ACROSS the Western world, religious organisations have fought a hard and mostly successful battle to retain the right to “discriminate” when choosing their own priests, rabbis and imams. And that seems reasonable enough. Something peculiar would be going on if say, a Christian church were obliged, under equality legislation, to admit to the priesthood a person who professed either atheism or some other religion.
But the number of jobs over which religious bodies have some influence goes far beyond the ranks of clerics or prayer leaders. There are church-based charities and foundations. There are jobs like hospital chaplaincies where the employer is secular but appointments are subject to church vetting. There are university faculties, indeed entire universities, which are religious foundations. And across western Europe, churches have an influence over the education of children which is far out of proportion to the number of people who actually attend services. In Germany, more than 1m jobs are in the gift of the Protestant or Catholic churches, as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) noted when considering a religious employment case.