Current Affairs

Gay groups, MPs and unions welcome bishop tribunal decision

Tony Grew July 18, 2007
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A range of organisations have praised an employment tribunal that found the Bishop of Hereford had discriminated against a gay man who applied for a job as a Church of England youth worker.

John Reaney was asked a series of questions about his sex life during a job interview with the Bishop.

His lawyers argued that a heterosexual person would not have been subject to the same level of intrusive questioning as Mr Reaney.

The case was heard over four days in Cardiff in April.

The tribunal ruled that he had been the subject of discrimination on the grounds sexual orientation.

Possible compensation will be decided at a later date.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP and Parliamentary campaigner for equality, commented:

“This is a damning judgment for the Church, which not only directly discriminated unfairly against an innocent person, but was also warned that they can not impose celibacy requirements on their unmarried lay employees without being caught out again on discrimination grounds.

“The church was warned by MPs when the Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Employment Regulations were passed in 2003 that they could not hide behind a narrow exemption for proselytising roles based on religious doctrine, in order to single out gay employees for unfair treatment – whether secretaries, teachers, caretakers or youth workers.

“The Church of England must now issue new guidelines to prevent prejudice-based employment practices to protect all those unable to take their case publicly to the courts.”

The Revd Richard Kirker, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, warmly welcomed the tribunal decision:

“All the evidence in this case says John Reaney is an outstanding Christian Youth Officer – the mission of the Church has not been served by Bishop Anthony Priddis’ prejudicial action against him.

“The tables have been turned. Bishop Priddis attempted to humiliate Mr Reaney but he now stands condemned and humiliated by this judgment.

“This is a just outcome. The Church has brought this humilation on itself. The case need never have been brought if the Church was not institutionally homophobic.”

Mr Kirker pointed out that the ruling has implications far beyond the Church of England.

“All faith bodies will need to act with extreme caution now more than ever if they are tempted to discriminate against lesbian and gay people despite the exceptions given to faith bodies in certain very restricted situations to discriminate,” he said.

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association welcomed the tribunal’s decision.

GALHA’s secretary Cliff James said: “This important case will tell churches that their prejudice and homophobia will not be tolerated in employment – not even for bogus religious reasons.

“The bishop of Hereford’s actions were a disgraceful display of crude intolerance and we hope that he is thoroughly ashamed of himself.

“The Church is rapidly having to learn that it is no longer a law unto itself and that injustice is no longer acceptable, even if

it is committed in the name of religion.”

The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, said:

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual people work for religious organisations all over the country. No one should suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation, and this case has confirmed that this includes religious organisations.

“Had the tribunal upheld the Bishop’s attempt to distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual practice, it would have driven a coach and horses through the UK’s anti-discrimination laws.

“It would have made it possible for organisations hostile to lesbian, gay and bisexual people to argue that they were not breaking the law if they sacked, or refused to employ, anyone whose life did not meet their own narrow and discriminatory views of how their employees should live.

“This employment tribunal decision means that religious organisations cannot discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.”

Stonewall, the gay rights organisation that funded Mr Reaney’s legal action against the Bishop, expressed their happiness at today’s outcome.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill said:

“This outcome is a triumph for 21st century decency over 19th century prejudice. We’re very happy for John.

“The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a Bishop, is exempt from the law.

“The reason that Christians can practice their faith in this country alongside Muslims, and Protestants alongside Catholics, is precisely because modern Britain respects difference.

“We hope this decision gives a clear signal to all employers about the importance of respecting lesbian and gay people in the workplace.”

Read’s exclusive interview with John Reaney here.

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