In January 2014 the Catholic Truth Society published a booklet “Guide to Religious Freedom and the Law” written by Barrister Neil Addison. Neil describes it as “an attempt to provide information on aspects of the law relating to Religious Freedom and Discrimination which are of specific interest to Catholic Institutions and individual Catholics in particular the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.”
Neil is a practicing Barrister based in Liverpool and in his spare time is National Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre. This is a Charity that provides free legal advice and assistance to people, of any religion, who are suffering discrimination because of their religious beliefs and has been particularly involved in defending health service workers who are being pressurised to participate in Abortion.
The CTS booklet is not Neil’s first law book on this subject, he is the Author of a detailed legal text book “Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law” and he runs the Blog religionlaw.blogspot.co.uk. He says however that the CTS booklet is far more specific and targeted than most law books. “There are a large number of Books and official guidance covering Discrimination and Human Rights Law but the specific exemptions in the law which apply to religious organisations are often covered in a cursory way or relegated to footnotes. In this CTS book by contrast the exemptions and how they apply is the main area of interest”
By concentrating on what are the specific legal issues applying to the Catholic Church, Catholic Organisations and individual Catholics Neil hopes that booklet will be easier to understand, as he puts it “In any law book there is a balance to be struck, cover everything and the book becomes unreadable except to the professionals, do not cover everything and someone is bound to complain that you have ignored an issue that they consider important. I can only hope I have struck the right balance with this Guide”.
One of the areas of Equality Law Neil is very conscious that he did not cover is Disability Discrimination. This he says is not because the subject is unimportant but because of the need to keep the booklet focused. Neil does however provide weblinks to organisations representing Blind and Deaf Catholics which can provide help and guidance in this area
Though the booklet is aimed primarily at a Catholic Audience Neil hopes that it will also be of assistance to members of other religions and Churches since many of the legal questions are common across religious boundaries. Neil adds that “Though the booklet is designed to give legal advice it is not my intention to encourage litigation or ‘I know my rights’ confrontations. Recourse to the law and to litigation should be the very last resort of any individual. If at all possible disputes are best resolved through patient discussion away from the glare of publicity.”
The booklet arose from discussions Neil had had with the Director of CTS and the experience has for Neil been quite an eye opener “I was extremely impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the staff in CTS. Because CTS produce so many booklets there may be a tendency to think that they rush things through but that is definitely not the case, even for one booklet everything is properly proofread and discussed. It was a real pleasure working with them”
Finally Neil takes the opportunity provided by the Booklet to to explode one persistent legal myth. Despite frequent assertions to the contrary there is absolutely NO legal rule which prevents a Roman Catholic becoming Prime Minister or indeed any form of Government Minister.
The booklet deals with the legal situation in Scotland as well as England and Wales since the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act apply on both sides of the Border, It is available from CTS priced £2.50