The European Commission has written to the British Humanist Association (BHA) to say that it will investigate whether UK legislation around state-funded ‘faith’ schools breaches European employment laws in relation to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. The BHA has welcomed news of the investigation, which could affect the employment practices of the one in three state schools that are religious.
In its complaint to the European Commission, the BHA argued that UK law illegally allows blanket discrimination by ‘faith’ schools in who they employ, instead of considering for each teaching post whether there is genuinely an occupational requirement that that particular teacher shares the faith of the school. The BHA also argued that UK law allows far too wide discrimination in discipline and dismissal of teachers, and may allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender – which European law does not.
Andrew Copson, the BHA’s chief executive and vice president of IHEU, commented, “For years now we have seen religious teachers being given preference to work in state funded ‘faith’ schools, not just when they would be expected to teach Religious Instruction or lead Collective Worship, but regardless of which subject they are applying for. With a third of state funded schools being religious, it is often much harder for staff of minority religions or of no religion to find employment.
“There is no obvious reason why most teachers at ‘faith’ schools need to share the faith of the school, and if there is, then the school can surely show that there is a genuine occupational requirement. It is the latter approach that European law requires, yet the blanket discrimination of the former approach that UK law erroneously permits.
“We welcome the European Commission’s announcement that they are to investigate this matter, and look forward to the outcome of their investigation”