CARE campaigns for the provision of space in the public square and market place for Christians and people of other faiths to live, work and conduct business in accordance with their faith without being viewed as extremists or risk prosecution.
Christians are increasingly facing pressures on their ability to act according to their beliefs in the work place, evidenced, for example, through the Ladele vs. the London Borough of Islington [i] and McFarlane vs. Relate Avon Ltd [ii] cases and the recent removal of the conscience clause in the code of practice for pharmacists. [iii] These pressures are also found in relation to the provision of goods and services, which has been exemplified both in the Ashers Bakery [iv] and Catholic adoption agency [v] cases.
The Casey review on integration published in 2016 focussed heavily on promoting so-called “British values” in schools and public life recommending public officials be required to make an oath of allegiance to these values.[vi] The definition and interpretation of these values, which may include commitments to equality, could be significant.[vii]
CARE believes that a liberal society should not use equality law to place Christians (and people of other faiths) in the invidious position of having to choose between their employment and their beliefs but should rather make space for those with religious beliefs. In 2016 we published a major report with ResPublica on the proposal for ‘reasonable accommodation’ of people’s religious beliefs when those may conflict with the rights of others especially in situations of employment and business. This principle argues that where the interests of different groups conflict, the rights of one should not be permitted to trump the other but rather mutually reciprocating space should be made for each on the basis of ‘reasonable accommodation.’ [viii]
In October 2015 the Government published its strategy to combat the serious threat of Islamist extremism.[ix] The Government proposed a Bill to ‘combat groups and individuals who reject our values and promote messages of hate.’ The proposal would include Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) giving sweeping powers to target ‘non-violent extremism’. CARE recognises that action is need to address violent extremism, but has concerns that innocent people with unpopular views – political and environmental activists, religious groups, trade unionists – could face prosecution.
Related to countering extremism the Department for Education also conducted a consultation on safeguarding children. Its proposal would have affected Christian out-of-school activities which last six or more hours a week, requiring them to register and be inspected by Ofsted.
None of these counter extremism proposals was brought into place during the parliament but it is likely that the issue will be re-visited in the future.
A separate issue related to religious liberty arose during this Parliament when the Government proposed giving new powers to local and regional authorities to set extended Sunday trading hours. Despite a consultation in which much public concern was raised the Government proceeded to introduce the proposal through an amendment to the Enterprise Bill in February 2016. However, the proposals were ultimately defeated by 317 votes in favour to 286 votes against. Further protections for workers wishing to opt-out of Sunday working were also added to the Enterprise Bill.
Questions for Candidates
1. Would you be willing to support the introduction of reasonable accommodation to protect individuals’ freedom to act according to their beliefs including in relation to their employment or business?
2. Would you act to ensure that counter-extremism measures are proportionate, focussed on violent extremism and that they will not result in the prosecution of people simply because they hold unpopular or non-mainstream (but non-violent) views?
3. Would you support churches’ ability to run children and youth programmes without needing to register and be inspected by Ofsted?
[i] Lillian Ladele was a registrar employed by the London Borough of Islington who was dismissed because she refused to officiate civil partnerships between same-sex couples
[ii] McFarlane was dismissed from his role as counsellor in the Avon branch of Relate because he suggested that he may not feel comfortable giving psycho-sexual therapy to a same-sex couple
[iv] The Ashers Bakery run by a Christian family was investigated by the Equalities Commission in Northern Ireland and taken to court for refusing to decorate a cake with a slogan promoting same-sex marriage. The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling that their refusal was unlawful. https://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Judicial%20Decisions/SummaryJudgments/Documents/Decision%20in%20Ashers%20Bakery%20Appeal/j_j_Summary%20of%20judgment%20-%20Lee%20v%20Ashers%20Baking%20Co%20Ltd%2024%20Oct%2016.htm
[v] Since 2009 all adoption agencies have been required to consider placing children with same-sex couples on the same basis as all other prospective parents. In that time almost all Catholic Adoption Agencies have been forced to either shut down or cut ties with the church. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7952526/Last-Catholic-adoption-agency-faces-closure-after-Charity-Commission-ruling.html
[viii] Reasonable accommodation would allow Christians to avoid participating in or facilitating activity to which they morally object. http://www.respublica.org.uk/our-work/publications/beyond-belief-defending-religious-liberty-british-bill-rights/