Date: Sat Jan 25 2003 - 15:59:40 EST
Euro rules force Church bodies to employ atheists
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
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
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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