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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Granting Exemptions Will Spur Bishops On To Make New Demands, Say Secularists

The confrontation over the Sexual Orientation Regulations is creating a major conflict between where the rights of the church end and democracy begins, says the National Secular Society.

Commenting on the increasing religious pressure being applied to the Government for opt-outs from the new anti-discrimination legislation, Keith Porteous Wood, the Executive Director of the NSS, commented: “We have now reached the point where the government appears to be willing to allow the churches to opt themselves out of laws that everyone else has to abide by. It is the Government that has been elected to make the law, not the Churches, and if the Government has decided that it wants to implement equality legislation, it should be able to do so without the kind of interference that is evident at the moment.

“The churches’ tactics over this are self-serving and dishonest. The Archbishop of Canterbury says that ‘The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.’ This is simply not correct. Race Relations law probably goes against the conscience of some racists, but that does not mean that they should be permitted to opt themselves out of it. On sexuality, it is the religious who are the very ones most likely to want to discriminate. This is why the churches are applying so much pressure but yet a further reason why these self-serving demands should be resisted.”

Mr Porteous Wood said that if the Government gives in again to religious demands, as they already have done on school quotas, it would be opening the floodgates for a never-ending series of further demands.
“Religious bodies have a big and regressive agenda – everything from abortion to stem cell research and voluntary euthanasia – and if they feel the Government can be pushed over quite so easily, then the next issue of so-called conscience will soon be on the floor of Parliament. If the Government caves in on this, it will set a dangerous precedent.

“The Anglican Church has form on pushing its homophobia into law using its privileged position to bypass the democratic process. It succeeded in dictating a major and damaging additional exemption for ‘organised religion’ to the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 (Regulation 7(3)). This was inserted by he Government almost verbatim as demanded by the Church, after the public consultation had closed and without any consultation with representatives of those adversely affected. This caused real hardship as it is acknowledged that a high proportion of church employees are homosexual."


Published Wed, 24 Jan 2007