Conscience and religious exemptions


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.