Thursday, 30 June 2011

CofE advertises for a new Communications Director

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.

But what has attracted some attention, for example here, and over here, is the sentence in the advertisement that reads as follows:

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 first is the febrile atmosphere which has arisen following the official publication of the (previously leaked) legal advice issued about Choosing Bishops - Equality Act 2010.

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.’

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 10:58am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

It would be illegal in such a situation for questions to be asked in interview about sexuality issues, gender, marriage, divorce, family or intention to have family. If any such questions were to be asked the applicant should refuse to answer and make an immediate complaint. The Church of England , as you say, has certain exemptions from the Equal Opportunities Legislation but it is not above the law.

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 12:17pm BST

With all this leaking going on, it would probably be unwise to hire another former employee of British Gas PLC.

Posted by: A J Barford on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 12:18pm BST

Will the applicants be quizzed on their sexual histories?

Posted by: JPM on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 3:08pm BST

No mention there of the ability to square the circle, or did I miss it?

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Thursday, 30 June 2011 at 4:06pm BST

I don't find the statement from Church House at all clear.

In the general descent of CofE policy on the issue to a level where it would seem to have been written on the back of a fag packet by a committee of Reform, we may have come to the point in its development where being gay and Christian is an impossibility. That was former leader of Reform George Curry's stance in a radio debate with me last week.

I don't know, although Simon is the expert, why would Fittall have made this stand in Parliament?
Might we not take him at his word?

Let's not forget that the Roman Catholic Church soon dumped their chief spokesperson after he introduced his boyfriend in the office.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 1 July 2011 at 7:44am BST

I find this odd, though for other reasons. Why not specify that the person must be an Anglican? The spokeperson is speaking for Anglicans, not for all Christians. If in fact there is an argument for limiting the post, I'd have thought the argument would be stronger had it turned on the need to commend the particularity of Anglicanism. On the surface, a successful applicant could be from a break-away group, so long as one were a practising Christian. One can share our values, but if one chooses not to be an Anglican, I presume that that means that he or she doesn't share all our beliefs (admittedly that is to invite all kinds of questions about which beliefs). As an ethicist, I have loads of time for values, but I also have quite a bit of time for principles -- and for the beliefs that ground both.

I think the same issue obtains in C of E schools, where in many places our schools are not Anglican, but some flavour of Christian, interpreted often by people who have not been given much guidance as to why being Anglican is a particularly good way of being a Christian.

The use of the word 'ethos' seems to be the common denominator.

I love our church (well, some of the time), but I sometimes wonder whether we believe in the value of what we believe.

Posted by: Joe on Friday, 1 July 2011 at 8:19am BST

"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."

No one is going to believe this corporate gobbledegook after Southwark CNC.

Posted by: A J Barford on Friday, 1 July 2011 at 8:24am BST

Why the need for a Communications Director for the venerable old Church of England? Is there anything new going on there that needs to be communicated - apart from the arrival of GAFCON, that is?

I don't think the long awaited sexuality debate will ever get off the ground there now. The world has waited long enough. Watch out for the new Puritans - and retrenchment.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 1 July 2011 at 3:48pm BST
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