Why should religious institutions in the U.K be exempt from some aspects of employment law?
Legislation was underway for an amendment to the Equality Bill 2008-09 to 2009-10 to clarify the legal position of religious organisations wanting to discriminate on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation. As things stand, they maybe in breach of the law in that they extend this discrimination to lay appointments as well as to clergy, although the Catholic and Anglican churches deny the law covers those appointments. Harriet Harman, the U.K employment minister, introduced an amendment to state that the law in fact covered lay appointments but not clerical posts. This amendment failed to pass in the House of Lords due to strong opposition from the Lords Spiritual, but was widely expected to be reintroduced when the bill went back to the commons.
It now appears this is not to be as the government has backed down.
Religious voices are of course hailing this as a victory for religious freedom but what it is, is a licence for the homophobes and misogynists in churches, mosques and synagogues everywhere to refuse legitimate employment for a substantial percentage of the British population.
Notice as well that the amendment was only a clarification. The churches are hiding behind an ambiguity in the law in order to discriminate in this way.
Now personally I think equality laws should apply to all aspects of employment. In fact even to clergy. It should be possible for a woman or gay individual to take the Catholic Church to court in the U.K if they are refused appointment as a priest or bishop on the grounds of gender. Why not! Why should these purveyors of Neolithic morality and superstition be allowed to flout laws that quite rightly affect secular organisations?
However I am not holding my breath for that kind of rationality to enter U.K law anytime soon. But, for the government to walk away from explicitly protecting equality of employment for lay appointments shows a woeful lack of commitment to the whole equality agenda.
It is this kind of issue that makes me so strongly in favour of an elected upper chamber. It is time the privileged position of the Anglican Bishops in our legislature was ended for good so we can elect some rational minds into the House of Lords.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"