Many of us have heard talk of the fight for equal rights, be it as a result of discrimination by age, race, color, creed or gender. From the suffragettes fighting for the right to vote to same gender couples being able to marry and benefit from the marital laws, equality is a principle that has been fought for through the courts, through pressure groups and through, sometimes violent, protest.
So What Does Equality Mean?
This all depends on your point of view. There are instances of inequality in every walk of life; from the heiress who receives less than her sibling to the immigrant worker who is not given the same pay, working benefits or working conditions as his citizen counterparts. It is a sad, if not popular, fact that those who think that equality exists, and therefore the fight for equality is redundant, probably have no need to worry about it.
From a legal and moral point of view, equality is each person receiving the same respect, treatment, opportunities and rights, irrespective of their gender, color, country of birth, religion, political beliefs or sexual orientation. The principles of equality can be applied to every arena, from work to home life.
There have been a large number of far-ranging and notable equality movements that have left their mark in time. In the UK there is none still as recognised as the Feminist Movement, although the term ‘feminism’ is slightly anachronistic – it is now known as ‘equal rights for women’. Most people believe that the birth of feminism was the 1960s, with protests and campaigns for changes to the law that would give women the same status, rights and pay as men. In fact, the roots of feminism can be found as far back as the suffragette movement, if not further back in history.
Feminism, although its goal was the equality of women, paved the way for other civil rights movements; they showed the incumbent government that the people were not to be denied their political opinion. They dominated the news for years in their struggle for women to be recognised as equals.
The Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act is by far the most far-reaching piece of legislation to legitimize the equal rights movement. Whilst no articles specifically refer to a definitive right for equality, there is for instance no section headed ‘Your Right to Equality’, the whole Act itself is written to promote fairness and equal civil rights under the law. The Act as a whole prohibits discrimination on any grounds. Every human being has the benefit of the civil rights imposed by the Act and every human being can take action if any of their rights are breached.
’Some are More Equal Than Others’
This is a favorite saying and essentially it means that we are still a long way from having true equality; our civil rights are in place but we are far from attaining a society where absolutely everyone is equal. There are still thousands and thousands of people who have to fight to receive what others deem to be a natural state of affairs. The one thing that no government can legislate for is the minds of the people; it is our right to have our own political opinions, religious beliefs and attitudes about certain things, but it is not our right to force our opinions on others and prevent them from exercising their right to equality.
What is Religious Freedom?
History has been marked by religious wars and conflicts, in the name of one set of beliefs or another, for centuries; people have been persecuted, hunted, tortured and killed as a result of their wish to believe what they want to. Now, as a civilised society, we have learned to accept that every person has a right to follow whichever path they choose without fear of reprisal.
This right was re-confirmed under Article 9 of The Human Rights Act 1998. This specifically states, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’
The Act gives you the right to be protected from discrimination as a result of your chosen beliefs; whether you follow Christianity, Spiritualism, Judaism, Buddhism (to name a very few) or if you wish to follow the religion of the Ancient Eqyptians or Romans. It also gives you the tacit right to follow that religion in your public or private life and to teach others who may wish to know more. This is the very essence of religious freedom.
Does that Mean we can do What We Want?
We live in turbulent times, when people seeking to further the cause of their beliefs may be labelled ‘extremists’ or blasphemous. The fact remains that these people have the right to religious freedom and to practice their religion in any way that they wish.
However, the Act also specifically prohibits the breaking of domestic laws and limits the exercise of this freedom to those activities that would not threaten public security and would not infringe on the rights of others who may not hold the same beliefs.
This is not a popular idea in some parts of our world. Many countries base their entire legal system around a set of religious laws; many parts of UK law were founded on the principles of Christianity, although these have largely been removed from our law books. Other countries have only just begun to have a semblance of a democratic society and are only now beginning to shape laws and principles that are based on freedom rather than strict adherence to a religious code.
The idea of Religious Freedom would be abhorrent to them at this time but it is a right that we must cherish and nurture. We must ensure that these principles are forever entrenched in our legal system and we must protect our right, and the right of our neighbours, to worship whoever and in whatever manner they see fit.
Don't judge others. We are the same. Religions are just a part of someone, don't go out judging because of them.