The Government’s equality watchdog has criticised groups which suppress Christianity because they fear causing offence.
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to be published this week, hits out at organisations which discipline Christians or drop references to Christianity.
However, it stops short of calling for a change to equality law and defends the disappointing ruling against hoteliers Peter and Hazelmary Bull.
The report, seen by The Mail on Sunday, references several cases where believers were treated unjustly, including that of Institute client Adrian Smith. Mr Smith was demoted for writing that gay marriage was ‘an equality too far’ on his private Facebook page.
It attacks UK cinemas for banning a Church of England advertisement which showed people reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
And it criticises a decision by British Airways to suspend staff member Nadia Eweida, who refused to remove a necklace bearing the symbol of a cross.
Chief of the EHRC, David Isaac, also hit out at public bodies which relabel their Christmas celebrations with secular terms such as ‘Winterval’, for fear of giving offence.
One section is reported as saying: “There is no right in Britain not to be offended and, in our view, respect for people’s right to express beliefs with which others might disagree, is the mark of a democratic society.”
However, Mr Isaac goes on to defend the decision to fine Christian hoteliers Peter and Hazelmary Bull for refusing to let out a double room to a homosexual couple, stating that religious people cannot “use” their beliefs to discriminate.
Deputy Director for Public Affairs at the Institute, Simon Calvert, said: “Christians have certainly felt that their fundamental freedoms have been set aside by the human rights and equality industry in recent years.
“It’s a relief to see the Commission stand up for freedom of religion as a fundamental right and recognise that it should not be suppressed through fear of offending.
“However, the Commission is quite wrong to say that the current law does not need to be amended.
“We have long argued that equality law needs rebalancing so that courts have to take time to weigh up competing rights to see if both sides can be reasonably accommodated.
Legal Defence Fund
“Too often the courts come down strongly in favour of the secular liberal side of the argument.
“That’s why we’ve been running a Legal Defence Fund for the last ten years – to help Christians who are prepared to take a stand.”
Referring to David Isaac’s comments on Peter and Hazelmary Bull, Mr Calvert added that the equality industry has misunderstood devoutly religious people.
Time to listen
“David Isaac’s choice of phrasing is regrettable when he says religious people cannot ‘use’ their beliefs to discriminate. They aren’t ‘using’ their beliefs as some kind of excuse. The cases we’ve supported are where Christians have been asked to do specific things that would have involved them in deep moral compromise.
“The B&B owners didn’t turn away gay people. They just wouldn’t give double beds to unmarried couples – homosexual or heterosexual. They weren’t ‘using’ their religion. They were practising it.
“When the family who run Ashers Baking Co say they can’t do a ‘support gay marriage’ cake, they aren’t ‘using’ their religion. They don’t want to betray their religion.
“Mr Isaac needs to take some time to hear from these people and understand where they are really coming from instead of making assumptions about them.”
To learn more about The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund and the people we have helped, or to make a donation, visit our LDF page.