Trevor Phillips 'Sharia law' row: what he really said

Feb 17, 2012
Jonathan Harwood

Human rights commissioner sparks controversy with comment about Christians and equality laws

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TREVOR PHILLIPS, the human rights commissioner, has prompted a row by insisting that religious rules must be left "at the door of the temple" in modern Britain and appearing to compare Christians who want to sidestep equality laws to Muslims seeking to impose Sharia law.

His comments prompted a backlash from some quarters, with The Daily Telegraph reporting them as a warning to believers that they must "choose between their religion and obeying the law".

What Phillips actually said, during a debate in London on diversity in society, was: "To me 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."

He appeared to be referring to Catholic adoption agencies that have objected to equal rights legislation which requires them not to discriminate between gay and straight couples.

In the Telegraph Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, accused Phillips of espousing "a totalitarian kind of view in which a believer's conscience should not be respected".

The Daily Mail reported that Phillips had accused "Christians of trying to impose their own form of 'Sharia' law".

The debate soon moved to Twitter where the Telegraph's deputy editor Benedict Brogan described Phillips's comments as "explosive".

Tory MP Nadine Dorries was one of the first to express her outrage. In a series of tweets she insisted that Britain was a Christian country and said it should not be compared to Sharia. "Christianity has influenced every facet of our structure," she wrote. "[Phillips] has no right to say we cannot use that heritage to shape the law."

Elsewhere there was support for Phillips. The website Heresy Corner points out that the entire debate is on YouTube and said that Phillips was actually agreeing with a point made earlier by Attorney General and Tory MP Dominic Grieve.

But in a week when Tory peer Baroness Warsi warned against the influence of "militant secularists" and Richard Dawkins called for Bishops to be removed from the House of Lords, the remarks are likely to inflame passions further.

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Trevor Phillips is right. As Nick Cohen points out in his latest book "You Can't Read This Book",  we are so busy respecting so many diverse communities that individual rights go out of the window.
Why is this being blown out of all proportion? Are all these so called 'experts', 'MPs', and journalists, no longer able to understand good usage of the English language? He was making the point that none of those situations was viable and what better way to do it than comparing one religion to another.
The argument for having Lords Spiritual in the second, revising chamber of the legislature is pretty dubious. It reflects the role of bishops initially in medieval times when they were significant owners of land and often provided the individuals who governed the country - such as Cardinal Wolsey. Later when parliament governed the established CofE there was also some case for bishops to be in parliament. But now the CofE is more or less self-governing why does the second chamber need any reps of "faith"? Anglican bishops are not without platforms from which to address the nation, if it's on a topic where they have relevant standing. Why extend the anomaly to include other faiths with sufficient membership? Why should belonging to a faith community give you double representation? Better have the second chamber chosen by election or appointment simply to do the revising that is its job as effectively as possible.
Far too much importance is given to religion.  Whatever faith you follow is your own personal choice and should give you no extra rights or privileges over anyone else when it comes to the law of the land.  If you don't like the law then go live in some backward country where civilisation is still in the middle-ages.  Religious organisations are of no real importance in these times and should be seen for what they are - a scam that preys on and corrupts the faith and personal beliefs of the people.   It is time all the extra benefits and preferential treatment given to religious organisations and practices were stopped.  Whether that is killing animals in a painfully slow way or getting discounts on tax and council tax.  Whichever religion you "follow" is no more important than which football team or pop star's fan club you are a member of.
So right you are, Jet Black. After reading the actual comments made by Trevor Philips, I realised that the issue was simple English comprehension. I hope he rcognises this and treats the criticism with the contempt it deserves.