Plans to strip powers away from the troubled equality commission, caught out by a number of recent anti-Christian gaffes, are set to be debated by Parliament.
Theresa May, Home Secretary and also the equalities minister, wants to reduce the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s responsibilities by amending the Equality Act 2006 which established the Commission and gave the quango its powers.
Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to debate the Commission’s role and raise concerns about its handling of recent high-profile cases involving religious liberty.
The Commission, which this year has a budget of £53 million of taxpayers’ cash, has been criticised for failing to remain impartial in cases involving a clash of human rights between sexual orientation and religion.
Back in 2005 Parliament debated the creation of the Commission and parliamentarians warned the then Labour Government that the new body would take hostile legal action against Christian organisations and businesses.
At the time, Lady O’Cathain told Government ministers in the House of Lords: “in a legal action over a controversial issue of religious liberties, the enormous financial and legal resources of the commission could be ranged on one side of a legal dispute, leaving a defendant on the other side with limited financial resources at a considerable disadvantage.”
The then Government minister, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, replied: “I sympathise with the noble Baroness’s concern that small organisations, whether charities, religious charities or small businesses, fear being treated inappropriately and oppressively by the commission. However, as I said, we need not fear that happening.”
She added: “I say categorically that it is not our intention that the commission will be able to use any of its powers to pick on individuals, charities, religious or belief organisations or small firms.”
Last year the Commission deployed its legal and financial resources to back the case of a homosexual couple pursuing the Christian owners of a B&B through the courts.
The B&B had a policy of restricting double beds to married couples, in keeping with the owners’ Christian ethos. The owners’ legal defence was paid for by The Christian Institute.
The case was heard amid huge media publicity and, in January, a judge ruled that the policy was discriminatory and ordered the owners to pay £3,600 in damages to the homosexual couple.
Alarmingly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a further legal action demanding an increase in the level of damages. But the demand was withdrawn after negative publicity. The Commission said it was an “error of judgment”.
In a court case involving a Christian couple who were struggling to become foster carers because of their beliefs about homosexual conduct, the Commission intervened and warned that children may be at risk of being ‘infected’ by the moral values of Christian foster parents.
It later apologised for the extraordinary remark, claiming it was a lawyer’s drafting error.
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said at the time: “The Commission’s approach to these equality cases has seriously damaged Christians’ confidence in the Commission, which ought to be acting as an impartial defender of everyone’s human rights. A great deal of damage has been done.”
The Scottish wing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently called on the Scottish Government to legalise full same-sex marriage.
But a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland said the taxpayer-funded Commission had abandoned impartiality and become “a partisan player in human rights campaigning”.