Subject:  Euro rules force Church bodies to employ atheists

Date: Sat Jan 25 2003 - 15:59:40 EST

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    Euro rules force Church bodies to employ atheists

    By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
    (Filed: 25/01/2003)

    Thousands of religious schools, charities and organisations could face legal
    action if they refuse to employ atheists or sack staff who become Satanists
    under proposed Government regulations.
    The laws, which are based on a European Union directive and which have to be
    implemented by December, ban discrimination in the workplace on the grounds
    of religion, belief or sexual orientation.
    But a report from the Christian Institute says the laws will restrict the
    freedom of religious organisations to employ solely staff who are practising
    Christian groups are particularly angry that the Government has chosen to
    exempt political parties from the laws, so that the Labour Party will be able
    to continue its policy of employing only party members.
    "While the Vegetarian Society can refuse to employ meat-eaters and the RSPCA
    can sack an executive who is found to have invested in the fur trade,
    churches which employ Christians could now face legal action for doing so,"
    the institute said."They could face the possibility of crippling legal
    actions just for following their beliefs."
    Under the new regulations, all religious organisations, including schools,
    charities, parishes and mosques, will need to have a very strong case to
    require recruits to share their beliefs.
    The laws could, for example, prevent Christian bodies refusing to employ
    practising homosexuals or bisexuals on the grounds that sex outside marriage
    is against Christian teaching. Moreover, the regulations protect existing
    staff, so that if a youth worker employed by a Christian Church converts to
    Islam, but argues that he can still do the job, the Church cannot dismiss him.
    Teachers in maintained schools escape the regulations on religion or belief
    but not sexual orientation. Vergers, youth workers, evangelists, pastoral
    staff in parishes and caretakers could all be seriously affected, however.
    In its report the institute said that the proposed regulations undermined
    religious freedom.
    One of its authors, Prof Ian Leigh, of Durham University, a human rights
    lawyer, said: "The Government regulations have all the potential seriously to
    undermine freedom of association for religious people. They place the modern
    concept of 'equality' over and above religious liberty."

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