12 July 2011
Equality and Human Rights Commission makes landmark move
Coming just days after the Evangelical Alliance met with senior executives at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) it has been announced that the EHRC will now intervene on behalf of four cases involving discrimination against Christians in the workplace at the European Court of Human Rights. The meeting followed the Alliance's public criticism of the Commission's failure to support Christians in a statement on 20 June.
In regular meetings over the last few years the Alliance has been urging the Commission to press for greater flexibility in interpretation of equalities legislation as it affects people of faith. In particular, we have asked the EHRC to consider introducing the principle of 'reasonable accommodation' to ensure that space is given to everyone especially when rights clash. This is a legal principle that has worked well in helping to accommodate particular needs of people relating to disability discrimination.
The Alliance has also been outspoken in its demands for employment law to be clarified as it affects many people of faith. As it stands, the law is not well understood by employers and has led to many cases ending up in court which probably could and should have been dealt with more effectively outside the courts.
Saying that "judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion and belief discrimination claims" the EHRC has stated that it will intervene in four cases at the European Court of Human Rights each of which is concerned with religious discrimination in the workplace. One of these cases involves the Christian registrar Lillian Ladele who was threatened with dismissal for refusing to celebrate civil partnership ceremonies because they are fundamentally at odds with her beliefs.
The Commission now says that the way human rights and equalities law has been interpreted by the courts is "insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief" and that public expression of religion needs to be better accommodated. Other relevant cases involve the wearing of religious symbols.
John Wadham, Legal Director at the Commission said "Our intervention in these cases would encourage judges to interpret the law more broadly and more clearly to the benefit of people who are religious and those who are not".
Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance commented, "It would be very easy to see this as a cynical move by the Commission to belatedly ingratiate itself with the faith sector following much public criticism of its failure to stand up for Christians and members of other faith groups. However, I believe that whilst certainly overdue, we should welcome this bold and democratic new approach. It promises to contribute in a significant way towards the balance of fairness which has been lacking for religious people for too long.
"We congratulate the Commission for this strategic decision and trust that its interventions will help change the way such cases are resolved in the future. The Alliance looks forward to working constructively with the Commission to present their case for reform of the law and the way it is interpreted. No doubt the EHRC will be strongly attacked by secularist groups for its stance but we urge them to stick to their guns in what we hope will be an ultimately successful attempt to gain respect and credibility from the faith sector."
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The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.