Equalities Bill defeated


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The British House of Lords has defeated the Government's plan to change the law on who churches and other faith groups can employ.

Peers voted 216 to 178 in favour of Lady O'Cathain's amendment to keep the current law unchanged. In two further votes Lady O'Cathain won by 195 votes to 174 and by 177 votes to 172.

The government had tried to amend the bill so that exemptions to equality provisions applied only to those whose jobs 'wholly or mainly' involved taking part in services or rituals, or explaining the doctrines of religion.

But the churches argued that many clergy spend only some of their time in these roles and carry out administrative and other duties.

During debates, both sides claimed they were defending the status quo, which allows religious organisations to reject candidates for particular roles on grounds such as gender, marital status and sexual orientation.

A church youth worker who primarily organises sporting activities would be unlikely to be covered by the exception, but a youth worker whose key function is to teach Bible classes probably would be

The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend John Sentamu, asked: "Where are the examples of actual abuses that have caused difficulties? Where are the court rulings that have shown that the law is defective?" told peers. "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"

"The truth is that there are none because the status quo has been working perfectly satisfactorily. The earlier balances were struck by Parliament very carefully. The right course is to leave them exactly as they are."

"You may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics," the Archbishop said. "But, if religious freedom means anything it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine for themselves in accordance with their own convictions."

The Government's defeat means there will be no change to the current law, which permits churches and other faith-based employers to protect their ethos by insisting staff live consistently with the religion's doctrine on sexual behaviour.

The turnout for the first division of 394 peers was the biggest for any vote since the Lords struck down plans to allow terrorist suspects to be detained for 42 days without charge in October 2008.

At this stage it is not known whether the Government will try to overturn the defeat in the Commons.

Christian lawyer, Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of CCFON said: "This is a great day for religious liberty in the UK. We are thankful that the law has not been changed and the freedom of Churches to control their own affairs has not been restricted any further. The results show what can happen when Christians pray and take action. Let us be encouraged that even in an increasingly secular society, the voice of the Church can still be heard."