12 March 2015
Results of equality survey show religious beliefs are not treated equally
The Evangelical Alliance calls for clarity into the right to express religious beliefs as the Equality and Human Rights Commission sets out widespread confusion of the laws intended to protect them.
This follows the Equality and Human Rights Commission having published the results of their largest ever public consultation regarding the day-to-day experience of believers in Britain today. By far the largest number of responses came from Christians.
According to the Commission the results show that many Christians feared that their religion was losing its place in society and in particular in their workplace. Christians in particular reported that they felt discriminated against when expressing their beliefs at work.
Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "We warmly welcome the new constructive tone from the Commission and that they finally seem to be trying to take religion and belief seriously and focus on properly recognising the protected characteristic of religion and belief. This comes after many years of largely ignoring Christians and actually opposing their concerns in the courts.
"However, there remains a clear reluctance to tackle infringement of freedom of conscience and the emergent hierarchy of human rights, which has left people of faith firmly at the bottom and often wondering whether in practice religion and belief is a protected right at all. There is a long way to go to achieve parity and equality on a fair playing field with other rights."
The results of this consultation confirm there is widespread confusion about the law in relation to what people can and can't say or do when practising their faith, and even whether the law can or should be used to coerce people to be silent or to speak or act in contravention of their consciences and beliefs. The survey demonstrates widespread evidence of intimidation, abuse, hostility and discrimination against religious people, which would not be tolerated for other protected rights.
The outcome of the Commission's consultation comes as little surprise to the Alliance and confirms what they and other Christian groups have been saying repeatedly since the inception of the Commission in 2006.
The Evangelical Alliance calls for the law to be developed or applied in ways that afford reasonable accommodation for everybody who may share different approaches to life and belief. The law should prioritise mutual respect and tolerance that results in people making space for each other. Respect and tolerance, however, do not mean that people should be forced to promote views or condone practices they deeply disagree with.
Dr Horrocks went on to say: "When rights conflict, the test of equality legislation is whether it results in genuinely fair outcomes for everyone. If one group of protected rights is consistently trumped by others then equality is not working. Equality is important, but unless it is expressed fairly in the context of recognised diversity then it can become oppressive and end up being wielded as a blunt weapon to silence those we disagree with."
The Evangelical Alliance welcomes in this report the accounts of positive experiences of those employers who adopt an enlightened, broad-minded, consultative and accommodating approach to applying equality and diversity frameworks which are inclusive of people of faith. Good relations and mediation is always a better approach than narrow-minded or ideological confrontation that ends up in the courtroom.
The Alliance also hopes the Equality and Human Rights Commission, together with the government, will listen carefully to the pressing need to clarify the law. A way must be found that enables diverse views to coexist peacefully and respectfully and does not force people into denying their identities.
Over many years the Evangelical Alliance has constructively engaged with the Commission and stands ready to continue this role as further guidance is developed.
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Notes to Editors
Dr Don Horrocks is available for interview.
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