Britain’s Equality Bill broadens scope of religious exemption

by on January 27, 2010  •  In Employment law, Religion

Beginning last summer, the proposed Equality Bill began making its way through the British Parliament.   It passed the House of Commons and is now about to have its final reading before the House of Lords. As I described earlier, overall the legislation is progressive and comprehensive.

Earlier this week a debate arose in the House of Lords, however, concerning the scope of the exemption from anti-discrimination rules for religious employers. The government supported a provision that would limit the exemption to jobs in which promoting, teaching, etc religious doctrine was a core element.  Clergymembers wanted a blanket exemption so long as the employer was a religious organization. The clergy won.  In the U.S., this latter position has been the standard under Title VII ever since a Supreme Court case in 1987 (Corp. of Presiding Bishop v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327) So on this issue, the Brits are just now moving back enough to catch up with us Americans.

Here's the BBC report:

…The current law allows religious organisations to rule out some applicants on conscientious grounds. The government tried to amend the bill so that exemptions to equality provisions applied only to those whose jobs "wholly or mainly" involved taking part in services or rituals, or explaining the doctrines of religion.

But the churches argued that many clergy spend only some of their time in these roles and carry out administrative and other duties.

During debates, both sides claimed they were defending the status quo, which allows religious organisations to reject candidates for particular roles on grounds such as gender, marital status and sexual orientation. … Baroness Royall said the clarification would ensure that the church could turn down some candidates when explaining or promoting the religion was not "intrinsic to the role".


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