The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced a new report on Religion or Belief Discrimination in Britain from 2000 to 2010, which has evoked some controversy after a complaint from the British Humanist Association

Please find details about the initial report here: -

 

Religion or belief discrimination in Britain

Equality and Human Rights Commission, 20 June 2011

A review of research evidence commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission indicates there are different perceptions about the legal protections for religion or belief and about the level of discrimination towards different religions or beliefs.

Evidence in the report shows that people's understanding of their rights around religion or belief is not always matched by recent changes to equality law. The Commission is concerned that this could be preventing people from using their rights.

People are protected from discrimination based on their religion or belief in many settings, such as when shopping, eating out or playing sport as well as at work. The law protects people who do not have a religious belief, such as atheists or humanists; as well as people who have a religious belief.

Religion or belief is specifically protected by the Equality Act 2010. People were protected from religious discrimination in the workplace from 2003 and in the provision of goods and services from 2006.

Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips said:

"Our business is defending the believer. The law we're here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society.

"Religion or belief is as much part of our identity as other characteristics such as race, gender, or being a parent. People should not be penalised or treated in a discriminatory way because of it.

"My worry is there are people who may feel they're being treated unfairly because of their faith and who 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.

"We've already undertaken a number of legal cases about religion or belief discrimination, but want to do more to build a body of case law in this area. We are in the process of meeting with faith and belief groups to get a better sense of what the issues are for their members.”

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission's national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

View the report: Religious discrimination in Britain: A review of research evidence, 2000-10 by Paul Weller of the University of Derby

The Commission's statistical briefing paper on Religion or Belief is also available.

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Please find details about the British Humanist Association complaint with reference to the EHRC Religion or Belief Discrimination 2000-2010 Report here: -

Equality chief under fire for pushing aside the non-religious

Ekklesia, 20 June 2011

The chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Trevor Phillips, has been asked to apologise to non-religious people for "biased" comments he made in a recent interview.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has described Mr Phillips' comments as "divisive and sectarian". Legally, the EHRC's duties apply equally to the non-religious and religious. But the BHA says this is widely overlooked.

Trevor Phillips is reported to have 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, suggesting, without supplying any evidence, that such people wanted "to drive religion underground."

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, commented: "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."

Mr Copson continued: "If [the EHRC chief] 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."

The British Humanist Association CEO says: "Mr Phillips 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 Phillips through the Commission's official complaints channel, in particular asking for an apology from for misrepresenting his role and the role of the Commission.

The BHA is calling for the training of Commissioners, including Mr Phillips, so they will be aware of their statutory duties in relation to the protection of people against discrimination, whatever their beliefs.

Such comments as Mr Phillips' appear to condemn criticism of religions, running counter to the EHRC's responsibilities to protect the human right to freedom of speech, says the BHA - which stresses that it seeks to work positively with religious as well as non-religious groups in ensuring a level playing-field for all in public life.

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