Britain has perhaps the world's most comprehensive equality and anti-discrimination laws. These laws have made our country more tolerant, free and inclusive; while undermining the privilege that has historically marginalised certain groups. These laws have brought us closer to being a secular democracy, where no one faces discrimination because of religion or belief.
Despite this many people continue to experience discrimination because of their (or others') religion or belief (or non-belief). With our existing equality laws, common sense and good will, this can be stopped.
What’s the problem?
Equality laws have many exceptions, some to protect religious freedom, and some to allow religious groups to discriminate – including when delivering public services. While most people of all faiths and none are happy with anti-discrimination laws, a small minority want to weaken them so they can be free to impose their dogma on others, or to allow religious rights to sit at the top of a hierarchy.
Such groups promote a lot of myths about equality cases. They are particularly concerned about a loss of Christian exceptionalism and a growth of LGBT equality. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is among those who have criticised such groups for being unreasonable and told them to 'grow up'.
One strategy for such groups is to promote calls for "reasonable accommodations", 'conscience clauses' and exemptions – which would open the door to discrimination. Their skewed version of 'religious freedom' would only undermine the real freedom of religion and belief our equality laws protect.
Of course, equality laws are never perfect, and some degree of exemptions and fudging is necessary to balance out different rights, but this should never be used to protect privilege or legitimise discrimination.
What are we doing?
We fully engaged with a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into the effectiveness of current equality and human rights legislation on religion or belief. We welcomed the subsequent report, which found that that existing legislation was "generally effective", as we had argued, and rejected demands for a duty of so-called "reasonable accommodation". We continue to lobby the Commission and the Government to tackle the equality issues stemming from faith-based schools in the area of employment and religious discrimination – areas subject to equality Act exemptions.
What you can do:
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What are religious exemptions? When are they legitimate? How do they undermine equality laws?