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Newsline 16 June 2017

Tim Farron's decision to stand down as Lib Dem leader and widespread public hostility to the Government's deal with the DUP creationists again demonstrates that religion and politics don't mix well.

Secularism defends the right to practise a religion but insists that governments makes rational and secular policy decisions, without reference to anyone's interpretation of Holy Scripture. The need for a secular approach to politics in Britain's pluralistic society is clear. If you support our work for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone's human rights, please make a donation today – and we'll put your principles into action.

Was Tim Farron a secularist?

Was Tim Farron a secularist?

Opinion | Thu, 15 Jun 2017

Tim Farron was a classic secularist, but found himself unable to reconcile his personal faith and his party's socially liberal positions and made his own choice, argues Terry Sanderson.

Supreme Court rules NI women don’t have equal right to abortion services in England

Supreme Court rules NI women don’t have equal right to abortion services in England

News | Wed, 14 Jun 2017

In a three/two decision, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that UK citizens normally resident in Northern Ireland do not have a right to free abortion services from NHS England on the same basis as other UK citizens.

Abortion ruling is a missed opportunity to recognise the disparity in women’s reproductive health rights across the UK

Abortion ruling is a missed opportunity to recognise the disparity in women’s reproductive health rights across the UK

Opinion | Thu, 15 Jun 2017

Ensuring that NHS abortion services are made available, free of charge, to UK citizens travelling from Northern Ireland would be a way of mitigating the harm caused by a disparity in women's reproductive health rights across the UK, argues Dr Antony Lempert.

Scottish care provider’s decision to drop faith test should prompt a rethink over equality exceptions

Scottish care provider’s decision to drop faith test should prompt a rethink over equality exceptions

Opinion | Tue, 13 Jun 2017

When religious organisations are delivering state-funded public services they should neither discriminate nor proselytize – argues Stephen Evans, looking at the case of CrossReach and its implications.

The decision of The Church of Scotland this week to ditch its policy of barring non-Christians from non-managerial posts at its social care service may be a step in the right direction, but again highlights some of the problems that occur when religious organisations become involved in the provision of public services.

The social care provider CrossReach (previously known as the Church of Scotland Board of Social Responsibility) has agreed to drop its insistence that all employees be practising Christians, not because it now realises that such discrimination is wrong in principle, but because it is facing a recruitment crisis and can't find enough Christians to fill the posts.

Such employment discrimination is only possible in the first place because the law allows employers to make certain exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination where a job has genuine 'occupational requirement' (GOR).

Until now, being Christian has been deemed an 'occupational requirement' for all 2,000 staff working for CrossReach, which provides support to some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.

But now, amid a recruitment crisis, the care provider says it no longer believes that the requirement for all care and support staff to be Christian is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

But if being a Christian isn't a job requirement now, why was this discriminatory policy against non-Christians ever necessary in the first place?

CrossReach, which will still require managerial and supervisory post-holders to be of the 'correct' faith, will point to its Christian ethos and the fact that it "offers services in Christ's name to people in need as part of the Church's mission".

But most of CrossReach's annual expenditure of £51 million comes from local authorities and it's reasonable to expect that our public services are underpinned by principles of equality and a respect for the rights and dignity of the individual service user. As a leader piece in this week's Herald points out, "the recipient of care is unlikely to be too concerned about their helper's religion".

The decision to continue to apply a faith test for managers and supervisors creates not so much a glass ceiling as one of reinforced concrete to non-Christian care staff, regardless of however much their performance merits promotion. This sort of state funded religious discrimination should have no place in modern public service provision.

Social action by faith-based organisations has contributed enormously to the welfare of our society, but where religious organisations join others in delivering public services, surely it isn't too much to ask for them do so without discriminating against their employees or proselytising when delivering that service.

The decision by CrossReach to drop its policy requiring social care staff to be Christians should prompt a review of the overly wide exceptions that also allow faith schools to discriminate on religious grounds when taking on new staff.

Currently, otherwise suitably qualified teachers can be discriminated against in a third of all publicly funded schools. Equality Act exemptions permit faith schools to apply a religious test in appointing, remunerating and promoting teachers, including head teachers. In voluntary controlled schools, up to one fifth of positions (including since 2006 the headteacher) can be 'reserved'. But over three fifths of faith schools follow the voluntary aided model, in which every teaching and leadership position can potentially be the subject of a religious test.

The Catholic Church would presumably prefer to have an exclusively Catholic teaching staff in the schools it runs - this is afterall the reason they lobbied for the ability to apply a faith test to all positions in the first place. Just 8.3% of the adult population in England and Wales identify as Catholic and in reality there simply aren't enough Catholic teachers to fill all of England's 2142 state-funded Catholic schools with practising Catholics, but the fact that 51% of teachers in Catholic schools are Catholic demonstrates that there is a fair amount of unjustifiable preferential treatment going on. After all, just how Catholic do you need to be to teach English, maths, science, history, geography, modern foreign languages – or even religious education for that matter?

It's clear that religious groups have too much freedom to discriminate. The exemptions they have under British equality law must be narrowed.

“Glastonbury of Freethinkers”: conference on freedom of conscience and expression

“Glastonbury of Freethinkers”: conference on freedom of conscience and expression

Opinion | Mon, 12 Jun 2017

Saturday 22 – Monday 24 July will see activists from around the world gather for a weekend of discussions and debates on freedom of conscience and expression in the 21st century. Maryam Namazie tells us why it is such an important event.

Leaders claim freedom of religion is unaffected after Samoa becomes a “Christian state”

Leaders claim freedom of religion is unaffected after Samoa becomes a “Christian state”

News | Thu, 15 Jun 2017

The island nation Samoa has amended its constitution to proclaim itself a "Christian state".

People of faith should be welcome in politics – but religion is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card

People of faith should be welcome in politics – but religion is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin - Left Foot Forward

People of all faiths and none contribute to our politics and society. But in a secular democracy, faith isn't a get out of jail free card. If your faith is at odds with the policies of your party, then voters are entitled to question how you align the two.

In defense of secularism: Learn from thy enemy, shun racism and sectarianism

In defense of secularism: Learn from thy enemy, shun racism and sectarianism

Ahmad Al-Sarraf - The Arab Times

Why secular democracies protect religious pluralism: they don't care about the beliefs of other people or their religions. Secularism is not considered infidelity or heresy or degradation or disintegration, but means freedom of belief and non-interference of the state in the religious practices of citizens and residents.

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