The Equality Act comes into force today. When it was a Bill passing through Parliament it was used by the previous Labour Government in a failed bid to squeeze church employment freedom.
The Act’s provision for an ‘equality duty’ – which could threaten the religious liberty of Christians – will not come into force until April 2011.
The legislation was rushed through the previous Parliament by the then Equalities Minister, Labour’s Harriet Harman. The Act as a whole was backed by the Tories and the Lib Dems.
Harriet Harman wanted to use the legislation to significantly narrow the freedom of churches to have employment rules that are in sympathy with church teaching on sexual conduct.
Christian peer, Lady O’Cathain, led a successful campaign to stop the plans in the House of Lords and – faced with time pressure in the Commons – the Government was forced to back down.
But the controversial ‘equality duty’ was passed as part of the Act. It will force public bodies – like schools and the police – to promote homosexual and transsexual issues.
The new Coalition Government is currently consulting on how the ‘equality duty’ will work in practice. The consultation ends in November.
In August the Coalition announced that public bodies would not have to meet centralised equality targets on issues like these.
Instead, public sector organisations will be allowed to decide for themselves how best to implement the new equality duty.
The Government Equalities Office says the move marks an end to top down targets and box ticking bureaucracy, making public bodies accountable to the taxpayer rather than faceless Government officials.
In 2009 The Christian Institute produced a report on instances of Christians being sidelined in modern Britain.
It said a “growing sense of intolerance felt by Christians is made all the worse when they face hostility in the name of ‘equality and diversity’. Christians wonder why they are not being treated equally and why diversity does not include them”.
“They feel that a hierarchy of rights has sprung up which leaves them bottom of the pile. This has led to a growing feeling that ‘equality and diversity’ is code for marginalising Christian beliefs”, it continued.
The report, entitled Marginalising Christians, also said: “Never have there been more ‘equality and diversity’ laws. Yet the marginalisation faced by Christians is increasing at an alarming rate.
“In many instances equality and diversity laws are actually being used as a sword to attack Christians rather than a shield to protect them.”
Read Marginalising Christians.