A REPORT on religious liberty in the UK has warned that “the language of rights and equality” is no longer “synonymous with the language of justice and goodness”.
The report, Beyond Belief: Defending religious liberty through the British Bill of Rights, published by the think tank ResPublica and the Christian lobby group Care, on Wednesday, says that “a curious inversion seems to have taken place, where once rights used to defend difference and were deployed to ensure society’s plurality and diversity, now rights are utilised to erode difference and enforce a uniform and unwelcome conformity on society in general, and on religious minorities in particular.”
The report argues that the concepts of people’s rights have been separated from, and replaced, “the moral foundation from which they used to derive”; they have been “made to carry more weight than they were ever supposed to bear”.
It says that “rights are morphing into an engine for inequality and dissent between members of the very minority groups that they were supposed to protect. Modern liberalism is now in danger of transforming its greatest achievement into its most destructive legacy.
“It has, in effect, encouraged subjective rights to become legal weapons for one minority group to wield against another, driven the culture wars into the courtroom, and forced judges to settle questions of belief and practice about which they can be expected to know little.”
The creation of a legislative framework to uphold equality has had the opposite effect, the report says, because “rights have ceased to be anchored in a shared conception of the common good. They have been replaced by a complex network of statutory duties that work to disintegrate communities.
“It is time for us to accept that rights can only operate successfully if they are rooted in a no doubt contested but nonetheless common understanding of human liberty, dignity, and difference.”
The report contains six recommendations, including the creation of a British Bill of Rights with “a positive duty on employers and regulators to demonstrate reasonable accommodation towards those that wish to express their religious convictions in the public sphere”.
It also wants freedom of speech to be protected in universities, a Religious Policy Review Council within central government, and a Religious Freedom Index” to be created by the Office of National Statistics to “document failures by businesses and public-sector bodies to make reasonable accommodation for the religious beliefs of citizens and communities”.
The chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, David Burrowes MP, welcomed the report, which was launched at the House of Commons. “Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but recently we have seen it being downgraded, compared with other human rights,” he said.
“This ResPublica report delivers a strong set of recommendations for Government in light of the future British Bill of Rights, which would be the perfect vehicle for underlining the UK’s commitment to reasonable accommodation of religious belief.”
The chief executive of Care, Nola Leach, said that the report revealed “concerning trends” about the sidelining of faith in the public square. “We need to be aware that these trends will lead to questions about how people of faith can contribute and engage in all aspects of society.”
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was set to publish today new guidance for employers on the place of faith in the workplace. In an interview for The Sunday Times at the weekend, the chairman of EHRC, David Isaac, said that a “common-sense approach” was needed: over-anxious employers were toning down Christmas festivities over fears of offending people of other faiths.
”Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and it shouldn’t be suppressed through fear of offending,” he said.
On Tuesday, a Christian teacher, Victoria Allen, reached a mediated settlement with the Brannel School, in Cornwall, after it disciplined her for talking about her views on marriage with a pupil. The teacher had said that she disagreed with same-sex-marriage, and did not like the appropriation of the rainbow as a symbol by gay groups.
In a joint statement, Ms Allen and the school said: “The parties accept that some people have deeply held views about the nature of marriage, and that every individual has the freedom to express these in accordance with the law. The school also respects that Victoria Allen’s view that marriage should be between a man and a woman is sincerely held and shared by many others.”
Both parties reaffirmed a commitment to “long-standing British values”, including those of freedom of religion and of speech, and “the right of Victoria Allen to express her views”.