Equality directive could be used to restrict Catholics, U.K. bishops warn

Archbishop Peter Smith, the prelate who oversaw the bishops' response.
Archbishop Peter Smith, the prelate who oversaw the bishops' response.


The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales as well as the  Scottish Bishops’ Conference have submitted a joint response to an EU proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive. The bishops voiced “serious concerns” that the proposal—which covers religion, belief, disability, age and sexual orientation—could be used by “pressure groups” to limit the freedom of Catholics.

Beginning their statement on the European Commission’s proposed directive, the Bishops’ Conferences said the Catholic Church commends the “moral principle” underlying the bill “on the basis of the innate dignity of every person as made in the image of God.”

The statement said that the Church is not seeking “special provisions” or exemptions from “universally applicable requirements” and also reiterated Catholics’ recognition of the freedom of groups in disagreement with Catholic teaching.

“What the Church is seeking from this Directive is simply the right to maintain its own teaching and activities with integrity, according to its own ethos,” the statement said. “As the Directive covers religion, belief, disability, age and sexual orientation, it is inevitable that circumstances will arise where the right to equal treatment under the directive will involve competing rights, either within a protected characteristic or between them, given the incompatibility of some of the beliefs concerned.”

The Bishops’ Conferences warned of the risk that the directive may be turned into an “instrument of oppression” against one or another group. Clarity was needed, their statement stressed.

“Discrimination under this Directive is not restricted to employment, and so this subjective approach to harassment will apply in all walks of life, including academic discourses, sermons, theatre, television and radio discussions,” they continued.

“Various pressure groups” they warned, may use the directive’s provision to “curtail the expression of views they disagree with by the simple expedient of declaring themselves to be offended.”

“Homosexual groups campaigning for same sex marriage may declare themselves offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on homosexual acts; Catholics may declare themselves offended by a ‘Gay Pride’ march; an atheist may be offended by religious pictures in art gallery; a Muslim may be offended by any picture representing the human form.”

Acknowledging that freedom of expression should be used “with due regards to others’ feelings,” the bishops said a more objective standard than “offensiveness” was necessary.

Other vague parts of the directive, the Bishops’ Conferences said, made it unclear whether a church hall which refused to book a group of witches would be considered discriminatory.

Some of the directive’s rules “could have the effect of requiring Catholic organizations to act against their ethos,” the conferences’ statement warned.

The statement was signed by Msgr. Andrew Summersgill, the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

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