Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Equality Bill and The Pope

The Pope has aroused some controversy to say the least over his comments about British Equality legislation. He has been accused of interfering in internal British Politics however in view of the fact that the British Government lectures other countries on their attitudes to Gay Rights clearly we cannot complain about "foreign" interference in our country.

As for my view on the entire subject well try to imagine the following conversation

Well Nick you certainly have all the qualifications and experience that we require to work as a Media advisor to the Labour Party. However because of the nature of the job and the fact that you will be working closely with Labour MP's I would like to ask you some questions. Are you a member of the Labour Party ?”

Frankly Harriet I don't see how that question is relevant to my ability and qualifications to do the job.”

Well you see Nick because of the type of organisation we are we need to know that all our staff comply with our values and principles so I must ask you once again are you a member of the Labour Party ?”

Since you ask I am a member of the BNP but that won't affect my ability to do this job. My membership of the BNP is a purely personal matter”

I'm sorry Nick but if you are a practicing member of the BNP then you simply cannot be employed by the Labour Party"

"That Harriet is nothing more than prejudice and Discrimination. I will sue you in an employment Tribunal"

If the above conversation was to ever take place "Nick" would find himself with a problem because it is perfectly legal to discriminate on the grounds of political belief or party membership and the Equality Bill does not change this. No Labour politician would accept the suggestion that the Labour Party or a Labour MP should be obliged to employ a member of the BNP but by the same logic why should a Church or Mosque be obliged to employ someone whose views and life style are incompatible with the views and ethos of their organisation ? Religions are often being accused of hypocrisy but in this case it is politicians who are the hypocritically applying to religious organisations principles that they do not apply to themselves.

When the Pope made his speech questioning the governments current equality obsession those criticising him concentrated on the issue of discrimination but have ignored the fundamental point he was trying to make namely that Britain proclaims itself to be a free society but is increasingly unwilling to accept that an important element of a free society is accepting that voluntary organisations, such as churches, have the right to preserve their character and identity both in their membership criteria and in their employment practices.

The press have covered the Equality Bill as if the only objections to it related to homosexuality but the objections are much more fundamental than that. Under the proposals in the Bill religious organisations will not be able to insist on employing members of their own religion even in quite important positions and that is a fundamental attack on the principles of freedom of Association. Organisations, whether religious or otherwise, are ways in which human beings interact with one another and with society at large and organisations as much as individuals have a right to their own character and identity.

The defenders of the Equality Bill argue that it does not interfere with Freedom of Association because employment by an organisation is different to membership of it but is that distinction really valid ? In reality how far can any organisation flourish if the lives of its employees are in fundamental conflict with the principles of the employer ?

For example should the RSPCA be obliged to employee someone who goes fox hunting on their day off, the argument could be made that is it is their private life so why should their employer object ? The reality is of course that if such an employee was working for the RSPCA then the RSPCA would be accused of hypocrisy in employing them and members would probably not be happy to see their membership subscriptions being used to pay the salary of such a person. On the same basis if a Church or Religious Charity employs someone whose personal life is incompatible with the principles of the religion then they will be accused of hypocrisy also.

The Pope was not asking for Churches to be given for special privileges or exemptions rather he was asking that the law be framed in a way that recognises there are different types of organisations in society and for politicians to draft laws that are realistic, just and proportionate in their effect. In reality it is the Pope who is defending tolerance and diversity not Harriet Harman

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