Churches should be “lining up” lawyers to defend themselves against secular legal challenges under the Equality Bill, a Government equalities minister has admitted.
Michael Foster MP, a minister in Harriet Harman’s Equalities Office, was asked whether the Bill would lead to legal action between churches and atheists.
He said both sides “need to be lining up (their lawyers) by now.”
He added: “The secularists should have the right to challenge the church and if the church’s argument is good enough – which I believe it is – then the church should win through.”
The Equality Bill will dramatically shrink the liberty of churches to insist their staff’s conduct is in accordance with the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour.
The Bill will also impose an ‘equality duty’ on public bodies like schools and the police to promote gay and transsexual rights.
Several faith groups fear the Bill will add to the weight of equality and diversity rules which have led to several Christians being punished for expressing their faith.
During a House of Lords debate on the Equality Bill last week, Baroness O’Cathain warned that over the past year there have been “several disturbing cases of Christians suffering unjust treatment for their religious beliefs.”
She added: “Equality laws have created some of the worst injustice.”
The Bill is being promoted as a way of consolidating existing anti-discrimination legislation into a single law.
However, Neil Addison, a barrister and expert in religious discrimination law, labelled this claim as “completely misleading and untrue”.
He added: “The trouble is that the Government is passing vague legislation and then saying ‘well, the courts will sort it out’”.
“But the law should be as certain as possible. Courts should not become the arena in which these issues are fought out.”
A new Christian Institute report has revealed the extent to which Christians are being marginalised by a raft of equality and diversity laws which leave them the first to be punished and the last to be protected.
The report, called “Marginalising Christians”, catalogues numerous cases of Christians being sidelined by public bodies, popular media, employers and barriers to public funding.