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Church criticises Equality Bill definition

The following article appears in this week’s Church Times.
(Reproduced with permision.)

Link now available here.

Church criticises Equality Bill definition

THE Archbishops’ Council is un­happy that the new Equality Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday, has changed the scope of an existing ex­emp­tion in employment law relating to sexual orientation. It has added a definition of the phrase “for the pur­poses of organised religion” without prior consultation.

The new definition says that the exemption applies only when “the employment wholly or mainly in­volves (a) leading or assisting in the observation of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion, or (b) pro­mo­ting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others).”

Previously there had been no such definition, but it was widely believed that the exemption had been intend­ed to have a very narrow scope, and primarily applied to clergy. The employment tribunal ruling on the case of John Reaney v. the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance (Com­ment, 27 July, 2007) took a different view.

An Archbishops’ Council spokes­man said: “This definition . . . was inserted in the Bill without our re­ceiv­ing any prior consultation or warning. It represents a substantial narrowing of the exemption.”

Referring to such posts of secretary general of the Arch­bishops’ Council or a diocesan secretary as examples of “senior posts represent­ing the Church”, the spokesman said: “That could mean, for example, that the Church would not be able to decline to employ some­one in a such a role on the grounds that that person’s previous marriage had ended in divorce as a result of his or her own adultery.

“We shall be raising the issue with the Government, and are likely to support the tabling of amendments that would preserve the status quo.”

Other parts of the exemption are preserved. As now, the discrimin­ation must also be shown to be either: a proportionate way of com­plying with the doctrines of the religion; or a proportionate means of avoiding conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of a signif­icant number of the religion’s followers.

When it does apply, however, any of the following six distinct require­ments (combining an earlier list re­lating to sex discrimination with the sexual-orientation clause) can still be imposed: to be of a particular sex; not to be a transsexual person; not to be married or a civil partner; not to be married to, or the civil partner of, a person who has a living former spouse or civil partner; relating to circumstances in which a marriage or civil partnership came to an end; related to sexual orientation.

The Archbishops’ Council’s Mission and Public Affairs Council says that the Church “supports the broad objectives of the Bill”, but it has issued a four-page briefing to MPs that details seven areas of con­cern. One of these is that the law should not be formulated in ways that improperly restrict the freedom of religion, belief, and conscience guaranteed by Article 9 of the Euro­pean Convention on Human Rights.

The briefing says: “There is there­fore potential for conflict when different protected characteristics give rise to claims of discrimination, harassment or victimisation. . . Guidance will be needed on how to resolve such conflicts, without leaving them to the adjudication of the courts, and that guidance must be religiously literate.”

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Ford ElmsBillyDdrdanfeepoppy tupperFr Mark Recent comment authors
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Prior Aelred
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Maybe I am badly misunderstanding this (bills can be very confusing – to me, anyway) but i think it might be quite salutary for the Church of England to be reminded that being established has responsibilities as well as privileges — the church of the nation cannot be at odds with the values cherished by the people as good and just. After all, the C of E has been described as having Protestant Articles, a Catholic Prayer Book and an Erastian Establishment.

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

The shifting civic boundaries must be worked out again and reworked as our vision of what is fair and caring rises and expands, probably in ways and to a large degree that past centuries would hardly have understood with any widespread scope. State and church in past centuries regularly did things to people of all sorts which we today would decry as human rights violations. So far as we can tell, in their own times of violence, people conforming to such institutions hardly felt anything about what they were doing, except justified and determined. The habit of conservative believers for… Read more »

Bishop Alan Wilson
Guest

Whilst very much in favour of the big idea of the bill, I’ve got two sorts of problem: (1) definitions. The proposed clause goes way off piste of anything pragmatically definable in legal terms. If I were a raging homophobe, I’d just set up a Jedi Knight thing and get on with it, or turn my Fred Phelps event into a ritual. (2) Applying human rights based law usually involves a tidal race between one right and another conflicting one. Where any boat places in the tidal race is exactly the kind of issue best left to a court, and… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Alan Wilson: but every other employer has to follow the law, and they could all find reasons why they would prefer not to. It just looks really awful when churchpeople try to wriggle out of it: the message it gives is “Church unhappy with the idea of equality.”

Una Kroll
Guest

Well, please will someone tell me how one member of a marriage is wholly responsible for a divorce? Divorce is a tragedy not a reason to appoint blame. Are the archbishops really saying that it is legitimate to employ a known adulterer whose wife puts up with it in silence, and not a person who has been divorced? Judgement surely belongs to God alone. The State has an obligation to treat as many of its citizens equally as equally as possible and members of all faiths should reconsider their exclusion clauses in the light of the fact that Christ died… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

I don’t agree with religionist exemptions at all, but clearly legislation has to follow the decision of caselaw as it is established.

