Religion clause allows gay staff to be sacked

MPs, unions and gay rights groups have strongly criticised a clause in
forthcoming employment legislation that will allow religious employers to sack
homosexual staff.

Proposed changes to the Employment Equality Regulation, which are designed
to meet EU directives, would make religious groups exempt from certain
anti-discrimination measures.

The legislation, due to come into force in December, is designed to prevent
employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, religion or
belief. But the clause, added after pressure from the Church of England, states
the law will not apply if it conflicts with the strongly held convictions of a
‘significant number’ of the Church’s followers.

A powerful committee of MPs, who are members of the Joint Committee on
Statutory Instruments, has now asked Whitehall officials to explain the
rationale behind the clause.

It is feared that if the law is passed in its current form, it would not
only affect the clergy, but also teachers at religious schools and workers at
religious hospitals and charities.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of trade union Unison, said: "Betrayal
is the only word to describe the way the Government has backtracked on this
aspect of the new law.

"What could have been a genuinely positive piece of legislation to
protect lesbians and gay men at work has had the heart ripped out if it by the
introduction of a clause to mollify bigots. It seems the Government believes
that equality stops at the church gates. We are discussing ways to challenge
this flaw in the regulations."

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