Ecclesiastical Law Journal

Comment

Hatred, Sexual Orientation, Free Speech and Religious Liberty

Ian Leigha1

a1 Professor of Law, University of Durham

In recent years, the clash between supporters of religious liberty and sexual orientation equality legislation has led to repeated battles both in Parliament and the courts. First came the clashes over the scope of exemptions in employment discrimination legislation for religious groups. The UK Regulations dealing with employment discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation give a limited exception for ‘employment for purposes of an organised religion’, which allows an employer to apply a requirement related to sexual orientation to comply with the doctrines of the religion, or to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers. A legal challenge brought to the scope of this exception was unsuccessful but, despite that, the exemption has not averted damaging findings of discrimination against the Church of England. The Bishop of Hereford was held to have discriminated unlawfully in blocking the appointment of a practising homosexual to a youth-officer post within the Church of England. The partial success of religious groups in achieving exemption was followed by defeat in the equivalent regulations dealing with discrimination in goods and services, made under the Equality Act 2006, despite the claims of Catholic adoption agencies that they would rather close than place children with same-sex couples.