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Prevent discrimination against legal groups such as freemasonry in selection for public sector jobs

Comment 2nd July 2010

The obligatory disclosure of membership of benign, legal organisations such as freemasonry by applicants for all public sector bodies such as the police, the judiciary, councils and parliament should be made illegal.

Public sector bodies would be banned from drawing up lists of members of particular groups on the basis that membership in itself  of such groups (such as freemasonry) is likely to cause a conflict of interest.

The principle should be established that members of such bodies should only be required to declare an interest (i.e. membership of an organisation) only if particular circumstances require it  at the time that a potential conflict arises. Sanctions should of course still be taken against those who do not declare an interest when they should do so.

Why does this matter?

Following a review in November 2009, the then Justice Secretary Jack Straw ended end the policy of requiring applicants for judicial office to declare membership of Freemasonry. This was as a result of a European Court of Human Rights ruling in an Italian case in 2007 that the requirement to disclose membership of freemasonry was a breach of the rights to privacy and freedom of association.

Forcing members of benign and legal groups such as freemasonry to disclose membership as a condition of obtaining employment in the public sector is a policy that has no place in a liberal democracy: it singles out individuals unfairly and makes an unproven presumption of guilt on the part of the organisation of which they are members. Such policies are redolent of the repression of minority groups in totalitarian states and should have no place in British society.

The protection from discrimination that already exists on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is already an accepted part of our civil society. This change would extend such protection.

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