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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

MPs withdraw support for “Christian martyrs” case

Two Liberal Democrat MPs have withdrawn their names from an Early Day Motion which supports the move by Christian activists to persuade the European Court of Human Rights to give them special privileges at work.

MP for Portsmouth South Mike Hancock said he signed the early day motion by accident.

The motion, tabled by Conservative MP Gary Streeter, supports a move by four Christian activists who are seeking “compromises” and “accommodations” in the workplace that would permit them to deny services to people they do not approve of or to disregard equality policies that that they claim conflict with their “Christian conscience”.

As we reported two weeks ago, the activists’ initiative has controversially been supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Mr Hancock told the Portsmouth News: “I hadn’t looked closely enough at all the implications. I do believe, very strongly, that people’s beliefs should be taken into account when they are working, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of people of whatever religion or sexual preference living as equals in our society. I have removed my name from the motion. I’m not sure that was what its author intended, and it’s certainly not what I would want, so I have removed my name. I am not a homophobe, and neither am I someone who forms opinions about people because of their religious beliefs.”

Previously, Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming also withdrew his name from the motion. It is understood that the summer recess means the document has not been updated with the names of those who have withdrawn.

Labour MP John McDonnell said last week that the EHRC’s action in supporting this appeal was “outrageous and totally unacceptable”. Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill called the decision “deeply disturbing” and has protested to Trevor Phillips, chairman of the EHRC.

The text of the early day motion:

That this House welcomes the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to intervene in support of four cases involving discrimination against Christians that are presently with the European Court of Human Rights; notes that this is a long overdue recognition of the need to defend religious liberty and marks an important development in relation to a better understanding of the role of faith in public life; and further welcomes the Commission’s advocacy for reasonable accommodation in the workplace as an acknowledgement of the place of conscientious objection for those with religious belief.

Published Fri, 29 Jul 2011