking for the removal of Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill.

Although Christians will be most affected by this legislation, people of all faiths and none who value the freedom to live according to conscience. At least a million signatures are needed by the 14 January but the petition will remain open until the election, in three months time, so as to send a strong message to the contesting parties. At the moment there are less than 1,500 signatures. It will take you less than two minutes to sign. Do it here.

The Equality Bill's employment provisions reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith and the religious life. To commit oneself to a faith or follow a religion means much more than simply giving intellectual assent to a particular set of doctrinal propositions or expressing a desire to worship in a particular way. In its truest form, the life of faith is a way of living in which people manifest the values and beliefs about God and humankind. These values and beliefs are incorporated into the lifestyle of those who follow a religion; so to attempt to separate behaviour, ethics and way of life from 'doctrine' or 'formal worship' is to strike at the heart of what constitutes faith. To insist on such a distinction in law, as the Equality Bill's current proposal does, is actually to deny people the fundamental right to freedom of worship and religion.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 provide exceptions relating to sexual orientation where the employment is for the purposes of organized religion but bishops in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have warned that, if enacted, the current bill will restrict the 2003 regulations substantially so that they only apply to employment where it concerns formal worship activities (liturgy) or the promotion or explanation of doctrine.

There is a range of posts, paid or voluntary, where it is essential that a religious organisation should have the right to prefer a candidate whose life is in accordance with its ethos (with particular reference to its requirements for sexual conduct). For example, the guidance notes of the Equality Bill specifically states that youth workers will not be covered by the narrowed exemption. Leading worship and teaching doctrine is in most cases not the main task of youth workers. The proposed legislation could leave organizations in the unacceptable position of having a person leading worship services or teaching doctrine among young people who does not comply with the sexual ethos they are required to teach.

The Bill could result in the legal obligation to employ individuals whose sexual practice or beliefs are directly opposed to the teaching which the organization professes and follows. The Bill, as drafted, would deny to religious organizations the freedoms afforded to, for example, political parties, to employ only those who comply with their beliefs and values.

The petition reads as follows:

Remove the current employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion). These restrict the rights of religious bodies to employ personnel who conform to their teachings only if their duties are confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine.

As people from all walks of life, political parties, professions and religious faiths, we the undersigned have joined together to commit ourselves to reaffirm the value and necessity of religious and civil liberty and the rights of conscience across the UK today.

We believe that religion and civil liberty must include the right to live and speak according to one's conscience privately and in the public sphere, both individually and collectively, without harassment or the fear of civil or criminal penalty.
The proposed employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion) mistakenly seeks to deny integrity and authentic practical religion by separating religious belief and observance from behaviour and denies to religious groups rights that are extended to all other organisations, to employ only those who conform to their beliefs, practices and ethos.

Please sign the petition. By not doing so, you invite your own oppression.

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