Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Donaldson backs ResPublica report into erosion of religious freedom in workplace

By Cate McCurry

A DUP MP has backed a new report that warns how religious freedoms in everyday life are being eroded in modern Britain.

The paper - published by think-tank ResPublica - said that magistrates, teachers, foster parents, doctors, and therapists have been disciplined, demoted or sacked for living in accordance with their beliefs.

It further suggested that compromises to religious freedom "seriously endanger" the contributions of faith communities to the common good.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the research "reflects the experience" of many people who have a strong religious faith.

The report also called for the UK Government to press ahead with a British Bill of Rights incorporating a duty to make a "reasonable accommodation" for religious beliefs.

"We are in a society where religious expression is not respected and where the right to express yourself in terms of either what you wear or what you say is being undermined," the Lagan Valley MP said. "We do need to look at this again in terms of the whole questions of rights and responsibilities.

"When you consider the enormous contribution that the faith community and church make to society, including the charitable work they do, the social outreach that they engage in, I think it's wrong that people in the workplace think they almost have to hide their faith and that they can't express it in a way that is reflective of their beliefs."

He claimed that the recent discrimination case involving Ashers Baking Company showed that people feel there is not a "reasonable accommodation" for freedom of expression.

The firm owned by the McArthur family lost their court appeal over a ruling that found their company discriminated against a gay man. Ashers had refused to bake a cake bearing a slogan supporting same-sex marriage for a gay customer.

"I think we need to have a dialogue within our society about the kind of reasonable accommodation that would facilitate people who have a faith perspective," he added. "They feel almost persecuted in terms of their right to freely express a religious view."

The Christian Institute - which is backing the Ashers' legal case - said that freedom of religious expression has "suffered" in recent years.

The institute's Simon Calvert said: "There is a pressing need for legislators to re-examine equality laws to better reflect the kind of balancing act that needs to take place when you get a clash of rights. The ruling against Ashers Baking Company is the latest in a line of cases where the courts have come down in favour of a secular, liberal view at the cost of the freedom of respectable religious people to live according to their convictions."

Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica, said: "We hear a lot about the bad things people do in the name of religion but all faiths actually have a role to play in bringing communities together and stopping division."

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