Equality and Human Rights Commission argues for law review to limit religious discrimination

In a major new report out today assessing equality and human rights law in relation to religion or belief, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has concluded that there should be little change in the law, which is broadly working.

The report rejects the argument that further rights to discriminate should be given to certain religious employees, as some have been calling for. It has also argued that the law needs reviewing to reduce the amount that religious schools can discriminate in the recruitment of staff. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has been involved in a long-running legal case at the European Commission level on the matter, has welcomed the EHRC’s findings.

Amongst other things, the EHRC has concluded:

There should be no change in the law to explicitly require employers to ‘reasonably accommodate’ employees – because in fact, employers have to do this already, to the extent to which such accommodation does not lead to discrimination against others. Any changes would either therefore have no impact or actually enable certain religious employees to put their colleagues or service users at a disadvantage.

The law around ‘faith’ school employment in England, in allowing religious schools to widely discriminate – often against every teacher – on the basis of religion in who they employ, is ‘arbitrary’ and goes beyond what is permitted by European law. UK law should be reviewed (and hence, possibly, amended) so that religious schools can only discriminate where there is a genuine and legitimate requirement that the occupation has to be filled by someone of a certain faith – for example, for the head of RE in a religious school that teaches faith-based RE.

Commercial organisations should not be permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief, or sexual orientation.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson broadly welcomed the publication, saying, ‘It is very welcome that the Commission has confronted critics of Britain’s equality laws head on. For too long now, we have seen an ever-more vocal minority of Christian lobbyists demanding increased rights to discriminate against others. The EHRC has rightly rejected their arguments, and instead correctly identified that, if anything, the law needs to be amended to limit such discrimination, especially when it comes to religious schools.

‘We will be taking these matters up with the Government to ensure that all people’s freedom of religion and belief is upheld.’


The report from the EHRC will be available this morning.

For media inquiries, please contact: Sarah Gillam, Director of Communications and Development, on  020 7324 3060 or 07534 248 596 or email sarah@humanism.org.uk.

Read the BHA’s previous news item, ‘Calls to “defend religious liberty” are in fact special pleading for Christians’ rights to discriminate’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/12/01/bha-calls-to-defend-religious-liberty-are-in-fact-special-pleading-for-christians-rights-to-discriminate/

Read more about the BHA’s work challenging ‘faith’ school employment laws: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/02/20/european-commission-re-opens-investigation-whether-uk-faith-school-laws-break-european-employment-laws-uk-government-shifts-position/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work around human rights and equality: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.