Updated again Saturday
The Archbishops’ Council has issued a response, available here as an RTF file, to the UK government’s consultation paper, A Framework for Fairness: Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain.
The consultation paper, which can be found as a large PDF file via this link, sets out the government’s proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain. These proposals were developed as a result of the Discrimination Law Review, launched in February 2005 to consider the opportunities for creating a clearer and more streamlined discrimination legislative framework which produces better outcomes for those who currently experience disadvantage.
A Church of England press release about the response can be found here.
Ekklesia has reported on this, see Church of England concerned that equality bill will reduce its influence. Here is the concluding part of that report:
…The response claims that the Church of England has been consistent in its support for the use of the law to combat the manifestations of prejudice and to promote equality and fairness since the introduction of the first anti-discrimination legislation more than forty years ago.
But critics say that the Church has used its unelected representatives in the House of Lords and its lobbying muscle elsewhere to oppose or seek to water down equalities legislation and regulations, particularly in relation to sexual orientation. The desire for ‘opt-outs’ has also been challenged.
While many church groups have opposed the new Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), the evangelical Faithworks network has called on Christians to recognise the need for equal treatment in spite of moral disagreement.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the independent Christian think tank Ekklesia, commented: “The comprehensive and integrated equalities agenda across Britain’s public institutions is no threat to freedom of religion or tolerance. On the contrary, equal treatment is a cornerstone of fair access and open expression for all – including people of faith and those of non-religious outlook.”
He added: “It is sad that some faith organisations seem fearful of equal rights, especially when it applies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. But there is a clear distinction to be made between the moral stipulations of a community of commitment, and the obligation on public institutions to ensure fair treatment. Religious bodies do not have to take public money, run schools and work in cooperation with community and public services. But if they do so, they need to occupy the same level playing field as others.”
Ekklesia argues that the churches need to pay more attention to the “radically egalitarian” strand of the Gospel message in developing their response to public policy, rather than defending their institutional interests over and against others.
Jonathan Petre reports on this at the Daily Telegraph: Church fears lawsuits over gay rights. He says in part:
…The Church of England, in its official submission to the Government’s consultation on the Bill, said the proposed harassment laws were unnecessary.
If such legislation was introduced, however, it would be “crucial” to ensure that a religion’s followers, and not just clergy, could continue “to express the views of their faith about homosexual conduct, including challenging people to lead lives consistent with the teaching of the Church.
“To deny Christians (and followers of other faiths which take a similar view) such a right would amount to an unjustified interference with the right to manifest religious belief.”
The Church added that the proposals “should not prevent church schools from continuing to teach in accordance with such a school’s religious ethos.”
Government plans to extend the same harassment laws to religion and belief were also criticised.
The Church said it could lead to people objecting to religious symbols such as crosses on hospital walls on the grounds that they were an affront to atheists.
It added that the proposals were in danger of undermining religious freedom.
“We have been concerned at what has seemed in some recent debates to be a trend towards regarding religion and belief as deserving of a lesser priority in discrimination legislation than the other strands where the law seeks to bring protection,” it said.
Religion and belief seemed to be treated as subordinate to other rights because they were deemed to be a personal choice, but this was “a false analysis”, it continued.
“Nor is religious equality achieved by the elimination of expressions of religious belief in public institutions such as schools or local authorities.
“This does not amount to, or achieve, equal respect for different religious groups and those of no religion; rather it amounts to an enforced secularism that fails to respect religious belief at all.”
Steve Doughty in the Daily Mail has Church of England: Labour’s equality law denies Christians right to oppose homosexuality.