Equality chief ‘regrets’ appointing evangelical

Thu, 21 May 2009

The head of Britain’s equality watchdog appears to regret appointing an evangelical Christian as an equality commissioner – because it upset gay and atheist campaigners.

Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the powerful Equality and Human Rights Commission, was asked at a conference about the appointment of Revd Joel Edwards.

Mr Phillips is reported to have answered that had he known at the time of the appointment what he knew now, how deeply people had been hurt and alienated over this, maybe there would have been a different outcome.

Revd Edwards was formerly leader of the Evangelical Alliance (EA). His appointment to the equality commission angered the gay and atheist lobby because the EA had sought to protect the religious liberty of churches to employ staff whose sexual conduct reflected the church’s ethos.

Mr Phillips’ suggestion that he regretted the appointment came during a question and answer session at a conference called “faith, homophobia, transphobia and human rights”.

His answer is likely to intensify fears among faith groups that the Commission regards religious rights as less important than others.

In November 2008 the Commission was criticised for giving £35,000 of taxpayers’ money to a campaigning atheist group so it could run a series of lectures on the role of religion in equality and human rights.

The money given paid for at least three vocal opponents of Christian freedoms to give keynote speeches in locations around the country, aimed particularly at training public sector workers.

In September 2008 it was revealed that a senior official at the Equality and Human Rights Commission told a fringe meeting of trade unionists that the Commission would act to root out ‘homophobia’ in religion.

The Commission – which is supposed to protect people from discrimination, including people of faith – has far reaching powers.

According to its website: “the Commission is well equipped to take legal action on behalf of individuals, especially where there are strategic opportunities to push the boundaries of the law.”

And: “the Commission has significant powers to enforce the equalities duties of organisations and authorities, including, ultimately, launching official inquiries and formal investigations.”

Other equality commissioners include the homosexual lobbyist, Ben Summerskill. He has called for churches to be forced to employ homosexuals and for the police to stop Christians who were peacefully protesting against ‘gay rights’ laws outside Parliament.