The UK Government is looking to amend the law to allow organisations to discriminate against their workers on grounds such as sexual orientation and marital status. But these organisations will be allowed to act in this bullying and prejudicial way only if they are founded on arcane, unverifiable, supernatural beliefs.
The ability to harrass and oppress workers, or discriminate against potential new hires, will continued to be denied to any organisation whose attitudes are founded on rational, modern principles.
As the British Humanist Association points out, the UK’s Equality Bill already provides some scope for religious organisations to behave in an unreasonable and unfair manner. However, there is a possibility that they will be given even more leeway in applying their prejudices in the workplace if proposed amendments to the Bill go through.
Some commentators have seen this as just another piece of fallout from New Labour’s multiculturalism. It’s certainly an example of how religion enjoys a privileged place in society. Attitudes and actions that would be seen as immoral and unconscionable in any reasonable society are automatically excused when they are given the cloak of protection by religion. Identical behaviour would be criticised or banned if it stemmed instead from political or philosophical beliefs.
For example, a religious organisation may be allowed to fire someone who turns out to be gay, if homosexuality offends their religious sensitivities. But would we tolerate the firing of a gay person by, say, a far-right political group?
This comes at the same time that the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) has appointed a bunch of ‘faith advisers’ to advise on “the big issues facing society such as the economy, parenting, achieving social justice and tackling climate change.” No-one has explained how being religious has any bearing on these issues, or why these people are better qualified than those whose knowledge is based on, say, facts and research rather than superstition and mythology.
And while the current Government has affirmed its support for the right of humanists to have equal status with religious believers in the Equality Bill, the Conservatives (who will probably form the next government later this year) are trying to weaken the status of non-believers. They want to change the meaning of the term ‘religion or belief’ by removing the words ‘and philosophical’ in the definition of belief, which, in the current Bill, reads: ‘”belief” means any religious or philosophical belief’.
Given the state support for faith schools and its appointment of faith-based organisations to carry out work that has nothing to do with religion, this all points to a worrying trend. Not only is religious prejudice granted a free ride in society, it is also getting special treatment in the halls of power.