Lord Alton of Liverpool has described faith-based discrimination in the workplace as a “blind spot” compared to other more common areas of focus such as race, sex and disability.
The 72-year-old crossbench peer and vice-president of the Catholic Union said people should not be expected to “shed or conceal an essential part of who they are“ when going to work as a new survey revealed almost five in ten workers don’t feel able to talk about their faith openly with colleagues.
The survey, published by the Catholic Union, also found 41 per cent of respondents didn’t believe religious discrimination was given the same weight as discrimination against other protected characteristics, such as age, race, sex, and sexuality.
Carried out to inform the Catholic Union’s evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into human rights at work, the survey highlighted particular problems in hospitals, universities and the police.
A lay chaplain working in an NHS hospital commented on a "pathological closing down" of chaplaincy work, while another respondent faced a formal complaint for using the phrase "God bless" with a patient.
The survey also found more than half of respondents (55 per cent) thought that Christianity was treated less favourably than other faiths in their work place.
Lord Alton, who sits on the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), said: “People of all faiths should not be expected to shed or conceal an essential part of who they are when they go to their place of work.
“We are getting better at removing discrimination at work on the basis of race, sex, orientation, and disability, but there is still a blind spot when it comes to religion.
“I will be encouraging my fellow Committee Members to consider the questions around freedom of expression in the workplace extremely seriously. Religious freedom is so often the canary in the mine for many of the freedoms we enjoy. Ignore discrimination or prejudice and it readily morphs into persecution and, then, in some parts of the world into appalling crimes against humanity. We all lose out if religious freedom is eroded.”
You can listen to Premier's interview with James Somerville-Meikle, the Catholic Union's deputy director, here: