Every independent civil society organisation has a right to maintain its identity and mission

A coherent idea of discrimination requires a substantive account of justice, and that includes defining what legitimate rights individuals and organisations actually possess. All British citizens properly possess the prima facie individual right not to be discriminated against – in matters like employment, housing and social services – on grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation. This is because these involuntary markers of identity are completely irrelevant to such matters. I said “prima facie” because even here there exist widely recognised and uncontroversial exceptions, often arising from the rights of organisations. A rape crisis centre surely has the right to discriminate against men when hiring its counselling staff (perhaps any staff). An African-Caribbean community centre obviously can’t be compelled by law to hire a white guy like me as its director. The Labour party is evidently entitled to discriminate on ideological grounds in hiring its research staff. These are all examples of what the law calls a “genuine occupational requirement” (GOR). The idea is simple and compelling: every independent civil society organisation has a prima facie right to maintain its identity and mission by hiring staff who will support the distinctive purposes of the organisation and uphold its raison d’être. This isn’t a “privilege”, as is often tendentiously suggested, but merely a condition of meaningful self-government. Why then cry foul when religious organisations exercise their right to invoke the GOR provision? Why single them out and deny them the same rights enjoyed by others?

Jonathan Chaplin The Equality Bill must not be used to undermine the right of religious organisations to govern themselves

Jonathan Chaplin is director of the Kirby Laing Institute of Christian Ethics, which is related to Tyndale House, in Cambridge. We need an Institute of Christian Ethics, or even of Christian Theology and Ethics, in London. I think it should look something like this and hold conferences like this one.