The penny drops: British equality laws `are now holding women back'
Maternity rights damage chances of hiring and promotion
The radical extension of maternity leave and parents' rights is sabotaging women's careers, according to the head of the new equalities watchdog. Nicola Brewer said that it was an inconvenient truth that giving women a year off work after the birth of each child - soon to be paid throughout - was making employers think twice before offering a job or promotion. The chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission was speaking to The Times on the eve of a speech in which she will call for a significant rethink of family policy.
Ms Brewer said that generous maternity benefits had entrenched the assumption that only mothers brought up children and failed to hasten a social revolution where both parents were equally responsible for caring for their family.
British fathers have the most unequal rights in Europe, entitled to only two weeks of leave compared with 52 for mothers. At the moment, nine months of maternity leave is paid, but this will rise to a year by the end of the current Parliament.
Ms Brewer said that calls to the commission's helpline from women who had lost their jobs after becoming pregnant suggested that they were paying a heavy price for their new rights. She said that her fears deepened earlier this year when the entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar claimed that many employers binned the CVs of women of childbearing age. Business leaders have criticised the new maternity laws, saying that they are a headache for employers and that it is difficult to plan the workforce if parents go part-time. But this is the first time that a criticism has come from an organisation that campaigns on behalf of women.
Ms Brewer said she feared that plans to extend the right to request flexible working hours until children were 16 could hamper women's employment prospects further. Of the one million parents who have made use of flexible hours so far, the overwhelming majority are women. "There has been a sea change on maternity leave and flexible work and we welcome that," she said. "But the effect has been to reinforce some traditional patterns. The Work and Families Act has not freed parents and given them real choice. It is based on assumptions, and some of the terms reinforce the traditional pattern of women as the carers of children." She added: "We have come a long way but after winning all these gains it is worth asking: are we still on the right track? The thing I worry about is that the current legislation and regulations have had the unintended consequence of making women a less attractive prospect to employers."
Although the latest legislation allows for the last six months of maternity leave to be transferred to the father if the mother goes back to work earlier, but that misses the point, she says. "The way it is framed means it is up to the women to transfer the leave to the man. It is not his right," she said. Ms Brewer said that it was not a case of taking away the new rights from mothers but of extending them to fathers. In her speech today she will ask why men should not be entitled to 12 weeks of leave on 90 per cent of their earnings following the birth of a child - the same as women.
She questioned the way in which the Government and opposition parties always tried to make a business case for each piece of family-friendly legislation. "Of course, there is a business case for these changes and many companies are going further," she said, "but this is a social argument as well as an economic one. There may well be a cost [to business], but as a society we are already thinking in terms of wellbeing as well as take-home pay."
Officials at the commission say that they are studying research from Sweden that has found that fathers who take up to two years off work after the birth of a child are 30 per cent less likely to get divorced. A six-month consultation exercise is to be launched today through the online chat rooms Mumsnet and Dad.info.
Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between women and men, said that she shared the commission's concerns about the effect of legislation on women's careers. "Under EU law employment rights once given cannot be taken away, so there is no point regretting past decisions," she said. "The Government should both better protect pregnant workers and introduce paid parental leave that supports mums and dads to share care."
The commission has in the past been accused of courting controversy. Trevor Phillips, the chairman, said in April that a lack of control over immigration had led to a "cold war" between rival ethnic communities. He also criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for saying that Sharia should have a role in the legal system.
U.N. scheme to make Christians criminals
Sharia-following Islamic nations demanding anti-'defamation' law
Dozens of nations dominated by Islam are pressing the United Nations to adopt an anti-"defamation" plan that would make Christians criminals under international law, according to a United States organization that has launched a campaign to defend freedom of religion worldwide.
"Around the world, Christians are being increasingly targeted, and even persecuted, for their religious beliefs. Now, one of the largest organizations in the United Nations is pushing to make a bad situation even worse by promoting anti-Christian bigotry," the American Center for Law & Justice said yesterday in announcing its petition drive.
The discrimination is "wrapped in the guise of a U.N. resolution called 'Combating Defamation of Religions,'" the announcement said. "We must put an immediate end to this most recent, dangerous attack on faith that attempts to criminalize Christianity."
The "anti-defamation" plan has been submitted to the U.N. repeatedly since about 1999, starting out as a plan to ban "defamation" of Islam and later changed to refer to "religions," officials said. It is being pushed by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference nations, which has adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, "which states that all rights are subject to sharia law, and makes sharia law the only source of reference for human rights."
The ACLJ petition, which is to be delivered to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, already had collected more than 23,000 names in just a brief online existence. The ACLJ's European division, the European Center for Law & Justice, also has launched its work on the issue. It submitted arguments last month to the U.N. in opposition to the proposal to institute sharia-based standards around the globe.
