The Cutting Edge Consortium has issued a press release:
CUTTING EDGE CONSORTIUM URGES HOUSE OF LORDS TO VETO MORE RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS IN EQUALITY BILL
The Cutting Edge Consortium (CEC) deplores the tabling, yet again, of an amendment to the Equality Bill, this time by Baroness Williams of Crosby, designed to provide an explicit exemption for religious fostering and adoption agencies from anti-discrimination law. The aim of Equalities legislation should be that services targeted at various population groups are provided in the overall context of achieving a more equal society, not to institutionalize discrimination.
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Attempts to amend the Equality Bill to provide a new exemption specifically for religious fostering and adoption agencies have been repeatedly rebuffed in both Houses of Parliament. Recent attempts were made in the House of Lords by Lord MacKay of Clashfern and by Baroness Butler-Sloss. CEC agrees with Baroness Murphy’s comment at Committee stage:
“I would defend to the death the rights of religious groups and organisations to believe what they want to believe but, when it comes to how those religious groups behave in relation to the rest of society, they cannot exercise a right that so diminishes the rights of other groups. … these amendments are deeply, offensively, homophobic.”
CEC’s Maria Exall said:
“Everyone committed to promoting equality and non-discrimination will be alarmed that charities providing key services in the public interest will be able to act in a prejudicial way to LGBT people if these amendments are passed.”
CEC notes that claims are often made that this involves a matter of religious ‘doctrine’ but, for example, Catholic teachings on sexual orientation are not to be considered as “core doctrine”, and are officially recognised by the Vatican and Catholic theologians world-wide as Third Level teachings and subject to development. As such they require “religious respect” from Catholics but are also capable of conscientious dissent. Such dissent does not excommunicate anyone from the Catholic Church. The avoidance of conflict “with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers” ignores the reality that many people of faith exercise their right to dissent in this area of religious teachings across a number of faiths and denominations.
CEC urges all Peers to use the final stages of the Equality Bill to close any loosely worded loopholes in existing legislation and to reject the amendment to Schedule 3 of the Equality Bill tabled in the name of Baroness Williams of Crosby for consideration at Third Reading on 23 March 2010.
Catholic Care & the Charity Commission
The CEC notes with concern this week’s High Court judgment in the case brought by the Leeds-based Catholic Care child-care agency. CEC urges the Charity Commission to take careful account of how other Catholic adoption agencies have dealt creatively with this matter, before accepting the arguments that Catholic Care will now have to make in order to pursue its case.
Catholic Care seeks to change its charitable objectives so that it will be lawful for it to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking assessment as prospective foster-carers or adoptive parents. These revised objectives would expressly state:
“The Charity would only provide adoption services to heterosexuals…”
The Charity Commission must now consider whether the benefits of the charity operating in this discriminatory manner outweigh the disbenefits of it not operating at all.
That need arises solely because Catholic Care has itself decided that if the change is not approved, it will close down rather than follow one of the alternative routes used by other Catholic adoption agencies in responding to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The majority of other Catholic adoption agencies have not closed down. A minority has chosen to discontinue adoption work while still providing other services. Over the past 30 years, many of these agencies have never discriminated against either single homosexual people or, more recently, same-sex couples since legislative changes enabled such joint adoption. They do not propose to do so now. It is also crucial to note that children placed with such agencies are in the legal care of the local authority, not the agencies themselves. No local authority would wish to place a child with a charity which it perceives as discriminatory.
Although these agencies may no longer have the local Diocesan Bishop as a Trustee, they remain Catholic charities, retaining a majority of Catholic Trustees, fundraising in the Catholic community, pastorally supported by their relevant Bishops, Dioceses, local clergy and people, and have not changed their principle charitable aims/objectives apart from, in some circumstances, a change of name, e.g Caritas Care (Lancaster), Cabrini Childrens Society (Arundel & Brighton, Portsmouth, & Southwark), Faith in Families (Nottingham). Other Catholic agencies, such as Westminster Catholic Childrens Society and Catholic Care Leeds, have never accepted lesbian or gay applicants singly or as couples.
Most of these agencies remain members of Caritas Social Action, the officially recognised social welfare agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales.
It remains open to the Charity Commission to find that, on the evidence presented to it in this specific case such a change would not overall result in public benefit or gain. CEC believes that evidence should include the experience of other similar agencies.
The judge also noted that his decision was not a carte blanche for other religiously-based charities which provide public services and receive public funding to simply change their charitable instruments to introduce an expressly discriminatory element. Each case has to be evaluated by the Charity Commission on its merits.
Note for Editors:
The Cutting Edge Consortium, launched in November 2009, consists of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered groups, political and social justice activists, people of all faiths and none, trades unions and professional associations. It includes: a:gender, British Humanist Association, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, Ekklesia, Inclusive Church, Interfaith Alliance UK, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, LGBT Consortium of Voluntary & Community Organisations, Liberal Judaism, Muslim Education Centre Oxford, National Secular Society, Pink Triangle Trust, Progressive British Muslims, Trades Union Congress.
Further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Pendergast – 020 8986 0807
Maria Exall – 07714 206404