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Talking offence

Last month the Equality and Human Rights Commission published the results of its call for evidence on the laws protecting freedom of religion or belief. The report (Religion or belief in the workplace and service delivery: Findings) runs to more than 200 pages and list cases of followers of most of the main belief systems (including atheists and humanists) who said they suffered discrimination or ridicule because of their worldview. Examples include a school dinner lady who allegedly told an eightyear- old boy he did not 'deserve' any Christmas presents because he did not believe in God and staff at a law firm being told not to hold an office 'Christmas party' because it could be seen as promoting Christianity. Almost 2,500 people responded to the call for evidence and by far the largest group were Christians. 'A prominent theme underlying all of the issues above was that Christianity had lost its place as the predominant religion in the UK relative to secular views,' the report notes. 'Whereas in the past some employers and managers thought that Christianity had been evident in workplace cultures, now they thought this was no longer the case.' The report does contain plenty of examples of discrimination by Christians, too. A humanist teacher working at a Roman Catholic school said she had been advised to wear a fake wedding ring when she was pregnant, because she was unmarried, and told not to talk to the pupils about her 'condition'. A lesbian worker also claimed evangelical Christians refused to work with her and told her she would 'burn in Hell'. Also documented is a Muslim employee who felt discriminated against when time slots for job interviews were only held during Eid and Friday prayers, while an elderly Jewish woman being treated in hospital was allegedly fed non-kosher meatballs by the staff because 'she didn't refuse'. Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC said: 'What came out strongly was the widespread confusion about the law, leading to some resentment and tensions between groups and anxiety for employers who fear falling foul of what they see as complicated equality and human rights legislation.'