12 March 2015, The Tablet

Christians fear being mocked by colleagues

Christians feel pressured to keep their faith hidden at work, mocked by colleagues for being bigoted and discriminated against when it comes to wearing religious symbols, a new report has shown.

The largest ever public consultation carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission [EHRC], with almost 2,500 people taking part, found widespread public confusion and misunderstanding about the legal status of religion.

The study comes after several high profile legal cases involving alleged discrimination. Last year a Christian bakery in Northern Ireland was subject to a legal claim, supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, for refusing to produce a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.

The EHRC said it “wanted to find out what people experience in their day to day lives following extensive media and public debate about how people are able to express their religious and other beliefs.”

The EHRC’s chief executive, Mark Hammond, 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.”

Christians from a range of denominations formed the biggest group of respondents, the EHRC said. The report found widespread confusion about how the law relates to religious belief. The EHRC said: “A recurring theme among some employees was the pressure they felt they were under to keep their religion hidden at work and feeling discriminated against when it came to wearing religious symbols or expressing their beliefs. This was particularly felt by Christians. People reported being mocked for their beliefs including Christians, who said their colleagues assumed they were bigoted.”

In the report, a Catholic participant said: “The wearing or ‘showing of’ a crucifix, rosary or any other Catholic jewellery was forbidden, yet nose rings, tongue piercings and tattoos were OK.” Another participant described as “a manager in a law firm” said: “When I organised a Christmas party a couple of employees objected on the basis that the use of the word Christmas would promote a religious belief. We had to agree upon 'an End of Year Party/Christmas Party according to your beliefs'. I was offended but the boundaries have become unclear.”

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