A coalition of secular campaigners, gay rights activists, transgender organisations, trade unions and “progressive faith” groups has united to remove all religious liberty safeguards from the Equality Bill.
Calling itself the Cutting Edge Consortium (CEC), the group includes the British Humanist Association, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Muslim Women’s Network, Liberal Judaism, Ekklesia, Unison and the TUC.
It has called on Parliament to remove what it calls ‘religious opt-outs’ from the Bill.
The Bill already dramatically narrows safeguards in sexual orientation employment laws which protect the religious liberty of churches and other faith groups.
Under the current law, religious groups can restrict posts to Christians whose private conduct is consistent with the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics. These posts must be for the purposes of organised religion, which could include jobs like a youth worker.
But under the Equality Bill the Government is specifying that this protection can only apply to posts that mainly involve leading worship or explaining doctrine.
The Bill’s explanatory notes make it clear that this protection “is unlikely to permit a requirement that a church youth worker who primarily organises sporting activities is celibate if they are gay, but may apply if the youth worker mainly teaches Bible classes”.
The groups involved in CEC say that even this limited protection is unacceptable. They voiced their opinions at an open meeting at the House of Commons this week, hosted by Independent Labour MP Clare Short.
Maria Exall of the TUC, who is in a lesbian civil partnership with Government minister Angela Eagle, said: “It is vital that progressive faith and secular voices are heard loud and clear supporting the Equality Bill and equal rights for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] people.”
Several CEC members have already called for the Equality Bill to restrict religious freedoms.
In June the British Humanist Association said the Bill should undermine faith schools’ religious ethos.
And last year the TUC said private businesses and charities should be forced by law to promote political correctness including ‘gay rights’.
The Equality Bill is due to complete its final stages in the House of Commons on 2 December. It will then pass to the House of Lords.