Voluntary Sunday school teachers, church elders, deacons, prayer group leaders and all other church volunteers have been saved from an avalanche of equality diktats following an important court ruling.
The Christian Institute intervened in the case and urged the Court of Appeal not to treat volunteers as though they had the same rights as employees under a European Equal Treatment Directive.
In an important ruling, Lord Justice Elias referred to the forceful “written submissions of Mr Bowers QC for the Christian Institute who emphasised the difficulties which voluntary organisations would face if the scope of the Directive were to be so vague and uncertain.”
If the ruling had gone the other way, churches that use volunteers may have been forced to navigate a minefield of equality laws that threaten religious liberty.
It could have affected all manner of volunteer roles in churches such as church elders, home group leaders, and youth workers.
The Christian Institute’s intervention was paid for by its Legal Defence Fund which protects the religious liberty of Christians.
Reacting to the ruling, The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “This was an important case for the voluntary sector, and churches in particular.
“Our successful intervention helped defend the status quo of church volunteers and others who give freely of their time to help Christian organisations.
“Our Legal Defence Fund exists to help in cases of national importance for the religious liberty of Christians. This was a significant victory.”
The specific case considered by the court involved a volunteer at a Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who cannot be named. She claimed to have suffered unfavourable treatment because of her disability.
She claimed that her volunteer role should be treated as an ‘occupation’ for the purposes of discrimination law.
Her claim was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Government quango that recently paid for a homosexual couple to sue a Christian guesthouse.
Her argument failed at an original employment tribunal, then at the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and now at the Court of Appeal.
Lord Justice Elias ruled: “The concept of worker has been restricted to persons who are remunerated for what they do. The concept of occupation is essentially an overlapping one, and I see no reason to suppose that it was intended to cover non-remunerated work.”
The Christian Institute has urged the court not to grant leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.