Equality chief: Religious are not above the law

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The chair of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has said religions must defer to the public laws of the state.

Trevor Phillips said the religious should leave their views “at the door of the temple” and be governed by public law when providing public services, Catholic newspaper The Tablet reports.

Mr Phillips also pointed to the case of Catholic Care, which last year lost its bid to be exempted from equality laws which make it illegal to discriminate against gay couples who wish to adopt.

He said agencies should not be able to decide they were “different” and so request different laws.

He explained: “There’s nothing different in principle with a Catholic adoption agency, or indeed Methodist adoption agency, saying the rules in our community are different and therefore the law shouldn’t apply to us.

“Why not then say sharia can be applied to different parts of the country? It doesn’t work.”

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said his comparison with sharia law was “ridiculous” and called for respect for the Church of England.

Carey advocated “accommodation” when equality laws clashed with religious beliefs.

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, described Phillips’ comments as a “totalitarian view of society” and said the Catholic adoption question was one of “respect for conscience”.

Phillips was clear that his views applied to “public services under public law”, arguing that groups should not be able to exempt themselves from legal requirements.

In 2009, Phillips apologised to the gay, bi and trans community over the “intense hurt” caused by the appointment of a man who had opposed equal rights for gays.

He acknowledged anger felt by LGBT groups at the appointment of Evangelical leader and gay rights critic Joel Edwards to the organisation.

A report last summer said the Equality and Human Rights Commission was contributing “very little to meaningful equality” and should be dismantled.

The body had been harshly criticised by gay rights advocates after calling for religious people to be given ‘accommodations’ and ‘compromises’ in the workplace.

It later backtracked on this position, saying it would no longer seek “reasonable adjustments” for religious workers who refuse to serve gay people.

The body also funded the case for Martin Hall and Steven Preddy, civil partners who were discriminated against by Christian hoteliers in Cornwall who would not allow unmarried couples to share a double bed. The hoteliers lost their Court of Appeal bid to overturn the ruling last week.