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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Calls For Fundamentalist Christian To Be Removed From Equality Body

The appointment by the Government of an anti-gay Christian fundamentalist to the new Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is “a slap in the face for Human Rights”, says the National Secular Society.

The Government has appointed Joel Edwards, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, as one of its commissioners. Mr Edwards has been prominent in campaigns to undermine women’s rights to choose an abortion and recent equality legislation for gay people in the areas of employment and the provision of goods and services. The Society is convinced that the appointment will damage the reputation of the Commission and raise questions about its objectivity.

On 10 April last year Mr Edwards was reported to have said: "Forgiveness, respect, hope and trust are rooted in the Christian faith and they are the antidote to a culture that is being railroaded into an individualistic, rights-orientated mentality”. Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, described this stance as “denigrating the underlying basis for Human Rights”.

He continued: “We note Mr Edwards said on his appointment: ‘As a Christian leader, I believe one of my primary responsibilities will be to ensure that the values of faith communities - our concerns for important issues such as respect and tolerance - play an effective role in this commission’. This shows a disturbing focus on representing the values of faith communities rather than totality of Human Rights. What Mr Edwards is really trying to do is impose his religious values on others, whether religious or not. This is the very antithesis of Human Rights.

“This appointment must be reversed immediately. Mr Edwards comes to the job with a pre-formed agenda that is based on a literalist reading of the Bible. How on earth is he going to look objectively at sexuality issues when he so vociferously opposes equality for homosexuals and women’s right to choose?”

Mr Sanderson added: “It has been a concern from the inception of the Commission that trying to accommodate religion under the same human rights umbrella as sexuality is an impossible task. Religious people can change and abandon their religion or interpret it differently if they want to, but gay people cannot change their orientation. Mr Edwards would doubtless like to claim they can, and seeks to persuade them to desist from any sexual activity whatsoever.”

The NSS has written the following letter Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal and Minister for Women requesting that she rethink Mr Edwards’ appointment as a matter of urgency.

Dear Ms Harman

Appointment of Mr Joel Edwards to Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Society is alarmed to learn that Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, has been appointed as a commissioner to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
If the words attributed to him by the Daily Telegraph on 10 April last year are correct, Mr Edwards appears to denigrate the underlying basis for inalienable and indivisible Human Rights. He was reported to have said: "Forgiveness, respect, hope and trust are rooted in the Christian faith and they are the antidote to a culture that is being railroaded into an individualistic, rights-orientated mentality”.

In the press release announcing his appointment he asserts that “As a Christian leader, I believe one of my primary responsibilities will be to ensure that the values of faith communities – our concerns for important issues such as respect and tolerance – play an effective role in this commission.” The role of Commissioners should be to uphold Human Rights for all rather than, as he implies, promote the interests of one section of the community. Such promotion will at the same time presumably provide the effective antidote to a Human Rights culture which he clearly finds so corrosive.

Another “value of the faith communities” he glosses over is its persistent opposition to equality legislation, or – failing that - seeking endless exemptions from such legislation, to the detriment of others thereby denied equality. We also noted that he exploited the Thought for the Day slot on 24 October 2007 to broadcast as a religious leader his anti-choice stance on abortion. This blatantly political perspective would normally be subject to a balancing view or a challenging interviewer but was not because TftD is supposed to be politics-free.

What is more relevant to the EHRC is that his stance on abortion suggests Mr Edwards is not comfortable with at least one aspect of women’s rights: their right to choose an abortion. Nor it seems is he content with full homosexual equality.

The organisation that he has headed for many years, the Evangelical Alliance, supported the judicial review of the Sexual Orientation Regulations for Northern Ireland. The Evangelical Alliance has joined campaigns to obtain wide exemptions from equality legislation aimed at curtailing discrimination against gay people. Mr Edwards has made clear that he supports what he sees as Biblical restrictions on the expression of homosexual orientation. In effect, he wants homosexuals to live celibate lives or pseudo-heterosexual lives which amounts to a denial of their humanity and their right to free expression. This has nothing to do with bringing equality and everything to do with restricting people’s lives – whether religious or not - on the basis of an unrepresentative religious view.

Mr Edwards has been prominent in opposing sexuality rights and imposing his religious values on others, whether religious or not. He should not be given this powerful new position to impose such views and attitudes on a Human Rights body. For these reasons, appointing him as a commissioner will not serve the furtherance of Human rights and is a grave error. We request you replace him as soon as possible with someone who supports Human Rights and can take a more impartial view of all the strands.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Terry Sanderson
President

November 6th, 2007


Published Wed, 07 Nov 2007