Speech by Sir Terence Etherton: Religion, The Rule of Law and Discrimination

2014 Gray’s Inn Reading at Barnard’s Inn

One of the most difficult and contentious areas of our law today is the resolution of disputes generated by a conflict between, on the one hand, the religious beliefs of an individual and, on the other hand, actions which that individual is required to take, whether that requirement is by a public body, a private employer or another individual. The problem is particularly acute where the conflict is directly or indirectly between one individual’s religious beliefs and another’s non-religious human rights.

It is a subject that affects many countries as they have become more liberal, multicultural and secular. The issues in countries which are members of the Council of Europe and of the European Union, like England and Wales, are affected by European jurisprudence as well as national law. The development of the law in England is of particular interest because the Protestant Church is the established Church of England but the protection for secular and other non-Protestant minorities has progressed at a pace and in a way that would have been beyond the comprehension of most members of society, including judges and politicians, before the Second World War.

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