The British Humanist Association (BHA) is calling for the removal of the automatic right of Church of England bishops to sit in Parliament. The call has come in advance of an event being held this evening, Jan. 27, 2010, by Labour Humanists which asks, “Should the bishops be evicted from the House of Lords?” The event, chaired by David Aaronovitch and including speakers Polly Toynbee and The Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, has attracted a capacity audience, indicating a renewed public interest in this issue.
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, made the point that the BHA’s call also comes in light of new experience over the last few days that has once again highlighted the negative effects of the Bishops’ privileges on British society.
He said, “We have only this week seen the damage that can be done by having this undemocratic and discriminatory privilege in our Parliamentary system. It was the votes of the Bishops that swung yesterday’s vote on employment rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people when working for religious employers. Not only have they painted such equality legislation as an attack on religious freedom, which it is not, but they have created a position where British law may now be in conflict with European legislation, and demonstrated enormous self-interest rather than any attachment to the common good or the public interest.
“The presence of Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords as of right entrenches a privileged position for one particular branch of one particular religion that cannot be justified in today’s society, which is not only multi-faith but increasingly non-religious.”
The BHA has pledged to work with parliamentarians to seek to address the removal of Bishops in the current Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.