Following the high profile case of the Northern Ireland bakers who refused to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage, Penningtons Manches employment partners, Tom Walker and Sarah Johnson, debated the issue of whether the inclusion of religion and belief as protected characteristics under the Equality Act was a regressive step.
This was followed by a poll of employers which revealed that a small majority (56%) agreed with Sarah’s position that this widening of the range of religions and beliefs is the right direction for a democratic society.
Sarah said: “Before the Regulations came into force, protection against religious discrimination was limited. For example, Sikhs and Jewish people were protected but Muslims were not. The Equality Act now covers any religion and any religious or philosophical belief – or lack of them. This is progress and there hasn’t been a deluge of successful religion or belief claims as a result. For the most part, tribunals have taken a robust and sensible approach.”
Tom’s main argument was that the way that the law is now implemented has resulted in religious discrimination often coming into conflict with – and undermining - other protections of the Equality Act.
More than eight out of ten (83%) respondents believe that the wording of the Equality Act should be modified to prevent conflict with the other protections under the Act such as race, gender, age and sexuality.
However, 61% of respondents do not believe that political beliefs should be given similar protection to religious ones.
The full Head2Head debate can be read here.