The Church of England in crisis?

Thursday, 22 November 2012 09:25
Yesterday the General Synod of the Church of England (by a narrow minority) voted to prevent the legislation which would have allowed women bishops from proceeding. The Church is now the only part of the British Establishment to openly practice direct discrimination. How can this be?

Various employment law cases over the past few years have confirmed that the Church is an employer and that ministers of religion are workers rather than office holders.

Even if a vicar did have trouble establishing herself, for the purpose of a discrimination claim, as a worker rather than an ‘office holder’ (which is highly unlikely given the case law), Ss 49-52 of the Equality Act * specifically include protection against discrimination, harassment and victimisation for those who hold or seek appointment to an office whether personal or public. However, there is a caveat that under Schedule 9 of the Equality Act organised religions are able to apply for an exemption dependent on the ‘feelings’ of ‘significant number of the religion’s’ followers or that the requirement is applied so as to comply with the doctrines of the religion’. However, none of this has been tested yet at an employment tribunal.

A public office, for the purposes of the Equality Act, does include Church of England Bishops and Archbishops. Where a vacancy to a bishopric arises, the Prime Minister chooses his or her preferred candidate from a shortlist of two names, and then ‘recommends’ that person to the Queen for appointment.

So, where do female ministers go from here?

When the next vacancy for Bishop arises, a female minister could put herself forward, and, when she inevitably fails to be shortlisted, put in a claim to an Employment Tribunal, which would have jurisdiction under the Equality Act.
Alternatively, the Church could declare that it is abiding by Statute (I should think it unlikely that this would require the Synod’s approval) before the Government intervenes to finally close the door on this dictatorship by a vociferous minority.

*– S.49(2)(a). A person is regarded as discharging functions personally under the direction of another person ‘if that other person is entitled to direct the person as to when and where to discharge the functions’ – S.49(10) Public: an office or post to which a person is appointed by a member of the executive branch of Government, such as a Government minister, or on the recommendation of, or with the approval of, a member of the executive or Parliament (including devolved parliamentary bodies) – S.50(2) EqA.

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