HRC gives church group’s request the thumbs down

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A request by a group of churches to amend the Human Rights Act to give them the right to lawfully discriminate against active homosexuals who are “without conviction” and others who engage in practices that go against the “biblical standard” has been given the thumbs down by the Human Rights Commission.

A statement issued by the HRC yesterday noted that the request by the group United for Change was “counter to the HRC mandate”.

“The fundamental purpose of the Human Rights Commission is to ensure and enforce equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination as defined in the Human Rights Act,” the HRC said.

“Residents in Bermuda should not be placed at a disadvantage, or be refused the same rights as others, simply because of their sexual orientation, race, religion or any other ground covered by the Act.

“The underpinning principle of Human Rights Commission is to ensure minority groups have the same rights and opportunities as the majority, the suggested amendments encapsulated in yesterday’s advertisement would be counter to the HRC mandate.

“Currently under the Act such discrimination would be unlawful, and will remain so unless there are legislative changes.”

United for Change, a group of 79 pastors from varying denominations is asking the Government to make further changes to the HRA following the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination that they say would protect their freedom of conscience.

It is concerned that the prohibition of sexual orientation discrimination would eventually lead to legalisation of same sex marriage, parenting rights for same sex couples and labelling preaching against homosexuality as hate speech.

And it says religious people may be at risk of facing human rights complaints by homosexuals.

The group does not represent every church on the Island or include leaders of other religions.

But in a full-page advertisement in this newspaper this week, the group reminded Government that most residents believe in “Scriptural teachings” that prohibit homosexual activity.

“Be mindful that a vast portion of the population of the nation hold to Scriptural teachings that prohibit homosexual relations and to ensure that the Human Rights Act be worded in a manner that will guarantee the freedom of conscience of all people of faith according to The Bermuda Constitution.

“This will ensure that the rights of religious freedom are protected in our nation.”

Religious organisations already have some “carve-outs” to protect their interests in the Human Rights Act.

The general prohibition against discrimination does not apply to religious organisations which refuse membership on religious grounds, for example.

Another carve-out in the Act allows employment discrimination on the grounds of religion if religion is a “bona fide and material occupational qualification and a bona fide and reasonable employment consideration for that position or employment”.

We asked United for Change’s coordinator, Gary Simons, for his reaction to the HRC statement but received no response by press time last night.

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Published Sep 7, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Sep 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm)

HRC gives church group’s request the thumbs down

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