Thursday, July 10, 2008

British Humanist Association responds to the Government’s “Empowerment” White Paper

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2008 14:23
The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomes the Government’s “Empowerment” White Paper, published today, but warns that it still has not addressed problems associated with funding and commissioning with faith groups.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, said ‘The Government’s drive to increase local democracy and promote civic participation and social action at the local level is to be welcomed. However, its increasing focus on ‘faith’ is divisive, damaging to social cohesion, and perpetuates the myth that it is mainly “people of faith” who are socially motivated. The Empowerment White Paper and wider communities strategies should be based on principles of rights and equality and take a totally inclusive approach. This means drawing on the talents of as many individuals and groups within communities as possible, in order to meet aims of improving deprived areas, encouraging active citizenship, improving local public services and strengthening local accountability – and not dividing people up on the basis of whether they belong to a ‘faith community’ – or not.’

Ms Phillips continued, ‘As part of its ongoing communities strategy, the Government is increasingly committed to commissioning with religious organisations and is set to encourage local authorities to do so even more than at present.
While it is beginning to recognise that proselytising and unequal treatment in service provision are real risks when services are provided by religious organisations, it has thus far failed to set in place any procedures to prevent this.
The area of discrimination in employment, where religious organisations can discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or because they are of no or the ‘wrong’ religion has not been addressed at all by Government.’

‘It is clear to us that
there should be proper safeguards in place to prevent discrimination against service users, against employees and problems such as proselytising well before any moves to increase even more the number and scope of faith-based organisations providing services in the community.’

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