Following on from this announcement, the Sunday Times carried an advertisement for a new Communications Director which you can see here. Further information about the post can be found here and then here.
This is no ordinary Communications Director job. We are looking for somebody who will share our values and whilst not necessarily an Anglican, is a practising Christian (this post is subject to an occupational requirement that the holder be a practising Christian under Part 1 of Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 because of its representational role and its responsibility for maintaining a Christian ethos within the national Church, as one of its senior officers).
Now, this has been assumed by some people to be a reference to Clause 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 9. That clause is the one which contains all the exemptions relating to gender, marital status, sexual orientation and so forth.
However, I do not believe that is what they meant to reference. I believe the intention was to reference Clause 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 9. This reads (scroll down at the previous link):
Other requirements relating to religion or belief
3 A person (A) with an ethos based on religion or belief does not contravene a provision mentioned in paragraph 1(2) by applying in relation to work a requirement to be of a particular religion or belief if A shows that, having regard to that ethos and to the nature or context of the work—
(a) it is an occupational requirement,
(b) the application of the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, and
(c) the person to whom A applies the requirement does not meet it (or A has reasonable grounds for not being satisfied that the person meets it).
This is the clause that transposes into the Equality Act 2010 the exemption formerly contained in The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. This exemption was, and is, entirely separate and distinct from others which were formerly contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, as amended and The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. All of these are now bundled into Clause 2.
So, why have other interpretations been put upon this advertisement? I think there are two causes.
The second is the fact that during the passage of the Equality Act, Secretary General William Fittall gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in which he specifically cited this job as an example of a senior post, likely to be held by a lay person, which he considered should fall within the ambit of the Clause 1 exemptions. Here is what he said at the time. The context of his remarks was a Labour government proposal incorporated in the draft bill to modify the wording of the Clause 2 exemption to be more explicit about who was to be included. This was fiercely resisted by the CofE, and was the reason why a large number of bishops turned out to vote in the House of Lords in favour of an amendment which deleted the proposed changes. The amendment passed, and so the scope of the exemption today remains exactly what it was before.
It is therefore understandable that some would now be suspicious. And, if my interpretation of the intention to invoke only Paragraph 3 is correct, it might be helpful if future advertisements were worded more precisely.
The official CofE response to queries on this is as follows:
‘The occupational requirement that the postholder be a practising Christian means what it says, neither more nor less. Staff are appointed to senior positions in the national institutions of the Church of England by fair and competitive processes. They have to be able to show that they can serve it in all its diversity and operate its equal opportunities policies. Suggestions that appointments are made in pursuit of a particular cultural or partisan agenda are completely unfounded.’