The Chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Trevor Phillips has been called on to apologise by the British Humanist Association (BHA), after he made heavily biased remarks in favour of religious people and against the non-religious in an interview. The BHA has described Mr Phillips’ comments as ‘divisive and sectarian’.
With no reference whatever to the EHRC’s duties, which legally apply equally to the non-religious, Trevor Phillips stated: ‘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.’
He also made a number of acerbic comments about those who are critical of religious beliefs – an important right of free speech, which it is also the purpose of his commission to defend – and suggested that they wanted ‘to drive religion underground’, with no supporting evidence.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Trevor Phillips is the head of a commission which is responsible for the legal rights and interests not just of religious people but of non-religious people too. When he suggests that having religious belief is essential in order to be fulfilled as a human being, he is belittling them. If he made such divisive comments on grounds of race saying “it’s my job to stand up for white people”, he would rightly be excoriated but somehow the fashionable sentiment that religion is good and non-religious people are hectoring and oppressive – when in fact the opposite is often the case – makes him think that this particular sort of bigotry is okay. It isn’t.
‘He states that the commission’s role is in “defending the believer” and that his “real worry” is unfair treatment of religious people. He should tell that to the non-religious parent who can’t get their child into the local school while Christian neighbour can, or the child expected to worship in school against his or her wishes, or the employee refused promotion by a religious employer contracted to provide a public service on behalf of the state because he or she doesn’t believe in god. With ill-informed remarks like these coming from the head of the commission, non-religious people must have diminishing confidence that it is concerned with or even understands their interests.’
The BHA has lodged a complaint against EHRC Chair Trevor Phillips through the commission’s official complaints channel, in particular asking for an apology from Mr Phillips for misrepresenting his role and the role of the Commission and for training for Commissioners, including Mr Phillips, so they will be aware of their statutory duties in relation to the protection of people against discrimination, whatever they believe, and the extent to which such comments as Mr Phillips’, which appear to condemn criticism of religions, run counter to the commission’s responsibilities to protect the human right to freedom of speech.
For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson at firstname.lastname@example.org on 07534 248596.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.