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Equality Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:39 am on 9th June 2009.

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Richard Kornicki: I think the answer is yes. There is anecdotal evidence—I do not have details to cite—of the number of court judgments that have seen religion as a lesser right when compared to others. The worry is that the Bill sets up in a number of areas issues where different rights will be in conflict and different parties, both of whom are protected under the legislation, may claim the protection of the same legislation against each other. That is difficult.

It is regrettable that the Bill gives absolutely no indication of the means by which those issues are to be resolved. They have to be resolved, but at present every employer and public authority will be left not knowing what effect the law is intended to have. The result of that, inevitably, will be a chilling effect on public practice to avoid the risk of legal action.

Authorities at every level, with increasing gold-plating, will give themselves precautionary rules to prevent anything from happening. That ultimately means that public dialogue will be much less rich, and it will have a suppressive effect on freedom of religion. It is important to remember that article 9 of the European convention on human rights provides for freedom of religion, not freedom of thought. We are talking about the freedom to practise religion in full.