Ethics & Morality

Vegetarianism a protected belief? How can a quango ignore the will of Parliament?

At the end of last year, without much fanfare, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued Religion or belief: a guide to the law. It’s the helpful kind of thing quangos do, and it justifies their existence. In it, we read (pp4f):

Which beliefs are protected by the Equality Act 2010?

The Act does not include a definition of belief other than ‘belief means any religious or
philosophical belief’ and includes a lack of a particular belief. The courts have developed
a definition of belief through the cases they have decided.
A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but it must affect how a
person lives their life or perceives the world.
For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must:
• be genuinely held
• be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of
information available
• be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
• attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and
• be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and
not in conflict with fundamental rights of others. For example, Holocaust denial, or the
belief in racial superiority are not protected.

Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism and the belief in man-made climate
change are all protected.”

Now, back when the Equality Bill was passed in March 2010, the then Labour Government stated quite explicitly that this would not happen.

A spokesman for Harriet Harman’s department, the Government Equality Office, said the government did not share the view that climate change or veganism were religious beliefs. A Government spokesman said: “The Equality Bill does not change the existing definition of religion or belief and the Government does not think that views or opinions based on scientific – or indeed on political – theories can be considered to be akin to religious beliefs or philosophical beliefs. Nor was it the intention in introducing the legislation that such beliefs should be covered.”

Parliament makes the law, the courts interpret it and the Commission offers factual and proportionate guidance to organisations where necessary. Yet under the guise of providing guidance, lest the courts should be in any doubt, the EHRC has stated authoritatively that life-style beliefs are, in fact, akin to religious belief. What Parliament was told would not happen, a quango has decided will most definitely be the case.

So..

From time to time there are vacancies for commissioners and committee members on EHRC bodies of governance. Perhaps someone with a more conservative view of Equality and Human Rights might apply, since conservatism is “about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”; it attains “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and is most certainly “worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with fundamental rights of others”.

Given that conservatism is a philosophical belief worthy of (at least) the same respected and protected status as veganism and vegetarianism, it would be illegal for the EHRC to discriminate against an applicant who happened to believe, as the the Archbishop of Canterbury does, that equality as a government aim is “doomed to totalitarianism“. As previously observed:

Equality can either be engineered and imposed by government diktat, or fostered organically in society through education and moral inculcation. The latter would be a more conservative approach; the former an essentially socialist construction – though there are many variations of these political philosophies and variable traditions of social theology within those strands. Discerning core dichotomies and mutual exclusions is not an easy task for the moral theologian (though it’s not an unusual episcopal pursuit in the realm of political philosophy).

Inherent to conservatism is an undeniable ethical commitment which is central to who we are: conservatism has a distinct theology, articulated and expounded by Edmund Burke, which does not demand the worship of God or gods (though neither does it preclude it), but it most certainly affects how a person lives his or her life and perceives the world. The fact that few have ever recognised that conservatism is a theo-political creed is no reason for adherents to the philosophy not to be granted their rights under the law.

The Equality Act (2010) makes it a legal requirement for all public bodies to consider the impact of all their policies on minority groups.

At (say) the BBC, those of a conservative disposition are in a distinct minority. Since it now appears that the burden of proof in cases of alleged discrimination falls upon the accused to prove their innocence, perhaps there ought to be a stream of cases brought against (say) the BBC by every conservative (or Conservative) who happens to be rejected for a job.

If any sinister sect, trivial ‘-ism’ and ephemeral ‘-ology’ are now no different from the great Christian faith by which the laws and culture and freedoms of this nation were forged, it is difficult to understand why political beliefs are not covered by the legislation. Who has decreed that Islam is a religion and not a political philosophy? How is the EHRC distinguishing between those religions which overtly espouse a political objective and those which purport not to do so?

Or is that a matter for the courts?

Why does the non-belief in a god merit protection under the law, but not the belief that liberalism is antithetical to conservatism because of the consequent emphasis on individual autonomy and the rights of man? Why does the decision not to eat meat merit protection under the law, but not the commitment to a philosophy which manifests itself in patriotism, custom, respect for the law, loyalty to a leader or monarch, and in the willing acceptance of the privileges of those to whom privilege is granted?

Why do those who decide not to wear leather merit protection under the law, but not those who in some deeper part of themselves yearn for a social order which is motivated and consoled by the forces to which the conservative instinct is attuned?

Why is the commitment not to imbibe alcohol worthy of protection under the law, but not the conservative tradition of social concern and action which is rooted in the historic Christian faith?

How can fashion and matters of eating and drinking be more important than one’s theo-political worldview?

Does the EHRC not know that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, but the official advice and guidance which is spewed out of it? Could a conservative be a Non-Executive Commissioner of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission?