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Bigoted bishop gets egg on his face

The National Secular Society has welcomed a ruling from an employment tribunal that the Bishop of Hereford was wrong to block the employment of a gay man from a job as a youth worker. The tribunal ruled this week that John Reaney, the man at the centre of the case, had been discriminated against by the Diocese of Hereford. Mr Reaney is now set to secure substantial compensation.

Mr Reaney had originally been offered the job after a unanimous decision by the interview panel. But when the Bishop of Hereford heard of the appointment, he subjected Mr Reaney to a humiliating cross-examination about his private life, after which he ruled that he could not have the job.

Mr Reaney, who lives in north Wales was helped by gay rights campaigners Stonewall to bring the case to the tribunal. Stonewall argued that a heterosexual person would not have been subject to the same level of intrusive questioning as Reaney.

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) welcomed news. Its secretary, Cliff James, said: “This important case will tell churches that their prejudice and homophobia will not be tolerated in employment – not even for bogus religious reasons. The bishop of Hereford’s actions were a disgraceful display of crude intolerance and we hope that he is thoroughly ashamed of himself. The Church is rapidly having to learn that it is no longer a law unto itself and that injustice is no longer acceptable, even if it is committed in the name of religion.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which fought hard for religious exemptions to be removed from the employment discrimination legislation, said: “Although we are pleased with this outcome, we fear this case only succeeded because the employee’s role was largely lay, which applies to only a small proportion of the Church’s workforce. The exemption, on which the Church sought to rely, one for ‘organised religion’, was inserted into the regulations at the eleventh hour at the demand of the Church of England Archbishops’ Council. The Bishop of Hereford still thinks his decision was correct, so we can expect the Church to continue to discriminate in this way.”

Mr Sanderson’s fears that this is not a clear cut victory were underlined by a short statement from The Archbishops’ Council that noted: “The broader issue raised by this case is whether there are posts, including some non-clergy posts, where the religious exemptions permitted under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations can properly be applied by bishops and dioceses. The tribunal has helpfully confirmed that there are.”