For the second time in 2011, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, has made statements in a newspaper which are hostile towards the views of secularists. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said that the comments undermine the neutrality of the EHRC.
In a Sunday Times article, Mr Phillips referred to a High Court case being taken by the National Secular Society and an atheist former councillor challenging the holding of prayers in local council meetings as ‘nonsense on stilts’, and said human rights legislation was undermined by using it to settle ‘parochial disputes’. In June 2011, the BHA called for Mr Phillips to apologise after having made sectarian and divisive comments, stating that the work of the EHRC was ‘defending the believer’ and describing religion as being ‘an essential element of being a fulfilled human being’.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips said; ‘The holding of Christian, or any other, prayers in council meetings is an anachronistic practice in a society that is increasingly diverse and non-religious. If councils did not hold prayers, there would be no adverse effect on freedom of religion. On the other hand, not holding religious prayers would guarantee a chamber where all elected representatives are welcome regardless of belief. Mr Phillips should be aware that this issue is far from ‘parochial’ and affects councillors, religious and non-religious, throughout the country.
Ms Phillips continued ‘With yet another open attack on secularists from its chair, the neutrality and credibility of the EHRC is seriously undermined. We will be writing to the Commission to ask if it takes a political, anti-secularist position.’
For further comment or information contact Naomi Phillips on 07540 257101.
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