The Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003 (now part of the Equality Act 2010) were introduced, as the name suggests, to protect against discrimination on the grounds of religion or a belief system.
In Power -v- Greater Manchester Police Authority the Employment Appeal Tribunal considered the dismissal of Mr Power, a committed spiritualist, who worked as a Special Constabulary Trainer. Shortly after he started his job his employers discovered that police officers had complained that, in his previous work, he had been disruptive and unhelpful on training courses and that he had been distributing CDs and posters about spiritualism.
He was called to a meeting with an HR manager following which he received a letter notifying him that his employment was terminated with immediate effect. The letter included the following:
Information has come to light regarding previous work with Neighbouring Forces and your current work in the psychic field which is not compatible with employment in Greater Manchester Police. I can confirm that if this information had been made available to us prior to you joining the force as a member of police staff, we would not have offered you employment.”
Mr Power presented a complaint of discrimination to an employment tribunal and lost. The tribunal found that he was dismissed not because of the beliefs he held but because his previous conduct showed that he was unsuitable to train police officers and the distribution of the CDs and posters, although related to his beliefs, was an unacceptable way of expressing those beliefs. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that this is not quite what the letter of dismissal says as shown above. However, when he appealed against his dismissal he was told that the phrase “work in the psychic field” referred not to the belief held by him “but on the basis that the material [distributed] was inappropriate”. The distinction is critical because, on appeal, the EAT agreed with the employment tribunal and confirmed that Mr Power was dismissed, not because he was a spiritualist and did work in the psychic field, but because of how he manifested his beliefs by distributing the material.
Did it make any difference that the belief in question was spiritualism? That issue is not addressed in the decision but it would be interesting to see how the activities of an evangelical Christian might be regarded in similar circumstances. Such an individual would be expected, as part of his or her belief, to “spread the word” with a view to encouraging people, presumably including those encountered in the workplace, to become fellow evangelical Christians. The word evangelism is derived from the Greek words to announce good news, bring a good message or preach the Gospel.
Yet again the application of the Regulations (now within the Act) brings with it the uncomfortable overlap between moral questions, including those concerning freedom of expression of faith, and application of the law in a largely secular society.