Parliament inquiry to be held on religious rights

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A parliamentary committee is to examine whether changes should be made to discrimination laws after a raft of legal cases over Christian rights.

Public hearings will be held in the autumn, with MPs and Lords invited to give their views on whether current laws are adequate.

The inquiry is organised by Christian MP Gary Streeter, who tabled an early day motion backing the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s push for ‘compromise’ for Christian workers who say their faith means they cannot serve gay people.

Mr Streeter, speaking to the Guardian earlier this month, said there was a “fear” among Christians about their rights to express their beliefs.

He said: “That fear is growing, that voice is growing. There is a particular problem. In the last 12 months, we have had legal cases that provoked concern. These now need to be tackled.”

The MP for South West Devon, who is the chair of Christians in Parliament, added: “The outcome of our inquiry might be that the law needs to be nudged back in certain areas and we won’t shy away from saying so.”

“The public at large don’t care what we do but, in the Christian community, there is a measure of concern about the issue. They will be pleased to see Christian parliamentarians doing something. They will be pleased to receive some reassurance that the fear whipped up is not necessary.”

He said the inquiry would welcome submissions from religious and non-religious groups.

Although some of the Christian rights cases in the law few years have concerned issues around wearing or displaying crosses, others have involved workers who said their beliefs mean they cannot serve gay people.

Islington registrar Lillian Ladele said she could not carry out civil partnerships, while Bristol sex counsellor Gary McFarlane refused to work with gay couples.

In another case, Eunice and Owen Johns were banned from fostering children by Derby city council after they admitted they would not tell a child that homosexuality is acceptable.

Speaking this week about his early day motion, which a number of MPs have withdrawn from, Mr Streeter denied that it was about discriminating against gay people, saying: “I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I believe in ‘live and let live’.”

The EHRC has been harshly criticised by gay rights campaigners, secular groups and trade unions for its proposals to make “reasonable accommodations” in religious rights cases.

The commission announced earlier this month it would seek to advise in four legal cases, including the cases of Ms Ladele and Mr McFarlane.