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Consultation on Harassment Clause
The Church of God (7th Day), endorses the folowing statement of the CCFON and CLC.
In association with the CCFON and CLC we recognize the perils of this dangerous Directive that they are clear and manifest. If implemented in its current form, the Directive increases inequality and places severe restrictions on Christians expressing their faith. Indeed, if implemented, we expect massive censorship of Christian freedom of speech and the free exercise of conscience of religious people.
Many problems with this EU’s so-called “Equal Treatment” Directive exist, but perhaps the most troubling are its harassment provisions.
The Directive extends “discrimination” law, often used to compel UK Christians to act against their consciences, to the provision of healthcare, social security, housing and education across the European Union. The Directive expressly applies discrimination proscriptions for those of an unorthodox sexual orientation, or those who profess a religion or belief, to the provision of goods, facilities and services, (so that customers, clients or service users will be able to sue). Thus, according to the Directive, things like the provision of healthcare, social security, housing and education, all fall within the competence of the E.U.
The Directive proscribes not just discrimination, but also something the directive calls “harassment”. The Directive vaguely defines “harassment” in Article 2(3) to include unwanted conduct having:
...the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Every Christian believes in the innate human dignity of every person. No Christian would wish to harass anyone in the true sense of that term. “Harassment,” as defined in the Directive however, allows an individual to accuse someone of discrimination merely for expressing something the individual allegedly perceives as offensive.
Individuals can easily alleged offence from a discussion about faith or sexual ethics between an employee and a customer during the provision of a public or commercial service. For example, in a Christian book and coffee shop, such a conversation might arise whilst selling books or serving coffee. If, during the conversation a Christian sales assistant states he believes Jesus is the only way to God, or that he does not believe that civil partnerships are pleasing to God, the customer may allege offence and sue. The freedom to speak freely about one’s religious beliefs should not be considered “harassment”, but should remain a fundamental right in a democratic society.
The extension of the civil law of harassment is unnecessary, because there is already a criminal offence of harassment and a civil remedy for it in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This harassment legislation requires a “course of conduct” (rather than a single act or statement) and the opinion of a reasonable person that such a course of conduct amounts to harassment, before the crime or the civil wrong could be proved.
Giving people the right to sue someone because they allege that they feel offended is extremely dangerous for freedom of speech, not least because markedly different opinions exist concerning religions, beliefs and sexual ethics. Adopting a provision covering harassment on the grounds of religion or belief or sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services creates a massive chilling effect on freedom of speech and the free exercise of conscience by religious people. It denies religious believers to right to preach and to proselytize and makes it virtually impossible for religious individuals or groups to deliver services to the public. A further chilling effect on these fundamental freedoms is created by Article 14 of the Directive. Article 14 makes clear that when an accuser sues a provider of goods, facilities or services, the accuser can receive unlimited compensation from the provider. This could result in bankruptcy for many Christian organizations.
The ill-thought out Directive fails to include necessary balances and exceptions to protect the exercise of one’s conscience or the manifestation of one’s faith. Christians, and all those who value freedom, must act now.
It is important to respond to this Consultation. The UK Government, as one of the 27 Member States, will soon negotiate on the contents of the Directive in the Council of the European Union (the Council of Ministers). Passing the Directive requires unanimity. In view of its effect upon Christian freedoms, we hope and pray that one of the Member States does veto it. If agreed, the Directive will be transposed into the laws of all Member States including the UK.
Please use our response to the Consultation and add ideas of your own. Please argue that Article 2(3) on harassment should be removed from the Directive. If you have time, you may wish to answer the general question on page 25 of the GEO consultation, which allows you to comment on the draft Directive as a whole. You can then raise other issues of particular concern using ideas from our more detailed response, such as the suggestion of removing the grounds of “sexual orientation” and “religion or belief” so that the Directive is restored to its original intention of focusing on disability.
Love, joy peace in Him