Friday, 3 July 2009

Baroness Scotland and the Equality Bill

Updated Tuesday

This week’s edition of The Tablet has a news report, unfortunately subscriber-only until next Friday, that the Attorney-General, Baroness Scotland “has pledged to help the Church gain amendments to parts of the proposed Equality Bill.”

The essence of this report is however contained in the article published by the National Secular Society and titled Catholic Attorney General seeks to water down protections under Equality Bill.

There is some confused reporting here. It’s not clear whether the confusion is due to the reporter, or to what Mr Kornicki said.

The clause that deals with exemptions on the basis of Religion as the “protected characteristic” is Schedule 9, Clause 3.

This is entirely separate from Clause 2, which deals with exemptions on various other bases not including Religion, and which incorporates the new explicit definition of “the purposes of an organised religion”. The government contends that this definition is not a narrowing of the existing law, but the churches appear not to accept that view.

But in any case, that definition has no bearing on Clause 3, which reads as follows:

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).

Note that this exemption is available to any organisation “with an ethos based on religion or belief” and is not limited to “organised religion” at all.

So it is unlikely, I think, that what Baroness Scotland, Richard Kornicki, and Stephen Pound are concerned about is in fact to do with discrimination “against those who don’t share their faith”. It’s much more likely that they are concerned with discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in Clause 2.

Tuesday update
I have now heard back from the offices of both the Attorney-General and the Catholic Bishops Conference, and can confirm that:

- it is only Clause 2 which is the subject of concern
- Baroness Scotland does not intend to submit any amendment to the bill.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 3 July 2009 at 11:14pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation

What the who?

There's nothing like seeing a term such as "Baroness" to make me glad for what day it is today. ;-)

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Yanks!

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 4 July 2009 at 6:41am BST

Sorry, but the suggestion is incomprehensible. What does it mean?

Nothing good one might surmise, but what?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 4 July 2009 at 8:45am BST

If you mean my suggestion, then it is clear (see for example the transcript of evidence given by Mr Kornicki for the RCs and Mr Fittall of the CofE at ) that the churches seek amendments to Clause 2 to widen the scope for use of that exemption which relates to gender, marital status, circumstances surrounding divorce, and also "relating to sexual orientation".

The dispute with the government is about whether the wording of the new definition in fact constitutes a change to existing law. The government, and all the employment law experts I know, consider that it does not change it.

The point is therefore that there is a dispute about what the existing law is.

The churches have always argued - see my post on the history of Reg 7(3) - for a much wider applicability of such an exemption than in fact the law currently provides. And they are still arguing for it.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 4 July 2009 at 9:20am BST

No sorry, I did not mean you at all, Simon.

But I agree (as little as I understand English law speak) that the Government just restated what has been said.

And I do realise it's up to no good as to discrimination; a continued Carte Blanche...

But what is this for? And how can the opposite of real be claimed?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 4 July 2009 at 10:39am BST

Being a faith community who occupies the only possible high ethical grounds, CoE reserves a singular leeway to pre-judge and mistreat others, which same leeway it loudly agrees will not do, outside the church proper in civil society. Corollary to all that: times have clearly changed, and while trash talking queer folks will do very nicely, actually punching queer folks in the face or tying them to stakes to be burned alive - well, dear folks, all that is out, way, way out.

Am I getting it yet?

Is this White Privilege? Colonial Privilege? Males Only and Males First Privilege? English Privilege? Constantinian Privilege? Nicean Privilege? Anglican Mainstream Privilege? Fulcrum Privilege? Confessing Anglican Privilege? Strict Conservative Privilege? Global South Anglican Privilege? Jamaican Privilege? Ugandan Privilege? Nigerian Privilege? Islamic Fatwa Privilege? No Gays-No Gay Marches Downtown Privilege?

If the privilege is lost, or partly eroded, or amended by law and application, what then?

Will a bishop still be a bishop without this singular privilege, properly denied to everyone else in regular society?

Note to self: Recheck the slave chains, and locks. Routine maintenance. The local bishop will sprinkle them with holy water, come Slave Sunday, a reminder to all of us that we are bought with a holy price, and after all, nobody gets to do anything without higher permission. The occupants of high places are always God's proxies, in all times and all places.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 4 July 2009 at 6:48pm BST
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