An MP has attempted to use the Equality Bill to force the Scout Association to scrap the age-old tradition of new entrants pledging allegiance to God.
Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris says the Scout Association is discriminating against children and leaders who do not believe in God by requiring them to take the vow.
In 1997 the Scout Association published its Equal Opportunities Policy underlining that scouting is open to all.
Dr Harris, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, tabled an amendment to ban the pledge as MPs debated the Bill at Committee Stage. He later withdrew it.
His attempt was criticised by Mark Harper MP, who said: “The hon. Gentleman is creating fictional problems that do not exist in the real world and is asking us to deal with them.”
Dr Harris has also tried to use the Equality Bill to pull public funding from faith based organisations which cater only for those who share its faith, such as care homes, or to end them all together.
During the Equality Bill’s Second Reading debate Dr Harris opposed the idea of including religion as one of the equality duties it would impose on local authorities, a plan he called “highly controversial”.
He has called for Christian groups to lose public funding if they evangelise while carrying out social work, and has introduced his own Private Member’s Bill on the issue of royal succession which could affect the status of the Church of England.
The Bill has already proved controversial in a number of areas. Christian groups in particular are concerned about the effect it could have on religious liberty.
Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance said last month that the new Bill “could potentially force Christian groups, by threat of legal action, to effectively have their faith identities emasculated so they are prevented from delivering their services in a Christian way”.
The Roman Catholic Church has warned that under the Bill an atheist cleaner employed at a Roman Catholic care home could sue on the grounds that they were offended by crucifixes on display in the buildings.
The Government has made clear that certain provisions in the Bill are intended to make sure churches can no longer insist that employees such as youth workers live lives consistent with the churches’ teaching on sexual ethics.
Equalities minister Maria Eagle has said that religious believers should push ‘gay rights’ in their communities, but in the meantime the state would do it.