Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission gets his hands dirty over Religion & Equality.

The news that Trevor Philips  had got stuck into the Equality Vs Religion debate was very much welcomed by myself. It’s about time we hear what the Chairman of the Human Rights Commussion is saying about all the hoo-ha going on at the moment.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph he attacks “fashionable” views mocking and marginalising religion and say his Equality and Human Rights Commission will stand up for believers. However, he also warns religious groups of the danger of extremism, saying some Christian activists are not fighting for their religion but for political influence – and says that his own background as the son of immigrants from Guyana means he fears “undiluted” attitudes to homosexuality risk Afro-Carribean communities not integrating into the mainstream.

Mr Phillips has become to be one of the first and most high-profile figures in public life to warn people of faith feel “under siege” from “fashionable” anti-religious views. Well done him. It’s about time someone said this. Just because people like Mr Dawkins (sorry to pick on him again, but he is the most well known atheist in Britain at the moment) and his New Atheism friends are fashionable and well known, it doesn’t mean that we have to follow the crowd in going on an anti religion witch hunt. He also admitted the Equality and Human Rights Commission had been wrongly identified with.

The thing I’ve become anxious about in recent times is this – there is certainly a feeling amongst some people of belief that they are under siege, that they are often disadvantaged, that they are looked at and considered in some way different and their faith makes them less worthy of regard. There is a view that says religion is a private matter and it’s entirely a choice. I think that’s entirely not right. Faith identity is part of what makes life richer and more meaningful for the individual. It is a fundamental part of what makes some societies better than others in my view. I understand why a lot of people in faith groups feel a bit under siege. They’re in a world where there are a lot of very clever people who have a lot of access to the airwaves and write endlessly in the newspapers knocking religion and mocking God. The people who want to drive religion underground are much more active, much more vocal. There is no doubt there’s quite a lot of intolerance towards people of faith and towards belief. There’s a great deal of polemic which is anti-religious, which is quite fashionable. People can sometimes think we’re part of that fashionable mocking and knocking brigade. We’re not that.

The Chairman reassured that he would support believers who suffer discrimination because of their faith, and conceded there was a perception it had not done so in the past.

Being an Anglican, being a Muslim or being a Methodist or being a Jew is just as much part of your identity and you should not be penalised or treated in a discriminatory way because of that. That’s part of the settlement of a liberal democracy. Our business is defending the believer. The law we’re here to implement recognises that religious identity is an essential part of this society. It’s an essential element of being a fulfilled human being. My real worry is that there are people who may well feel they’re being treated unfairly because of their faith and who actually in fact may be being treated unfairly because of their faith but for some reason feel they can’t get our support in getting justice.

Very true, Trevor.

Mr Philips, however, did warn religious organisations that their faith did not exclude them from fair play charity rules.

Churches, mosques, temples, religious organisations of all kinds now have to some extent protection under the law but they also have to obey the law including anti-discrimination law because they are charities, because they offer a public service,” he said.People are being confused about the right of the individual to freedom of conscience and freedom of expression and the freedoms of particular institutions or organisations.

Mr Phillips says that the refusal to allow Catholic adoption agencies an exemption from laws (referring to a recent event) said

Catholic care was a clearer and simpler case. You’re offering a public service and you’re a charity and there are rules about how charities behave. You have to play by the rules. We can’t have a set of rules that apply to one group of people simply because they happen to think it’s right.

Equality laws should not impinge on the way that religious institutions are run, Mr Phillips said – meaning gay bishops and women priests are not a matter for his watchdog. Praise the Lord. Someone who is talking sense in the Governement. God does answer prayer, and miracles do happen 🙂

It’s perfectly fair that you can’t be a Roman Catholic priest unless you’re a man,” he said. It seems right that the reach of anti-discriminatory law should stop at the door of the church or mosque. At the moment the law says it [appointing openly gay bishops] is a matter for the Church of England. It’s probably right. I’m not keen on the idea of a church run by the state. I don’t think the law should run to telling churches how they should conduct their own affairs.

I’m not keen on the state running the church either… but some MPs want a state run Church… bit Naziesque if you ask me…

Mr Philips also made some controversial comments about more conservative Christians.

There are a lot of Christian activist voices who appear bent on stressing the kind of persecution that I don’t think really exists in this country. There are some Christian organisations who basically want to have a fight and therefore they’re constantly defining the ground in such a way that anyone who doesn’t agree wholly agree with them about everything is essentially a messenger from Satan. I think for a lot of Christian activists, they want to have a fight and they choose sexual orientation as the ground to fight it on. I think that whole argument isn’t about the rights of Christians. It’s about politics. It’s about a group of people who really want to have weight and influence and they’ve chosen that particular ground.

Maybe for the select few, but to some Christians (BA Lady, Man with Cross in his Van, Christian Doctors etc) I think it really is about Rights. I also think the messenger from Satan line is a bit far fetched… maybe he’s getting confused with Westboro Baptist Church?!?!

Then, Mr Phillips turned his opinions on the Church over issues such as homosexuality and said he believed Anglican and Catholic churches were seeing growing congregations from African and Carribean backgrounds with “old time” views which put them at odds with mainstream Britain. He then went on to say that these ‘old time’ views are producing homophobia. Yep, I’ll hold my hands up to it. Some sects within the Christian faith are promoting homophobia. But that’s different from having a Christian orthodox position on homosexuality.

Overall, I’m very happy with this interview. It’s at least made some clear statements, and puts confusion right. What do you think about these statements? A lot to take in if nothing else!

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • KD

    I think that this fellow needs to concern himself with the social and political aspects of Islam rather than Christianity. In Christianity, as we all know, there is the concept of giving unto Caesar – the separation of church and state, if you want to put it like that. On the other hand, note what the president of the Glasgow branch of the Islamic Society of Britain said the other day, in the context of discussing whether there ought to be schools in Scotland for Muslim children only, run according to Islamic principles: ‘A lot of teachers (in state schools) are a little bit worried about trying to cover Islam because it has so many social and political issues.’ See link. Indeed!

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