Equality Bill threatens
Christians can expect a rise in court cases relating to their beliefs and practices if the UK Equality Bill becomes enshrined in law in its current form.
This is the warning of Christian legal and advisory groups such as Christian public policy charity CARE, the Christian Institute, Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON) and Affinity (formerly the British Evangelical Council), as well as leading commentators in the national press.
The bill, which rightly aims to stamp out prejudice, discrimination and inequality when it comes to employment, does not make enough provision for religious groups, whose right to hire only those who share their beliefs will be seriously curtailed under the new provisions.
The Equality Bill does contain within it exceptions for churches and Christian organisations, stating that roles that wholly or mainly involved teaching, leading or promoting Christianity or Christian services are exempt.
However, there are more complicated rules bound up within the hotly-contested Schedule Nine of the bill. Opponents argue that there are many other offices in the church which are not primarily teaching ones.
As Mark Harper MP, Shadow Minister (Disabled People), Work and Pensions, said: ‘If the definition does not even include people who lead worship in their churches, it seems to me that it is faulty’.
So those who are accountants, treasurers or musicians are not covered by the exemption; furthermore, as ministers cannot show that their time is 100 per cent focused just on teaching ministry, then prospective candidates could argue that their gender orientation, for example, does not preclude them from doing the job of ministering to the sick.
Churches could no longer only hire those ministers who are fully committed to biblical teaching and values.
A press statement from Affinity comments: ‘Much of the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment legislation already in place has marginalised Christianity, is socially divisive and has severely restricted personal freedom to preach and to practise the Christian faith’.
The bill had its second reading in the House of Lords in December, and was presented to the House of Lords for the final stage for voting and ratification in late January.
Key members of the House of Lords have argued that churches should be able to decide who they can employ and retain their freedom to do so. Without this, the number of cases against Christians will explode.
Other elements of Christian worship and practice could pose controversy, with some bishops warning that having crucifixes in Christian care homes could result in law cases brought against them from atheist cleaners.
A note from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship explained: ‘The Equality Bill is a direct assault on the church’s freedom to employ people who are committed to living with Christian integrity according to the Bible’.