Petition on the Equality Bill: Please continue to sign!

Jan 6, 2010 by

Over 34,000 people have signed this petition to date.    Please continue to sign  The petition can be found HERE.

The Equality Bill as originally proposed had the potential to remove the right of every citizen to live according to her or his conscience and faith tradition, especially with regard to employment and the operation and ethos of their places of worship. The Equality Bill as proposed would strike out major exemptions on the basis of religion (with two modest exceptions) which will mean that all will be forced to conform to secularist values and ideology even in their churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras.   

Please sign the on-line petition to the Prime Minister asking for the removal of the current employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion). These restrict the rights of religious bodies to employ personnel who conform to their teachings only if their duties are confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine.

The petition can be found HERE 

The Bishops of Winchester, Exeter and Chester issued the following statement:

Equality Bill: Churches must not face further restrictions

A statement issued on behalf of the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter and Chair of the Churches Legislation Advisory Service and Rt Revd Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, as bishops who have taken a keen interest in the progression of the Bill:

"This Monday, as Peers meet to consider the Government's Equality Bill, they will be asked to vote on an issue of great importance to Christians and all people of faith. At stake is how we, as a liberal democracy based on Christian values, strike the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of different groups to be protected from harassment and unfair discrimination and the rights of churches and religious organisations to appoint and employ people consistently with their guiding doctrine and ethos.

"The Christian Churches, alongside many other faiths, support the Equality Bill's wider aims in promoting fairness in society and improving redress for those who have suffered unjust treatment.

"However, unless the present drafting of the Bill is changed, churches and other faiths will find themselves more vulnerable to legal challenge than under the current law. When regulations on employment discrimination were passed as recently as 2003, churches and other faiths were granted certain limited exemptions by parliament to be used when recruiting ministers of religion or others to a small number of lay posts. These enabled religious organisations to apply requirements that candidates for certain senior lay posts that involve promoting and representing the religion are able to demonstrate an ability to live a life consistent with the ethos of the religion, as well as sharing the faith.

"The government have said that they share our view – that the current limited exemptions for organised religions are balanced and should not be further restricted. Yet they are proposing to modify them. They have produced no convincing case for change. They have now offered to amend their original proposals in the Bill but instead of reverting to the status quo have produced words which will still create difficulties for churches and religious groups. This despite our raising the problem many months ago and offering various ways of resolving the issue.

"We must conclude therefore that the only way to maintain the status quo in exemptions for religious organisations is for Peers to support amendments 98, 99 and 100 on Monday, tabled by Baroness O'Cathain and the Bishop of Winchester, over and above the Governnment's compromise  amendment 99A."

(NB: Some petitioners may experience problems with seeing their name after they have registered – see below**)


This petition is relevant not only to Christians, who will be particularly  affected by this legislation, but to people of all faiths - and none. In fact, any who value the freedom to live according to their conscience — a historic freedom that  has cost the lives of countless thousands over the centuries — are encouraged to sign. We are praying  for a million signatures by the end of January , when the House of Lords will vote on this bill. However (and this is crucial), the people of Britain will also be casting their vote in the General Election and so, irrespective of the outcome in the House of Lords, the petition will remain open until the election in the spring. We therefore need to send an unequivocal message to those who seek election that they ignore the beliefs of religious communities - at their cost.

Unless we take action by signing this petition, we are looking at a future stripped of the freedom and religious liberties we take for granted now.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 have provided exceptions relating to sexual orientation where the employment is for the purposes of organized religion. Essentially, these have allowed religious groups to manage their affairs in accordance with their beliefs.

As the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales have pointed out, if enacted the current bill will restrict the 2003 exemptions substantially so that they only apply to employment that is concerned with formal worship activities (liturgy) or the promotion or explanation of doctrine.

The employment provisions of this present Equality Bill reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith and religious life. To commit oneself to a faith or follow a religion is much more than to give intellectual assent to a particular set of doctrinal propositions or express a desire to worship in particular ways. In its truest form the life of faith, the religious life, is just that – a mode of living in which people manifest their values and beliefs about God and humankind. These values and beliefs are incorporated into the lifestyle of persons following a religion; they are not an 'optional extra’ to formal worship and/or doctrinal instruction. So to attempt to separate behaviour, ethics and way of life from 'doctrine' or 'formal worship' is to strike at the heart of what constitutes faith. To insist on such a distinction in law, as embodied in the Equality Bill’s current proposals, is actually to deny to people the fundamental right to freedom of worship and religion.

There is a range of posts, paid or voluntary, where it is essential that a religious organisation should have the right to prefer a candidate whose lifestyle is in accordance with its beliefs and ethos (with particular reference to its requirements for sexual conduct). For example, it is specifically stated in the guidance notes of the Equality Bill that the post of youth worker is not covered by the narrowed exemptions, since less than 50% of the role is taken up by worship services and doctrinal matters. However, the role of a youth worker normally includes both leading worship and teaching doctrine. Thus, the proposed legislation could leave organizations in the unacceptable position of having a youth worker who does not comply with the sexual ethics she or he is required to teach lead worship among or teach doctrine to young people.

 

The Equality Bill could result in the legal obligation to employ individuals whose sexual practice or beliefs are directly opposed to the teaching which the organization professes, follows and promotes. The Bill as drafted would deny to religious organizations the freedoms afforded to others, for example political parties, to employ only those who comply with their beliefs and values.

We therefore invite you to sign the petition — see below — and encourage others so to do.

 

**Some petitioners may experience problems with seeing their name after they have registered or getting a true reading of the numbers so far recorded. What they have to do is to clear their internet temporary files, cookies and maybe history. This is done by clicking on tools( top right hand corner of screen); clicking on Internet Options and then click Delete the aforementioned files. It might also help to restart the computer.

If a signer’s name does not appear after they have returned the email to the Petitions site, they must select “show all signatories” to display the complete list as stated on the website.( at bottom of page). Signers can then locate their name quickly by pressing "Ctrl & F" together and entering the name that was used to register. It will appear. Also please note that if anyone is sharing an email address, they will not be able to register more than once for the same petition. Please refer to the "FAQs" page http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/faq for an explanation on why this is not permitted.

 

 

As people from all walks of life, political parties, professions and religious faiths, we the undersigned have joined together to commit ourselves to reaffirm the value and necessity of religious and civil liberty and the rights of conscience across the UK today.

We believe that religion and civil liberty must include the right to live and speak according to one's conscience privately and in the public sphere, both individually and collectively, without harassment or the fear of civil or criminal penalty.

In particular, we ask that the current employment provisions set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill (the occupational requirements relating to sex, marriage and sexual orientation for the purposes of organised religion) be removed. These restrict the rights of religious bodies to employ personnel who conform to their teachings only if their duties are confined to worship activities or the explanation of doctrine.

The proposed subsection mistakenly set out in Schedule 9, Paragraph 2, subsection 8 of the Equality Bill seeks to deny integrity and authentic practical religion by separating religious belief and observance from behaviour and denies to religious groups rights that are extended to all other organisations, to employ only those who conform to their beliefs, practices and ethos.

 

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