Keith Porteous Wood

The general secretary of the National Secular Society responds to an article by Paul Vallely putting the case for reasonable discrimination on religious grounds
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The Independent Online

The new European Union directive on discrimination in employment has been amended so that while religious organisations will be given the right to refuse employment and to dismiss those who do not share their faith, they will not be able to discriminate "on any other grounds".

The new European Union directive on discrimination in employment has been amended so that while religious organisations will be given the right to refuse employment and to dismiss those who do not share their faith, they will not be able to discriminate "on any other grounds".

This was introduced to protect homosexuals, who are at particular risk from religious prejudice - although the directive only protects gay Christians.

Paul Vallely seems to think that is sufficient. However, as it stands, the directive allows Church schools to reserve all teaching posts for persons of the relevant faith. More than 100,000 jobs are involved, the vast majority of which are paid for by the taxpayer, and would represent a significant extension of what is permitted under Section 60 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998. The directive now proposes allowing religious organisations to reserve jobs in the social and health-care sectors too, for which there is no current statutory freedom to discriminate. Albeit that even in Church schools RE teachers are not supposed to proselytise, our society does not oppose the reservation of religious education teaching posts for believers, but we cannot see why a teacher of maths or geography or French has to be a Christian to function properly.

Mr Vallely says "a preference for fellow believers is no more preposterous than is the Labour Party's insistence that all its paid employees be card-carrying party members". But the big difference is that the taxpayer does not pay for the Labour Party. Nor is the Labour Party the only employer of teachers in remote areas, as Church schools often are.

Non-believers in Christianity - who represent 30 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom, and rising - seem to us to be rapidly becoming an oppressed minority.

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