The Church simply underlines its own prejudices, integral to its doctrines, by requiring exemption.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Una Kroll is wholly correct. The present so-called no-fault divorce law in this country is an obvious lie for this very reason: that it couldn’t care less about (for example) a case where the wife is faithful, innocent, and wanting a reconciliation. In fact, it gives 100% rights to the guilty party and 0% to the innocent, which is pure wickedness. People spout the cliche that there are always faults on both sides, but there will always be plenty of cases where the fault lies substantially on one side. In such cases, the law (just as it would do if… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

Una, when someone abuses their spouse, or cheats on him/her, and the spouse sues for divorce, they – the abuser or cheater – are considered the “guilty” party. And quite rightly so, IMNSHO.

Prior Aelred
Guest

This seems to be a return to the claim that the church should not be answerable to common law — I thought Henry VIII put paid to that idea rather decisively!

rick allen
Guest

“I thought Henry VIII put paid to that idea rather decisively!”

Indeed, with a vengance. It’s an apt observation, but what is surprising, I suppose, is that anyone wants to return to that model.

Looks to me like what is being set aside is the spirit of the old toleration and emancipation acts of the Victorian age, which enabled a religious pluralism. With the narrow exception of clergy, parliament is again claiming the authority to dictate morality, and punish those who deviate from it. It just happens to be a new and different morality.

Interesting times.

poppy tupper
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poppy tupper

Billy D. You seem to think that there is a guilty party and an innocent party in a divorce, an abuser and an abused, an adulterer and a cuckold. Is it always that simple? What of the partner who is neglectful or arrogant, bullying or spiteful? Suppose the partner of that person commits adultery? The adultery is the ground for divorce, but the marriage may already have suffered a grievous blow. Both are guilty. Both are victims. Life’s complicated. Just because one fault is made public in the divorce proceedings doesn’t mean there aren’t other faults, injuries in both directions.… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

The cries of anguish from the ‘Church’ are so boringly predictable. I hope those formulating this legislation and those in parliament who will have to approve it will hold the line that there should be no exemptions as outlined. Otherwise the ‘Church’ only continues to show that Christian belief and human rights are incompatible.

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

rick allen: “Looks to me like what is being set aside is the spirit of the old toleration and emancipation acts of the Victorian age…”

Your comment seems hard to square with the prosecution, and indeed imprisonment, of Ritualist clergy in the merry old Victorian age.

BillyD
Guest

“Is it always that simple?”

No, but sometimes it is.

By the way, just exactly where did I say that it was always that simple? I think maybe you’re reading too much into my answer. IMNSHO.

BillyD
Guest

Poppy, I thought of something else. You wrote: “You seem to think that there is a guilty party and an innocent party in a divorce, an abuser and an abused … Is it always that simple? What of the partner who is neglectful or arrogant, bullying or spiteful?” I’ve changed my mind, in part. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that yes, when it comes to physical abuse, there is always a guilty party and an innocent party. No amount of neglect, arrogance, bullying or spite justifies someone abusing their spouse. In such a case, no –… Read more »

poppy tupper
Guest
poppy tupper

Billy D. Try to pay attention. I didn’t say that a spouse’s actions could be a justification for the other’s abuse. I said that there may be prior fault on the part of the abused. No connection between the two, no justification, just that there’s the possibility that both are contributing the breakdown on the relationship. Each is a victim of the other. If I abuse my partner, it doesn’t then automatically clear him of all guilt or responsibility for his prior neglect/bullying/spite/whatever. And, as you ask, ‘where did I say that it was always that simple’? You said it… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“In such a case, no – there are not two victims.”

I understand, and to an extent agree with this, but SOMETHING made the abuser into an abuser. A person doesn’t just DO that kind of thing. Abusers are made, not born. But the abused is not in some way responsible for the abuse, all the same. Just because someone is broken doesn’t give them the right to break someone else.

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

I’m not sure we should use DV as our best analogy, searching for a simple test case; If we are going to use domestic violence as our test case, then we are going to have get complicated, not simple. Holding individual alleged perps accountable is only the start, not the end of DV. Even so far as DV alleged perps are concerned, we haven’t finished until they have attended, internalized, and applied anger mgmt in daily life or relationships. Beyond the individual alleged perps, we have one or more victims. All the people related to DV may be vicariously traumatized,… Read more »

BillyD
Guest

I am paying full attention, Poppy. And unlikely as it may seem to you, I still think you are wrong. As a matter of fact, I think your last post is striking in the way that you deny – and then affirm – a connection between the behavior of abused and abuser. Are all behaviors really equal, and equally damning? Is beating (or cheating on) a partner who is difficult to live with really on the same level as their “arrogance”? Are both sides of every story always equally valid? Isn’t anyone *ever* an innocent victim in your book? Ford,… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“as far as the relationship goes, there’s a criminal and their victim.”

Which is what I meant by:

“Just because someone is broken doesn’t give them the right to break someone else.”