A joint statement by the Rt Rev Richard Harries, Anglican Bishop of Oxford, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, and the Rev Geoffrey Roper, general secretary, the Free Churches' Council of England and Wales, has welcomed the new EU directive on equal treatment in employment. They said: "Unjustifiable discrimination in the employment of individuals, on the grounds of their religious beliefs, is an infringement of human rights and, at the same time, an infringement of individual religious liberty. "We also welcome the directive's recognition of the particular needs of religious organisations to be able to maintain their distinctive ethos. This is in line with the European Convention's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, recognised in section 13 of the Human Rights Act of 1998, which has recently come into effect. This right of religious organisations, as well as individuals, to freedom of religious practice is a fundamental right, which has to balance and qualify other human rights which appear to conflict with it. "We are pleased that the text approved unanimously by member states is a substantial improvement on the original draft, which lacked the clarity necessary to protect religious organisations. In particular, the text should protect the position of voluntary aided church schools, under section 60 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, which allows for the recruitment of teachers of the relevant faith. We are grateful to the government and officials for the work they have done to secure these improvements. "The directive allows Parliament to put in place legislation to protect the similar right to religious freedom which applies to other religious organisations providing services such as medical, social, childcare, youth work provision, residential care for elderly or handicapped people, marriage care, hospices and night shelters. We look forward to working closely with the government on legislative proposals to implement this directive."
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