- 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 believers.
- 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
- 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