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.
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.