Christians celebrate victory over Government on Equality Bill

Christians say their prayers have been answered after the passing of an amendment to Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill in the House of Lords last night.

Peers voted 216 to 178 in favour of Lady O’Cathain’s amendment to retain an exemption for religious groups to equality employment laws.

Reacting to the result, Lady O’Cathain said today: “I know that very many Christians were praying that justice would prevail as the House of Lords voted on this important issue. Many also wrote wise, sensitive letters to peers, seeking to persuade them of our case.

"We give thanks to God for the outcome, and we continue to pray for our Government, as Scripture exhorts us to do, that God would bless their counsels."

The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “The prayers of thousands of Christians and letter writing to peers was key to protecting our freedom.

"Surely churches should be free to employ people whose conduct is consistent with church teaching. Surely that’s not asking too much. It's called freedom of association, and it’s a key liberty in any democratic society.

"The fact that the Government couldn’t see this will concern many Christians.”

The Government had wanted to restrict the exemption for religious organisations solely to ministers and other positions that “exist to promote or represent the religion or to explain the doctrines of the religion”.

Christians argued that if the Bill was passed unamended, it would impose considerable restrictions on who religious organisations could employ and put them in the difficult position of having to appoint someone who did not conform to their ethos and beliefs.

Last week, bishops in the Church of England argued that the Bill would leave religious organisations “more vulnerable to legal challenge”.

Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, said: “The Government's amendment to was unclear and would have left churches and organisations unsure whether they could prefer practising Christians for the majority of their roles.

"Now, they can continue to appoint people who are committed to the ethos of the organisations they are supposed to represent.

“It's a victory for common sense. I hope the government will accept this and not prolong the issue by asking the House of Commons to challenge the Lords' vote."

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of Christian Concern For Our Nation, said: “This is a great day for religious liberty in the UK. We are thankful that the law has not been changed and the freedom of churches to control their own affairs has not been restricted any further.

“The results show what can happen when Christians pray and take action. Let us be encouraged that even in an increasingly secular society, the voice of the Church can still be heard.”

Miss Harman may decide to force the Bill through the House of Commons or revert to an EU directive prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Last November, the European Commission sent a “reasoned opinion” to the Government stating that its exemptions for religious employers were “broader than that permitted by the directive”.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Vladimir Spidla expressed his support at the time for the Equality Bill and his hope that it would “come into force quickly”.