The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, has been criticised by the Evangelical Alliance and others, after he was quoted as saying that some Christian campaign groups “want to have a fight” in order to gain political influence.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Phillips said that Evangelical activists seek to “fight, and choose sexual orientation as the ground”. But, he said: “The whole argument isn’t about the rights of Christians. It’s about politics,” and a desire to “have weight and influ-ence”.
He said: “I think the most likely victim of actual religious discrimination in British society is a Muslim, but the person most likely to feel slighted because of their religion is an Evangelical Christian.” He attacked “some Christian organisations”, which he described as “constantly defining the ground in such a way that anyone who doesn’t agree with them about anything is essentially a messenger from Satan”.
He criticised African-Caribbean churches, whose attitude to homosexuality was “unambiguous” and “nasty and in some cases homicidal”. In contrast, he said he believed Muslims in the UK were “doing their damnednest to try to come to terms with their neighbours to try to integrate”.
Mr Phillips also said that he understood why people of faith felt that they were “under siege” from secularists, and that the EHRC would defend believers who felt they were being discriminated against.
Discussing the relationship between the law and religious bodies, the law should not be “telling churches how they should conduct their own affairs”, such as the appointment of gay bishops, Mr Phillips said.
Responding to the article, the Evangelical Alliance said it welcomed Mr Phillips’s recognition that faith was integral to a person’s identity, but questioned where the EHRC “had been for the last five years on religion and belief”. It urged the watchdog to prevent “the marginalisation of people of faith from public life”.
It termed Mr Phillips’s comments on Afro-Caribbean Christianity “patronising and disparaging”. It also argued that Mr Phillips was “mistaken in blaming secular humanists for Christians feeling ‘under siege’”. Instead, it blamed “Governments and bodies such as the Commission that buy into their narrow secularising agenda by pursuing policies that directly and indirectly marginalise people of faith”.
Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, said that Mr Phillips appeared to be living in a different Britain from her, and that the watchdog’s equalities agenda “has led to segregation not integration, fear not friendship, isolation not community”.
Mr Phillips’s comments coincided with a new EHRC report, released this week, Religious Discrimination in Britain: A review of research evidence 2000-10. The research, by Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, says that the number of employment tri-bunals in Great Britain concerned with religion or belief went up from 307 in 2003-04 to 1000 in 2009-10.
Of the 760 tribunals that the report studies, only two per cent were successful; it says that this highlights the difference between seeing “sufficient prima facie evidence to accept consideration of a claim for religious discrimination and a determination within the law that such discrimination has taken place”.