Humanists have welcomed a new policy approved at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference which commits the Party to ensuring that religious organisations which provide public services may not discriminate in their employment or against service users on religious grounds in the provision of those services.
The clause was included in the ‘Community Futures (Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Policy Paper)’ and states:
c) Ensuring that public services are delivered without unjustified discrimination against service-users or employees, by amending equalities legislation to narrow the exemption granted to organisations with a religious ethos , and in the interim requiring public sector commissioners to include non-discrimination clauses in their contracts with providers.
Peter Kunzmann, chair of the Humanist and Secular Liberal Democrats (HSLD), spoke when the motion was being debated in favour of the clause, and urged delegates to welcome its inclusion in the motion.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented: ‘It is the BHA’s firm position that religious organisations which are providing public services on behalf of the state – a policy the government is actively encouraging – should be held to the same equality standards as any other private or state provider. That means that such organisations must not be permitted, as they are at present, to discriminate on religious grounds against employees and service users. Such discrimination is unjustified, unnecessary and wrong.
‘The BHA works closely with others, including religious groups, and we know that our concerns to have fair and inclusive secular public services are widely shared. The policy motion passed at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference reflects that shared commitment to promote real inclusion of all people regardless of belief. We hope that this is an issue that can be taken up and supported by other political parties as part of their policies. At present, parliamentarians have an opportunity through the Localism Bill to make legislative changes that will rule out discrimination by religious organisations when they are working under public contract to provide services. Such moves would finally treat civil society groups equally and fairly in practice.’
Mr Kunzmann said: ‘Public services should be available to everyone who needs them – whatever their beliefs.
‘Ordinary Liberal Democrat members have given their party’s MPs an unambiguous mandate to press for changes to the law, ensuring that religious groups who bid for public services cannot discriminate against service-users or their employees.’
The BHA works with groups across the political spectrum and the Labour Humanists, HSLD and the Conservative Humanist Association (CHA) are all affiliated to the BHA