Grounds for discrimination?

By Simon Barrow
March 18, 2007

A lively debate on whether Christians are treated unfairly in the public sphere was marred by some factual confusions.

The discussion, involving Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley, took place on BBC1 this morning ((BBC survey says Christians feel they are discriminated against).

One person emailing in suggested that Christians could be dismissed from their jobs for not working on Sundays. That arguably used to be the case, but under recent employment legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of religion (along with other grounds) it no longer is - a point missed by panellist Joanna Bogle, who was busy accusing others of getting their facts wrong. Incorrectly so.

The big confusion in this row is about the distinction between civic life on the one hand, and statutory requirements for public provision on the other. No-one is stopping some Christians expressing their views about sexuality, say, or running their own organisations. The law (on race, gender, age, sexual orientation and abiity) simply requires that they - along with others - cannot discriminate when they are providing services for the general public supported by public funds.

This is perfectly fair. To call it "anti-Christian discrimination" is far-fetched indeed. As is denying the fact that state-funded faith schools themselves discriminate on the grounds of religion as part of their entry policies. Again, Bogle seemed unwilling to accept this point.

But the key issue for the churches is surely this. Somehow "they'll know we are Christians by our opt-outs and exclusions" doesn't quite commend the Gospel, does it?

See also, comment: UK Christians urged to be positive not negative about loss of status. Press release: Crying 'discrimination' harms churches' message. Weblog analysis: The quiet majority?

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