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12th November 2019

Religion and belief discrimination: Beliefs about transgenderism were not protected by discrimination legislation

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  • Religion and belief discrimination: Beliefs about transgenderism were not protected by discrimination legislation

A Christian doctor whose beliefs about transgenderism prevented him from referring to transgender patients by their chosen pronouns was not subjected to religious or philosophical belief discrimination.

Dr. Mackereth was employed by Advanced Personnel Management Group (UK) Ltd to work for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) as a Health and Disabilities Assessor. His role involved meeting service users and conducting health assessments and was likely to involve assessing transgender service users from time to time.

Dr. Mackereth is a Christian with strongly held beliefs about transgenderism. He claimed in tribunal that these beliefs were protected as religious and/or philosophical beliefs. His beliefs include a belief, based on the Bible, that God created every person either male or female and that a person cannot change their sex/gender at will. He does not believe that “impersonating” the opposite sex is beneficial to an individual’s welfare, or that society should accommodate and/or encourage anyone’s impersonation of the opposite sex. He believes that it would be irresponsible and dishonest for a health professional to accommodate and/or encourage a patient’s impersonation of the opposite sex.

Dr Mackereth made clear that, because of these beliefs, he would not be able to address transgender service users by their chosen pronouns. This was contrary to the DWP’s policy. Dr Mackereth claimed in tribunal that he had suffered less favorable treatment and discrimination because of his beliefs, in that pressure had been put on him to renounce his beliefs, he had been suspended from work, and he had been summarily dismissed.

There was no dispute in the tribunal that as a Christian Dr. Mackereth was protected by the discrimination legislation. However, the tribunal considered that his particular beliefs in transgenderism were incompatible with human dignity and were in conflict with the fundamental rights of transgender individuals. They were not, therefore, protected as religious or philosophical beliefs under the discrimination legislation.

But what exactly does it mean for employers? This is a tribunal decision (and therefore not binding) which follows established case law about the meaning of “philosophical belief”. It shows the limits of the protection given to beliefs. In this case, while Dr MacKereth did not wish his beliefs to offend a service user who was a transgender individual the tribunal found his beliefs could harm those users and, as such, were a potential breach of the Equality Act.