Government Equalities Office
Lynne Featherstone MP
MINISTER FOR EQUALITIES
2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
(Original copy of letter available on request)
Conor Burns MP
House of Commons
HO Reference: GEO/11/MC/0373 8 June 2011
Your Reference: BWC2996
Thank you for your letter of 18 March 2011 to the Prime Minister containing an e-mail and a letter from your constituent, …………… of………………….. …………. Mrs …….. raises concerns with you about what she perceives as the marginalisation and mocking of Christians. I am responding to you as the Minister of Equalities. I apologise for the delay in my response.
I cannot comment on specific court case, but people in this country had the complete freedom to hold any religious beliefs they choose. It is the Government’s policy however, to strike a balance between people’s right to practice and manifest their religious beliefs, and the rights of others not to be discriminated against in areas such as employment and access to goods and services.
I do not agree that equality legislation undermines the rights of Christians to hold fast to the teachings of the bible. Rather, equality legislation protects these very rights and the Government fully supports people’s right to conduct their lives in accordance with their faith. What the Government cannot permit however is discrimination against people, even where the basis for the discrimination is biblical.
For example, a Christian who operates a business that provides a service is entitled to hold their Christian religious beliefs about sexual orientation. However, as a provider of goods and services to members of the public, it is unlawful for them to refuse to serve customers, or to treat them less favourably than other customers, because of their sexual orientation. The same conclusion of unlawfulness would also be drawn if the business is run by a gay man and he refused to serve or treated less favourably, a heterosexual couple.
With regard to school curricula, the Government believes that it is important for schools to educate children about different groups of people, thereby nurturing a culture of respect and understanding for people’s differences. The Government also believes that schools should take incidents of prejudice-based bullying, including homophobic bullying, especially seriously.
Lynne Featherstone MP
Minister for Equalities
© 3 July 2011