Religion and belief discrimination should be tackled in public services

Body: 

The Christian think-tank Ekklesia has welcomed a challenging new report on quality and equalities in the public services which says that religious providers should not be allowed to get away with discrimination and proselytism. It has been produced by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and backed by the Trades Union Congress. http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6374

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: "We share with the authors of this report a concern for comprehensive equalities and quality in public service provision. There are some fine examples of faith-inspired organisations working in the voluntary sector, but also real problems and questions in the public service arena which need addressing urgently. This report deserves to be read with an open mind by all involved. It is part of an important and growing debate."

Ekklesia has questioned the impact of what it calls 'the new deal' between government and faith groups on public service provision - saying that it can pose difficulties for all concerned, including the danger that Christian groups get sucked into a functionalist relationship with the state which dims issues of equality and justice that lie at the heart of the Christian message.

The new report, Quality and Equality, calls for inclusive services open to all and recommends a more transparent tendering process for religious organisations contracted into public service supply and delivery. In addition, it highlights the need for legislative change to ensure that organisations providing public services:

* could not discriminate between service users on grounds of ‘religion or belief’, or on any other grounds;
* must respect the human rights of service users;
* have equality-based employment policies, so that no one is privileged for a position because of her/his religion or belief, her/his sexual orientation, or on any other irrelevant ground.