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Monday, 3 September 2007

Discrimination law review

As the summer holidays come to an end, the next turn of the screw is heralded by the Government: the Discrimination Law Review.

The website of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship does not seem to have their briefing up as yet so here is a chunk from the main part of it as received by email:
Although there are many positive proposals, there also elements of considerable concern to Christians who want to be able to speak freely about the Bible’s teaching. The main concerns are:

1. The Government are proposing to make it illegal to harass someone on the grounds of their religion or belief. However, the definition of harassment is extremely broad, and substantially depends on the perception of the person who makes an allegation of harassment and not the intention of the person accused of harassment. So, a Christian that went to a largely Muslim area to hand out tracts which said that Islam was a false religion, could be sued if a particular Muslim felt that the tract had either ‘violated their dignity’ or put them in an ‘offensive environment’

2. The Government have also brought back one of the most controversial proposals that they previously tried to bring in via the Sexual Orientation Regulations only a few months ago. They are proposing that it should be made illegal to harass someone on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Again, the problem is the really broad definition of harassment. This proposal would mean that although a Church is free under the SORs to gently refuse membership of the church to an unrepentant practising homosexual, that person, if they felt that they had been put in a ‘humiliating environment’ could sue the Church. Similarly, a homosexual could sue a church if they heard a sermon about sexual morality that included condemnation of homosexual practices

3. The Government are also consulting on whether there should be a duty on public authorities to promote sexual orientation equality. This will mean that local authorities and other bodies will take active steps to ensure that all sorts of organisations do not discriminate based on homosexual practices. The danger is that this will be taken too far and will mean that Government funding is removed from Christian projects or that support is given to projects promoting homosexuality.

4. The Government are further consulting on whether there should be a duty on public authorities to promote religion or belief equality. There is a similar danger here that the sort of politically correct decisions (like local councils banning Christmas cards) that increasingly make the headlines, will be multiplied, with public funding being focused on promoting ‘minority’ religions like Islam and Hinduism

5. Another part of the consultation paper seeks views on whether Churches should be able to treat people differently because they have had gender reassignment. If the Government subsequently decided not to allow churches to do so, then a church would not be able to object to a male member of the congregation, who had a sex change (taking on the appearance of a woman), from attending a women’s retreat weekend.

6. The Government are further proposing that the law should protect transsexual people from practices that require them to disclose the fact that their actual sex differs from their physical appearance. So, for example, the Government would allow a man that has had a sex change operation, to be able to keep it secret that he has had that operation.

These are just some of the main provisions of the DLR that are of concern to Christians.
Here is a link for the official Discrimination Law Review consultation. The consultation formally closes tomorrow but there is no reason not to make further submissions to show the concern that there is about these proposals. (Contact details for responses are at the above link.)
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