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Removal of constraints on religious freedoms

Comment 5th July 2010

I would like to see the Equality Acts, discrimination legislation and associated regulations amended to allow greater protection for individuals to mainfest their religious beliefs and conscience. The Human Rights Act 1998 protects absolutely the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion although our law does not offer much protection for the manifestation of religious beliefs especially if they are exercised in the public sphere. This has lead to a number of examples where Christians have been prevented from wearing crucifixes, being asked to officiate in civil partnership ceremonies against their deeply held convictions or to them being barred from being allowed to offer adoption services exclusively to certain categories of person.

Why does this matter?

The imposition of secularist values on religious persons or organisations through the equality agenda is hardly fair or conducive to social cohesion. Furthermore, failing to protect the manifestation of beliefs renders the absolute right to hold those beliefs meaningless. There are many practical ways in which those with strong religious convictions can manifest these without compromising their values and without significant detriment to others. For example a registrar unwilling to perform civil partnerships could be taken off a rota to perform these and given other duties. This would achieve a balance between respecting someone’s religious views without prejudicing the rights of same sex couples to have their relationship recognised by the State. The law needs to change to reflect a more balanced approach. I say this because the State should not easily expect its Citizens to have to make painful and difficult decisions about either complying with the law or being true to their beliefs and values.


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