Religion squeezed out
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has thrown out the idea of ‘reasonable accommodation’ for religion, under pressure from other equality interests.
The European Union’s EHRC had been intervening in four religious liberty cases brought by British Christians against their employers and council authorities that claimed discrimination and lack of freedom of Christian conscience.
In a July press release, the EHRC had said, ‘The commission will propose the idea of “reasonable accommodations” that will help employers and others manage how they allow people to manifest their religion or belief’.
However, it has now announced it is no longer going to argue that ‘reasonable accommodation’ should be made in its intervention on the four religious liberty cases before the Court of Human Rights. Instead, it has asked stakeholders to give their views on ‘reasonable accommodation’, while stating that it had already made up its mind not to refer to this.
The commission has also made it known that it now feels that in two of the cases coming before the European Court of Justice the British courts had made the right decision, after all.
This smacks of double standards, particularly as, in July, the ECHR had said national courts had failed to protect religious freedom by ruling against Christians who wanted to wear the cross at work. It said then that judges had interpreted the law ‘too narrowly’ and must be more willing to accept that employees who have been prevented from expressing their beliefs have suffered discrimination.
The EHRC’s backtracking on reasonable accommodation has caused concern for many parties. Don Horrocks, head of public affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, said, ‘It seems pretty clear the commission has been successfully intimidated against proceeding as they initially announced.
‘It appears to have changed its initial approach as a result of the outcry from those groups who wish to restrict freedom of religion and religious rights of conscience being recognised more fairly by the court.
‘While it might still support Christians who wish to wear religious jewellery at work, it is now not prepared to support Christians such as Lilian Ladele who was forced to choose between her job and her faith.
‘Having offered the possibility of a fairer approach to religious human rights and then to have rowed back under pressure means there will be a deep sense of injustice within religious communities’.
Nola Leach, chief executive of charity Care, said, ‘We are deeply concerned the EHRC seems to have given in to lobbying from other equality interests. We are not arguing religious rights should trump other rights, as some others apparently believe their rights should trump those of religion.
‘We simply say space should be made for all and no protected characteristic should assert its rights in a way that attacks and undermines the space for other protected characteristics. There must be no hierarchy of rights’.
She has urged the EHRC not to be diverted from its original plan and says it must promote reasonable accommodation in its intervention on all four cases before the European Court of Human Rights.