Liberal Judaism backs campaign against sexual discrimination

Liberal Judaism is backing a campaign to restrict the exemptions sought by some religious groups from anti-discrimination laws.

It is giving support to the Cutting Edge Consortium, a coalition of gay rights and progressive organisations, lobbying over the Equalities Bill currently before Parliament.

The bill is meant to consolidate existing laws against discrimination on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and disability.

But some religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, have warned that the bill could create “difficulties” for them and want greater freedom.

It fears that a Christian organisation would in future not be allowed to demand that a church youth worker, for example, should be heterosexual.

Rabbi Mark Solomon, the Liberals’ interfaith consultant, who attended a meeting of the consortium in Parliament last week, said there was already concern over “the possible breadth of exemptions. These should be narrowed so people can’t discriminate illegitimately.

“A faith school should not be able to reject an application from a Muslim for the job of accountant because he doesn’t share the same ethos, or reject a teacher for English or maths on the grounds of their sexual orientation.”

No-one was denying religions the freedom to appoint ministers according to their own principles, he explained. But exemptions should not apply to those who were not involved in the teaching of the religion.

He said: “There is particular concern that organisations which receive public money should have to comply completely with the legislation and not be able to fudge it through exemptions.”

The JC also understands that an amendment could be inserted into the Equality Bill to uphold the right of Jewish schools to choose pupils according to their parents’ Jewish status.

This option would be considered if the Supreme Court fails to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that it is unlawful to use parental descent for the purposes of entry because it contravenes the Race Relations Act. The Supreme Court is currently considering an appeal by JFS against the Appeal Court decision.

But Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich said LJ would oppose using the Equality Bill to overturn the court ruling if it goes against JFS. “We would not support politically motivated schools’ admissions criteria,” he said.

    Last updated: 4:56pm, December 3 2009