By Jonathan Petre
The EU equality law that will let ‘upset’ atheists sue companies that hang up crucifixes
Organisations which hang crucifixes on walls could be sued if they upset atheists under equality laws proposed by the European Union.
Any group offering a service to the public, including hospitals, charities, businesses and prisons, would be at risk.
Legislation may also allow Christians to bring an action against a hotel if it displayed something they deemed offensive – such as a poster for the 1979 Monty Python film The Life Of Brian.
There are already laws banning harassment in the workplace, but the new Brussels regulations are designed to offer people protection from providers of goods and services.
However, they are so broad that critics say they could lead to a spate of civil cases by anyone claiming their dignity has been violated by the ‘hostile environment’ of an organisation.
The Church of England says hospices or charities for the homeless could face legal action if people using their services felt degraded by their religious practices or symbols, such as the cross.
The Archbishops’ Council even fears that charities could be challenged by atheists if grace is said before meals.
The Law Society says religious believers may also be able to launch a civil action for harassment.
In an official submission to the EU, the society said: ‘For instance, in a shop or shared lodging house, there may be a notice board on which is posted material that some of those who see it will find offensive on religious grounds (for instance, a poster for a film, such as The Life Of Brian).’
The proposals, which go before EU governments for approval later this year, are part of a new directive outlawing discrimination by businesses on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, disability or belief.
If approved, it will become the latest in a swathe of European-inspired equality laws which critics say stifle freedom of speech and marginalise religion.
The Government tried to introduce a similar law in 2005 but dropped it after a resounding rejection by the House of Lords.
Peers feared it would encourage politically correct officials to stop public expressions of religion, such as carol services or Bibles by hospital bedsides.
Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said the proposed EU directive would ‘open a Pandora’s box’.
He asked: ‘What about Gideon Bibles in hotel bedrooms? Would councils ban nativity scenes from Christmas displays?’