Conscience and religious exemptions

By Press Office
February 12, 2008

Commenting on the Archbishop of Canterbury's claim that rights of conscience for religion necessitate the granting of exemptions from UK legislation, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia says that while it is right that conscience is allowed for in public life (for both the religious and the non-religious), government will reasonably want to ensure that the ability of people to access public services intended for all is not thereby comprised.

"There is also a big difference between making allowance for personal conscience and taking taxpayers money and public contracts for schools and services while maintaining a 'right' to select and discriminate," says Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank. "Using 'conscience' as a wedge for a wide and unspecified raft of exemptions is at best confusing, and at worst dubious. If churches do not feel that a full equality of access in public services is something they can endorse, they do not have to take state money."

Barrow ( adds that moving beyond an Establishment mentality and practice "would take imagination, bravery, intelligence and prayerfulness. But Dr Williams has those in spades. It is a crying shame that they are currently being applied to a totally misguided strategy – defend ourselves by extending religious exemption; use church schools to get the next generation (demographics suggest that won’t work); and try some ‘fresh expressions’ of church without transforming the core of the institution. Maybe the shock of this current archiepiscopal humiliation will shake some of the church’s leaders into a more radical, creative and outward looking re-think?"


See also: Which 'conscience' are we talking of?, by Simon Barrow.

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