Savi Hensman has made a detailed analysis at Ekklesia, see An ill-judged intervention from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
…If the EHRC were to succeed, Christianity’s reputation would be further damaged among those who come to associate it with institutionalised prejudice and abuse of power.
Christians too could find themselves on the receiving end of ‘conscientious’ discrimination. For instance, at present, if a church were vandalised, a police officer sent to the scene would be expected to do his job sensitively and diligently. This would be so even if he happened to be an ardent atheist in his private life who believed that religion was the source of most of the world’s evil. But if he believed that his belief could override his duty, he might refuse to go.
What is more, discrimination against Christians might appear increasingly justifiable, especially among those who do not know that – in practice – many churchgoers are reasonably sensible, accepting people, very different from the most vocal campaigners against ‘persecution’…
A rather different view comes from Alasdair Henderson at the UK Human Rights Blog. See A leap of faith?
…The way forward which the Commission proposes is the concept of “reasonable accommodation” for employees’ beliefs (similar to the ‘reasonable adjustments’ duty employers have towards disabled people). This is an idea that was floated by Aidan O’Neill QC on this blog not so long ago. The EHRC gives an example in its press release of how this could work – “If a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.”
…The EHRC’s announcement has been welcomed by those who felt the Commission had failed to adequately support the right to religious freedom in the past, or even been anti-Christian. However, it has also provoked fierce criticism from some quarters. Some gay rights activists are concerned that this signals a shift in the Commission’s views that might negatively effect gay equality, given the particular difficulties of potential clashes between protection from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and protection of religious freedom (see our post on this subject here).
…Rather more strangely, the EHRC’s announcement has been heavily criticised by secularist and humanist lobby groups like the British Humanist Association. It is difficult to understand why such groups have any objection, since any argument by the EHRC that there should be accommodation for employees’ beliefs would apply not just to Christians, but equally to people of all faiths, including humanists and atheists.
In any event, it will be interesting to see how these cases, and the EHRC’s involvement, develops in the coming months. There are some important questions that will require significant thought. Is an employee’s religious belief really comparable to disability, such that it can be analysed and approached in the same way? How could employers be helped to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs while at the same time ensuring that there is no discrimination in the provision of services to the public? Whatever the outcome, hopefully this move by the EHRC will produce more light and less heat in a particularly difficult and sensitive area of human rights and equality law.