British Churches Won’t Be Allowed to Ban Gay Employees. Would That Fly in America?

The difference between living in the United States vs. Europe? Besides the number of McDonalds and Starbucks? In the U.S., we say and do take religious freedoms very seriously when it comes to gay rights. In Europe, not so much.

While you have some religious zealots in the U.S. claiming same-sex marriage laws don’t go far enough in exempting religious institutions, they do. It’s unarguable, and laughable that Catholic Churches are keeping a straight face when they say they are going to be discriminated against.

But in the United Kingdom, a decision to grant churches the right to deny employment to the gays has been nixed — by the European Commission’s higher powers. (The Commission’s non-discrimination rules also became British law in 2003.) When British lawmakers tried excluding religious institutions from non-discrimination requirements in hiring practices — in a stab to maintain religious freedoms — they ran afoul of the European Union’s directive. Brought on by a complaint from the UK’s National Secular Society, the Commission wrote the British government last week, saying their church exclusions violated law. Which means:

The highly unusual move means that the government now has no choice but to redraft anti-discrimination laws, which is likely to prompt a furore among church groups.

In anticipation of a possible backlash from the commission, the government has already inserted new clauses into its equality bill. But even if the bill is jettisoned, future governments will be bound by the commission’s ruling.

Under the new proposals being drafted by the government, religious organisations will be able to refuse to employ homosexuals only if their job involves actively promoting or practising a religion. A blanket refusal to employ any homosexuals would no longer be possible.

[…] Under the terms of the exemption, religious groups were allowed to refuse a position to a homosexual employee “so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers”.

Back in the U.S. for a moment, the subject of hiring and religious freedoms is rearing its head in an unexpected, but obvious place: The American Philosophical Association’s online job board. Just how big of an exception should religious groups receive when looking to hire?

The American Philosophical Association has for several years been debating whether allowing [“religious institutions that require all hires to hold certain beliefs or follow certain rules, in some cases barring sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman,”] to use its jobs services undercuts the group’s anti-bias rules and effectively hurts its members who are gay; some philosophers have suggested that the association ban job notices from colleges that discriminate against gay people.

While the association has now rejected that move, it has decided on a new procedure that will flag all ads from employers that either volunteer that they discriminate or are determined to do so.

The new policy is being hailed by some philosophers as an important demonstration of the association’s commitment to equity. But there may be a loophole in the policy — and an association of Christian colleges is questioning the fairness of the new procedure.

Under the new system, the association’s rules against bias will be posted on the page where colleges can add a job notice. When placing the notice, colleges will be asked to indicate whether their policies are consistent with the association’s bans on various types of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. Any colleges that does not indicate that it complies with the statement will be flagged for not doing so, so potential applicants will be aware of the issue. Further, the association will investigate any complaints about whether colleges that haven’t been flagged are violating the policy, and if they are found in violation, they will also be flagged.

While the policy notes that the association does not consider it a violation of its anti-bias rules for some religious colleges to consider religious affiliation in hiring decisions, there is no exception made to the policy for religious colleges to violate other association rules (such as those barring discrimination based on sexual orientation).

Further, the association’s policy has now been made explicit that bans on people who engage in sex with a member of the same sex are considered discrimination. In the past, some advocates for religious colleges have said that these institutions don’t discriminate against gay people, but only those who engage in gay sex. The new policy of the association says that when conduct is “integrally connected” to a status, such as gay sex being related to being gay, that conduct can’t be banned without discriminating against the people who are a member of the relevant group.

We can hear the “Why would any queer person want to work for discriminatory religious employer?” argument roaring its head.