The Conscience Clause: Concern for the Less Well Off in Society
There are two major problems with the DUP’s proposed conscience clause.
- It may harm those who are less well-off
- It doesn’t actually help situations where a Christian’s conscience may tell them to refuse work
The first problem is addressed in this article. The second will be addressed tomorrow.
Christians ought to show concern for the less well-off and vulnerable in society. This proposal provides protections for a relatively prosperous sector of society while at best ignoring, and possibly even harming, the less prosperous.
Consider an Evangelical photographer who believes that it would be a violation of their faith identity to take photographs of a civil partnership ceremony. If that photographer is rich enough to own his own business, this proposal will allow him to refuse to take photographs of a civil partnership ceremony. However if the photographer is not rich enough to own his own business and is employed by a photography company, then his employer determines whether or not he should photograph a civil partnership ceremony. If this proposal provides freedom of conscience, then it only provides it to the rich. This discrimination against the poor is abhorrent to Christianity.
It is conceivable that, if this proposal is passed, the employment opportunities for people with a strong faith identity will be harmed. For example, if a photography firm is owned by an Evangelical who refuses to photograph civil partnership ceremonies, then certain sectors of the population will not approach the firm to do business. If another photography firm merely employed an Evangelical, then there is a real risk that the firm will be perceived as being Evangelical and as a result its business will be harmed. This makes Evangelical employees less desirable, making it harder for Evangelical people to find employment. Once again, the proposal protects the prosperous and in this scenario actively harms the less well off.
It is completely impractical to suggest that the conscience clause be extended to all employees. It would make it impossible for firms to recruit staff to do a particular job, because at any point in their employment an employee could invoke the conscience clause to decline to do essential tasks. For example, an Evangelical human resources manager may refuse to do the necessary administration to add an employee’s civil partner to a company’s health insurance plan because it was believed that that was an endorsement of same-sex relationships.