Understanding equality and human rights in relation to religion or belief

Public debate about religion or belief has become unduly divisive and dominated by a number of contentious legal cases, according to a new report.

The report suggests there is no evidence for the claim by some Christian organisations and commentators that Christians are facing rising levels of discrimination. It also proposes that Muslims experience discrimination of a greater frequency and seriousness than other religious groups.

The wide-ranging report exploring the controversies of equality and human rights and their relationship with religion or belief has been produced by London Met’s Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute (HRSJ).

The report, commissioned and published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), examines how the law on religion or belief is applied and understood in the workplace, focussing specifically on England and Wales.

Also discussed is whether the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion receives sufficient - or excessive – protection by courts. 

It draws on interviews and roundtable discussions with more than 100 religious, belief, equality and human rights organisations along with employers, lawyers and academics.

The cases reviewed include those relating to the right of religious believers to opt out of delivering services to same-sex couples and the accommodation of religious dress and practices at work.

One such instance is the 2011 case involving Leeds-based adoption agency Catholic Care, who lost its much publicised two-year legal battle to be made exempt from equality legislation, requiring it to consider same-sex couples as prospective parents.

The research shows most people want ground rules to mediate public debate, and for unnecessary litigation on the issues to be avoided.

The report argues that front-line policymakers, practitioners and workplace managers form the most productive level of engagement to advance debate, practice and understanding of religion, belief and human rights.

The report’s author Alice Donald said: “A clear message from our research is that public discussion of equality, human rights and religion or belief is often unduly intemperate and tends to accentuate conflict.

“Public responses to high-profile cases may make conflicts between religion or belief

and other interests appear more intractable or prevalent than they actually are. We hope our research, and follow-up work planned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will advance debate and understanding about this contentious area.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “this research is a very useful, evidence-base on religion or belief in the workplace and in service delivery.

“We want this initiative to help create a better understanding of how these challenges could be handled more effectively and whether employers, schools and colleges need guidance in these areas.”

Ends –

Notes for editors:

For an interview with Ms Alice Donald or for more information about the report, please contact the London Met press office.

Nick Hansen
PR and Internal Communications Officer
Telephone: 020 7133 2467
Email: n.hansen@londonmet.ac.uk

To access a copy of the full report, please visit http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/research/rr84_final_opt.pdf

The Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities

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