The Government has published a consultation on the biggest ever shake-up of discrimination law.
These proposals would restrict freedom to preach and damage freedom of conscience.
The Discrimination Law Review proposes to take every single piece of existing legislation relating to discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age, and put them all into a “Single Equality Act” which will be overseen and enforced by a new body called the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
Clearly Christians will be pleased that the Government are seeking to simplify some very complex legislation, and throw out unjustified discrimination. After all Jesus said:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
However, though there are many positive proposals, there are also a number of substantial threats to Christians who want to be able to speak freely about the Bible’s teaching.
The Lawyers Christian Fellowship note the chief concerns as:
1. The Government are proposing to make it illegal to harass someone on the grounds of their religion or belief. However, the definition of harassment is extremely broad, and substantially depends on the perception of the person who makes an allegation of harassment and not the intention of the person accused of harassment. So, a Christian that went to a largely Muslim area to hand out tracts which said that Islam was a false religion, could be sued if a particular Muslim felt that the tract had either ‘violated their dignity’ or put them in an ‘offensive environment’.
2. The Government have also brought back one of the most controversial proposals that they previously tried to bring in via the Sexual Orientation Regulations only a few months ago. They are proposing that it should be made illegal to harass someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Again, the problem is the really broad definition of harassment. This proposal would mean that although a Church is free under the SORs to gently refuse membership of the church to an unrepentant practising homosexual, that person, if they felt that they had been put in a ‘humiliating environment’ could sue the Church. Similarly, a homosexual could sue a church if they heard a sermon about sexual morality that included condemnation of homosexual practices.
3. The Government are also consulting on whether there should be a duty on public authorities to promote sexual orientation equality. This will mean that local authorities and other bodies will take active steps to ensure that all sorts of organisations do not discriminate based on homosexual practices. The danger is that this will be taken too far and will mean that Government funding is removed from Christian projects or that support is given to projects promoting homosexuality.
4. The Government are further consulting on whether there should be a duty on public authorities to promote religion or belief equality. There is a similar danger here that the sort of politically correct decisions (like local councils banning Christmas cards) that increasingly make the headlines, will be multiplied, with public funding being focused on promoting ‘minority’ religions like Islam and Hinduism.
5. Another part of the consultation paper seeks views on whether Churches should be able to treat people differently because they have had gender reassignment. If the Government subsequently decided not to allow churches to do so, then a church would not be able to object to a male member of the congregation, who had a sex change (taking on the appearance of a woman), from attending a women’s retreat weekend.
6. The Government are further proposing that the law should protect transsexual people from practices that require them to disclose the fact that their actual sex differs from their physical appearance. So, for example, the Government would allow a man that has had a sex change operation, to be able to keep it secret that he has had that operation.
The full consultation can be found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/frameworkforfairnessconsultation
The consultation closes on the 4th SEPTEMBER. Please try and respond by then, to the address below. However, even if your response arrives late it will indicate to the Government that many people have concerns.
Discrimination Law Review Team, Women and Equality Unit
Communities and Local Government
Zone C1, 2nd Floor Ashdown House
123 Victoria Street
Fax No.: 020 7944 0602
Tel No.: 0207 944 8330
Here are some points to include in your response:
- As Christians we welcome efforts to eradicate unfair treatment, and support the Government in this. Christianity is the basis for the teaching that we should love all people and treat people fairly and justly.
- You strongly oppose proposals to outlaw harassment on the grounds of religion or belief because such a law is a) unnecessary b) very broad c) will damage freedom to preach and debate about religions.
- You strongly oppose proposals to outlaw harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation because such a law is a) unnecessary b) very broad (and will encourage litigation) c) will damage freedom of conscience and freedom of belief for Christians to teach about sexual morality. Mention the way the Government ignored reasoned arguments put forward by Christians in relation to SORs, and that this has already led to a Catholic adoption agency closing, and many other Christian service providers being put under pressure to compromise their faith or give up their jobs.
- You oppose the idea of placing a duty on public authorities to promote sexual orientation equality and fear that it will be divisive and damaging to the relationship between Christians and such authorities. You also oppose the idea that religious organisations performing public functions should be bound by non-discrimination laws where this conflicts with their doctrinal teachings.
- You oppose the idea of placing a duty on public authorities to promote religion or belief equality and fear that it will result in more damaging acts of ‘political correctness’ by promoting minority religions at the expense of Christianity. We do not believe that all religions are equal and we do not believe that the state should be supporting false teaching.
- Explain that the Bible teaches that God created men and women and that those who call themselves ‘transsexuals’ need to be given counselling and support rather than surgery. Explain that although churches will be loving to transsexuals, it is essential that they are free, in certain circumstances, to treat transsexuals differently.