Faith groups need to embrace equality with enthusiasm

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Responding to fears expressed by some faith groups that religious freedom is being undermined by the frameworks of law and regulation leading up to proposals for a Single Equality Bill, the independent Christian think tank Ekklesia has urged churches and others to embrace equal access and rights in the public sphere with greater enthusiasm - because it is consistent with the social justice content of their own Gospel message.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "The comprehensive and integrated equalities agenda across Britain's public institutions is no threat to freedom of religion, diversity or tolerance. On the contrary, equal treatment is a cornerstone of fair access and open expression for all - including people of faith and those of non-religious outlook."

He added: "It is sad that some faith organisations seem fearful of equal rights, especially when it applies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons. But there is a clear distinction to be made between the moral stipulations of a community of commitment, and the obligation on public institutions to ensure far treatment. Religious bodies do not have to take public money, run schools and work in cooperation with community and public services. But if they do so, they need to occupy the same level playing field as others."

Ekklesia argues that the churches, in particular, need to pay more attention to the "radically egalitarian" strand of the Gospel message in developing their response to public policy, rather than defending their institutional interests over against others.