Policy and Politics: Question Time - Hanne Stinson, British Humanist Association

As executive director of the association, what are your views on the Equality Bill?

We strongly support plans for a Commission for Equality and Human Rights, but we have concerns about the clause covering the duty to promote good relations, which, unlike the equivalent race legislation, focuses exclusively on communities.

Society isn't made up of distinct communities. Communities are important for some individuals, perhaps particularly for BMEs and some - but by no means all - faith groups.

Does the high number of exemptions for harassment in Part 2 of the Bill compromise the principle of equality?

It is outrageous that the Bill permits religious organisations to harass people. There can be no justification for a faith school harassing a pupil, for example.

Much of Part 2 of the Bill is fine, but the exceptions for religious organisations, charities and schools seem to have been written to ensure that the churches can continue to do exactly what they do now. Individuals of all other faiths and denominations, and people with non-religious beliefs, will suffer discrimination and harassment.

What do the Government and Christian organisations say on this?

It is clear that the Church of England and the Catholic Church have been lobbying hard for these exceptions. The Home Office actually admitted that the Bill would not require the churches to change their practices at all, adding that they "have to keep the major stakeholders on side". But the stakeholders in this Bill are the whole UK population, not the churches.

Who supports you in Parliament?

We have allies in both Houses - humanists, but also others who believe in a commitment to equality and human rights. We know some minority faith groups are also concerned about their followers being discriminated against - but some are in two minds about speaking out.

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