The European Employment Directive, proposed under Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, was signed on 17 October 2000. The Directive prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of a person's religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation or racial or ethnic origin. The proposals are wide ranging in their application and deal with issues including employment, access to promotion and training.
The original draft of the Directive protected only 'occupational activities' which 'pursue directly and essentially the aim of ideological guidance in the field of religion or belief...' (clause 4.2). Under this wording a church could have insisted its pastor was a Christian, but this would not have applied to other posts such as secretary. There were also fears that Christian GP practices and hospices would have had difficulty employing only Christians, because most of their staff are not primarily involved in giving 'ideological guidance'. However, the Government responded to the protests of concerned Christians (10,500 letters were received), and reached a compromise that should now permit Christian GP surgeries and hospices to employ people who share the same ethos.
This concession is welcome but we must still be vigilant to ensure that strong protections are retained as the Directive is incorporated into British law over the next few years. The Directive remains ambiguous over the issue of 'sexual orientation'. If a practising homosexual claiming to be a Christian was refused employment, he could claim discrimination on the grounds of his 'sexual orientation'. Could a secular court be expected to understand that Christian faith involves lifestyle as well as belief?
There is uncertainty, too, as to whom the Directive really covers; whereas it may be possible for Christian GP practices and hospices to employ Christian doctors, what about nurses, receptionists, and ancillary staff?
The purpose of the European Employment Directive was to ensure freedoms, but it erodes the religious liberties that this country has enjoyed for centuries. Christian organisations should be free to employ people whose belief and lifestyle commends the Christian gospel.