Lord Alton has joined the Catholic Union in highlighting a ‘blind spot’ in relation to freedom of religion in the workplace.
The Catholic Union has raised concerns that freedom of religion and belief in the workplace is under threat, especially in the public sector.
In a survey of Catholic Union members and supporters, almost a third of responders (31%) said they had felt disadvantaged at work because of their faith. The vast majority of these instances (73%) occurred in the public sector.
Lord Alton said: “People of all faiths should not be expected to shed or conceal an essential part of who they are when they go to their place of work. This is not only a point of principle: there are clear legal requirements around religious freedom as set out by the ECHR, in Article 18 of the UDHR, and elsewhere. We are getting better at removing discrimination at work on the basis of race, sex, orientation, and disability, but there is still a blind spot when it comes to religion.”
The survey was carried out to inform the Catholic Union’s evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry into human rights at work, which includes a section on freedom of religion and expression. One lay chaplain in an NHS hospital spoke of a “pathological closing down” of chaplaincy work. People who work shifts reported problems being able to attend Mass, with one responder saying they had been “refused work due to Sunday obligations”. Another person said: “I do not feel comfortable wearing a cross at work”.
The Catholic Union shared the survey results with Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) who are carrying out an inquiry into human rights at work.
Crossbench peer, Lord Alton, who sits on the JCHR, spelt out the consequences of ignoring the problem. “Ignore discrimination or prejudice and it readily morphs into persecution and, then, in some parts of the world into appalling crimes against humanity. We all lose out if religious freedom is eroded,” he said.
Elsewhere, the survey found that:
• 48% of responders said they did not feel able to talk about their faith openly with colleagues
• 41% of responders did not believe religious discrimination was taken as seriously as discrimination against other protected characteristics such as age, race, sex, sexuality etc.
• 55% of responders thought that that Christianity was treated less favourably than other religions in their place of work
Catholic Union Director Nigel Parker commented on the ‘shocking’ findings. “The results of our survey reflect what many of us have known and felt for a long time; that it is increasingly difficult to be a faithful and open Catholic in many workplaces in this country. Some of the comments were truly shocking and should be a wakeup call to those responsible for upholding human rights at work,” Mr Parker said.