Sunday, August 27, 2023

Parliamentary inquiry urged to tackle ‘rife’ workplace discrimination against Christians

A British parliamentary inquiry is being asked to investigate concerns that Christians are being frequently mistreated in the workplace.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is being asked by the Catholic Union, the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance to investigate claims that discrimination against Christians and other religious groups in the workplace is rife.

The groups have asked Labour MP Harriet Harman, the chair of the committee, to ensure that religious freedom forms a “key part” of the ongoing inquiry into human rights in the UK.

They fear that a reference by the inquiry to include “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” will pay little more than lip service to rights which in practice are commonly overridden and abused.

They have called for a stand-alone evidence session on religious freedom at work to inform the final report and recommendations to the Government.

In their letter to Ms Harman, the groups say that “too many Christians are unable to bring their whole selves to work, and in some cases face disadvantage or discrimination because of their faith, despite laws that should prevent this from happening”.

The groups are demanding that the cross-party committee of MPs and peers “shine a light on these concerns and put forward recommendations for improvement” when it resumes its work from September 4.

Nigel Parker, the director of the Catholic Union, said: “Sadly we know it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a faithful Catholic in many workplaces in this country.

“Our survey on religion in the workplace earlier this year found that almost one in three responders had experienced disadvantage at work because of their faith, with nearly half of people saying they did not feel able to talk about their faith openly with colleagues.

“Our concerns are shared by people from other denominations and other faiths as well. This joint letter shows the strength of feeling about this matter. We strongly hope that the Committee will take these concerns seriously.”

Simon Calvert, the Christian Institute deputy director, described religious liberty as “the Cinderella strand of discrimination law”.

“Christians who take their faith seriously can feel overlooked, or even marginalised, by the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion industry,” he said.

“Many employers show little interest in seeking to understand the challenges faced in the workplace by devoutly Catholic or Evangelical staff. I hope the Joint Committee on Human Rights will give a voice to these people.”

Danny Webster, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said people should not be forced to hide their faith at work.

He said: “Someone’s faith is not an optional extra that can be disregarded or ignored but an integral part of their lives.

“We encourage the Joint Committee on Human Rights to make the role of faith in the work place a central part of their inquiry into human rights at work.”

A survey published in April by the Catholic Union suggested that religious freedom was a “blind spot” for employers.

In a poll of 222 members and supporters, almost a third of respondents (31 per cent) said they had felt disadvantaged at work because of their faith and almost three quarters of these instances (73 per cent) occurred in the public sector.

The Catholic Union’s survey highlighted particular problems in hospitals, universities and the police.

One lay chaplain in an NHS hospital spoke of a “pathological closing down” of chaplaincy work, while another respondent was subject to a formal complaint for saying “God bless” to a patient.

Discrimination was also reported in the Arts sector where “people are ‘cancelled’ if they are even suspected to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church”, according to one respondent to the survey.

People who work shifts reported problems being able to attend Mass with one respondent “refused work due to Sunday obligations”. Another person said: “I do not feel comfortable wearing a cross at work”.

The survey also found that 48 per cent of respondents said they did not feel able to talk about their faith openly with colleagues

It found that 41 per cent of respondents did not believe religious discrimination was taken as seriously as discrimination against other protected characteristics such as age, race, sex, and sexuality, and that 55 per cent of respondents thought that that Christianity was treated less favourably than other religions in their place of work.