"The position of the ECLJ in regards to the issue of 'defamation of religion' resolutions, as they have been introduced at the U.N. Human Rights Council and General Assembly, is that they are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression," the organization's brief said.
"The 'defamation of religion' resolutions establish as the primary focus and concern the protection of ideas and religions generally, rather than protecting the rights of individuals to practice their religion, which is the chief purpose of international religious freedom law."
"Furthermore, 'defamation of religion' replaces the existing objective criterion of limitations on speech where there is an intent to incite hatred or violence against religious believers with a subjective criterion that considers whether the religion or its believers feel offended by the speech," the group continued.
Interestingly, in nations following Islam, the present practice is to use such laws to protect Islam and to attack religious minorities with penalties up to and including execution, the brief noted. "What should be most disconcerting to the international community is that laws based on the concept of 'defamation of religion' actually help to create a climate of violence," the argument explained.
For example, just two months ago an Afghanistan court following Islam sentenced to death a 23-year-old apprentice journalist who had downloaded an article from an Iranian website and brought it to his class, the ECLJ said. Other instances include:
Award-winning author Mark Steyn has been summoned to appear before two Canadian Human Rights Commissions of vague allegations of "subject[ing] Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt" for comments in his book, "America Alone," the group said.
In Pakistan, 15 people were accused of blasphemy against Islam during the first four months of 2008, the organization said.
Another Pakistani man sentenced to life in prison for desecrating the Quran was jailed for six years before being acquitted of the charge.
In Saudi Arabia a teacher was sentenced to three years in prison plus 300 lashes "for expressing his views in a classroom."
In the United Kingdom, police announced plans to arrest a blogger for "anti-Muslim" statements.
In the United States, a plaintiff sued his Internet service provider for refusing "to prevent participants in an online chat room from posting or submitting harassing comments that blasphemed and defamed plaintiff's Islamic religion."
The ECLJ said, "The implementation of domestic laws to combat defamation of religion in many OIC countries reveals a selective and arbitrary enforcement toward religious minorities, who are often Christians. Those violations are frequently punishable by the death penalty."
The newest "anti-defamation" plan was submitted in March. It specifically cites a declaration "adopted by the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers" at a meeting in Islamabad "which condemned the growing trend of Islamophobia and systematic discrimination against adherents of Islam."
It also cites the dictates from the OIC meeting in Dakar, "in which the Organization expressed concern at the systematically negative stereotyping of Muslims and Islam and other divine religions." It goes on to cite a wide range of other practices that "target" Islam, but does not mention any other religions, and urges all nations to provide "adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from the defamation of any religion."
According to published reports, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' 53 members voted to adopt the resolution earlier this year, with opposition from the United States and the European Union. At the time, Cuba's delegate, Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, said: "Islam has been the subject of very deep campaign of defamation."
"They're attempting to pass a sinister resolution that is nothing more than blatant religious bigotry," the ACLJ said in its promotion of its petition. "This is very important to understand. This radical proposal would outlaw Christianity . it would make the proclamation of your faith an international crime."
"In his recent dissent on the Supreme Court's ruling on Guantanamo Bay, Justice Scalia said, 'America is at war with radical Islamists.' Never has this rung more true than today. Never have Christians been more targeted for their religious beliefs. And never have we faced a more dangerous threat than the one posed by the OIC," the ACLJ said.
On the Grizzly Groundswell blog, the author described the situation as, "The United Nations: 160 cannibals and 17 civilized people taking a majority vote on what to have for dinner."
The U.S. State Department also has found the proposal unpalatable. "This resolution is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to address the situation of all religions," said the statement from Leonard Leo. "We believe that such inclusive language would have furthered the objective of promoting religious freedom. We also believe that any resolution on this topic must include mention of the need to change educational systems that promote hatred of other religions, as well as the problem of state-sponsored media that negatively targets any one religion."
Foreign Courts Take Aim at America's Free Speech
By ARLEN SPECTER and JOE LIEBERMAN
Our Constitution is one of our greatest assets in the fight against terrorism. A free-flowing marketplace of ideas, protected by the First Amendment, enables the ideals of democracy to defeat the totalitarian vision of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. That free marketplace faces a threat. Individuals with alleged connections to terrorist activity are filing libel suits and winning judgments in foreign courts against American researchers who publish on these matters. These suits intimidate and even silence writers and publishers.
Under American law, a libel plaintiff must prove that defamatory material is false. In England, the burden is reversed. Disputed statements are presumed to be false unless proven otherwise. And the loser in the case must pay the winner's legal fees.
