Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Christians lose a freedom to discriminate!

In the same week as the blasphemy laws were removed, the BHA had a relatively unpublicized but significant and important victory over discrimination in Christian charities using public money.

Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Act
These regulations were enacted in 2003 and exempted religious organizations from anti-discrimination laws that applied to everyone else. Not only this but it enabled them to discriminate more than before these regulations were brought in! Now it is one thing for them to discriminate over issues that are specific to execution of their religion in terms of religious services and so on - who else would be interested in that? However this exemption is very broad and as more and more religious organizations are taking on public funding to provide local services this could be clearly abused, to deny people otherwise qualified for relevant jobs based on their religion. And that is what is happening.

When is religion a "Genuine Occupational Requirement"?
This discrimination worked by requiring for many jobs that one's religious belief is a "Genuine Occupational Requirement". However the danger is that this "Genuine Occupational Requirement" could be applied far too broadly, covering jobs for which there is no legitimate justification for one's religious belief as a qualifying requirement. This is what happened with the Christian charity Prospect in using public funding to provide services people with learning disabilities. They started employing only practicing Christians into all posts. A former employee took them to the Employment Tribunal arguing constructive dismissal and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

The Employment Tribunal
The BHA backed and funded this ex-employee's case. The core argument was that he was obliged to tell non-Christian staff that their worldview would prevent promotion and all new staff employed were Christians! The ex-employee won the case on all counts! Under UK common law processes this judgment sets a precedent over any other religious charity and as the BHA say
Our intervention to support this case should set a precedent in how religious organisations with public money behave: it's a spanner in the works of a machine that was becoming unstoppable.
Charities and Public Funding
I have no issue with religious charities proving public services providing (a) that their selection is on an even playing field with any other charity or service provider so that they are selected on their merits alone and (b) that none of these employees for such public funded services is selected on the basis of religion. The BHA victory serves to help with the second point. Certainly this is great example of Christian charity in action - helping their own to the detriment of all others.

What can we do?

However this is one situation, how many more are there? Surely any local council could make it part of the terms and conditions of this funding that the charity does not discriminate on religious grounds? Employment Tribunals are all very well but many cases do not get that far, due to the time, cost and stress involved. If you hear or know of any situation you can contact the BHA, write to your local paper, call your local radio station and ask local councilors as to why they are letting this discrimination occur. Lets all help in turning the tide.