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18 August 2014

Equality Commission calls for evidence on belief in public life

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have launched a major survey to hear from Christians and other faith groups about their experience and perception of how their beliefs are treated in the workplace and everyday life. The Commission wants to gather as much information as possible from individuals, organisations and employers.

This survey from the Equality and Human Rights Commission is a vital opportunity for Christians to speak up about their experience of how the freedom to express religious belief is treated in Britain today.

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "The Alliance and others have raised concerns over a long period about people being marginalised because of their religion or beliefs. We welcome this great opportunity for Christians and those of other faiths to share their experiences in areas such as employment or service provision. It is really important that we take this opportunity."

Christians have long fought for human rights, whether at the forefront of the campaign against the transatlantic slave trade or in formulating the UN declaration of human rights after the Second World War. However, they have also frequently raised concerns that the current equality legislation is unfairly biased against them. Organisations and individual Christians have an opportunity though this survey to seek positive changes to equality laws that will provide more robust and appropriate protections and freedoms for faith groups.

Together with Christians in Parliament the Evangelical Alliance produced the Clearing the Ground report in 2012 which explored how much freedom Christians in the UK have in public life. The report found evidence that some Christians in the UK experience marginalisation, but it is wrong to describe this as persecution. Alongside this it identified religious illiteracy as a major problem, reflected in the assumption by many that religious belief should be a private activity.

Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs said: "The Alliance has been highlighting to the Commission for some time the perceived imbalance in what is widely regarded as a discriminatory human rights hierarchy. This has not been helped by the Commission joining cases against those claiming discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief rather that supporting them.

"There is a danger of a hierarchy of rights being established with religion and belief at the bottom. It is therefore encouraging, following meetings with the Commission, that a new attitude is emerging which wants to take religion and belief rights seriously."

Launching the call for evidence Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "Everyone has the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, that includes respect for people's faith or beliefs, and respect for the rights of others.

"We are well aware of the complexity in dealing with such issues. Undertaking this major piece of work will help to build our understanding about how well the law is working so we can fully examine the adequacy of the current legal framework for religion or belief."

To take part in the call for evidence and share your experiences with the Equality and Human Rights Commission please visit their website.

This research is part of a three-year Commission programme to increase understanding of religion or belief in public life, improve knowledge about what happens in practices and ensure the laws that protect everyone's right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect are effective. The evidence will be used by the Commission to consider how effective current legislation is.

Take part in the call for evidence: www.equalityhumanrights.com/religion