Consequently, English courts have become a popular destination for libel suits against American authors. In 2003, U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted in her book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. The book was published in the U.S. by a U.S. company. But 23 copies were bought online by English residents, so English courts permitted the Saudi to file a libel suit there.
Ms. Ehrenfeld did not appear in court, so Mr. Bin Mahfouz won a $250,000 default judgment against her. He has filed or threatened to file at least 30 other suits in England.
Fear of a similar lawsuit forced Random House U.K. in 2004 to cancel publication of "House of Bush, House of Saud," a best seller in the U.S. that was written by an American author. In 2007, the threat of a lawsuit compelled Cambridge University Press to apologize and destroy all available copies of "Alms for Jihad," a book on terrorism funding by American authors. The publisher even sent letters to libraries demanding that they destroy their copies, though some refused to do so.
To counter this lawsuit trend, we have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, a Senate companion to a House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.). This legislation builds on New York State's "Libel Terrorism Protection Act," signed into law by Gov. David Paterson on May 1.
Our bill bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury finds that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it may award treble damages.
First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams argues that "the values of free speech and individual reputation are both significant, and it is not surprising that different nations would place different emphasis on each." We agree. But it is not in our interest to permit the balance struck in America to be upset or circumvented by foreign courts. Our legislation would not shield those who recklessly or maliciously print false information. It would ensure that Americans are held to and protected by American standards. No more. No less.
We have seen this type of libel suit before. The 1964 Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan established that journalists must be free to report on newsworthy events unless they recklessly or maliciously publish falsehoods. At that time, opponents of civil rights were filing libel suits to silence news organizations that exposed state officials' refusal to enforce federal civil rights laws.
Now we are engaged in another great struggle -- this time against Islamist terror -- and again the enemies of freedom seek to silence free speech. Our legislation will help ensure that they do not succeed.
Source. One can only wish Godspeed to the legislation concerned
There they go again, stifling free speech
Congressman Michael Capuano probably means well - and Big Government enthusiasts always try to sound like they really do - but I've never met the man, so I don't know for sure. What I do know for sure - because the Massachusetts Democrat said so himself - is Capuano thinks the rest of us are too stupid to figure out that a YouTube video of him or one of his esteemed Capitol Hill colleagues is not an endorsement of the commercial products or political candidates being sold in ads nearby on the site.
But don't take my word for it, here's what Capuano said: "Maybe they don't care if an official video appears next to a political advertisement for Barack Obama or John McCain, creating the appearance of an endorsement."
Capuano's "they" was the pack of howling Republicans protesting last week that, as chairman of the Congressional Commission on Mailing Standards, he was trying to turn his panel, which oversees official use of the congressional franking privilege, into an Internet censorship board. It wasn't just GOPers speaking out, as conservative bloggers and non-partisan transparency advocates like the Sunlight Foundation were also up in arms.
The brouhaha was sparked after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Capuano and his fellow commissioners (two other Democrats and three Republicans) to look into the issue of what congressmen can and cannot post on the Internet in their official capacities. Capuano reported back with proposed new rules (not supported by the three GOPers, by the way) that he said would require :
* "Official content posted on an external domain must be clearly identified as produced by a House office for official purposes, and meet existing content rules and regulations;
* "To the maximum extent possible, the official content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information or any other information not in compliance with the House's content guidelines."
Two things are crystal clear regarding Capuano's proposal. First, it all depends on how "official content" is defined and by whom. Second, said official content is barred from all Internet sites except those accepted as "in compliance." And somebody has to decide which sites comply. This has all the earmarks of a classic Washington power grab. Somebody identifies a problem and asks Congress to do something about it. After the problem is "studied closely," new rules are proposed.
But new rules have to be interpreted, so congressional staffers - AKA as legislative bureaucrats - get expanded authority to administer the new rules. Then special interest groups line up to game the new rules for political advantage and executive branch empire builders seek their cut of the action. And so goes another expansion of the dead hand of government regulation.
Since Capuano worries most about apparent commercial and political endorsements, here's a better solution: Remember those "Warning: The FBI will come take you away if you violate our copyright" screens that briefly appear at the beginning of rented movie DVDs?
Instead of a new congressional Internet censorship regimen, how about simply requiring all internet video posting of official content by congressmen to include a 30 second screen warning: "This video is NOT an official endorsement of any product or candidate."
Don't hold your breath waiting for such a simple solution, though, because the default position of most politicians in both political parties is to expand government. It makes them more powerful and important. Oh, they have lots of clich‚d rationalizations to obscure their expansionistic egos. My favorite is the one that we need more bureaucrats, higher taxes and increased red tape because the world is getting so complex. Does nobody ever wonder if maybe that's because politicians keep making it so?
Reminds me of Ronald Reagan's great question from his first inaugural: "But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?"
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.