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Faith Ends at Temple Door: UK Rights Chief

Published: 18/02/2012 01:19:06 PM GMT
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CAIRO - The UK human rights chief is facing a storm of criticism following his comments that that faith rules should end at the door of the temple and (more)

CAIRO - The UK human rights chief is facing a storm of criticism following his comments that that faith rules should end at the door of the temple and if Christian groups seek exemptions from equality laws then Muslims should be allowed shari`ah application in parts of Britain.

"Trevor Phillips in the past has argued for respect for Christian conscience,” Rev Nazir-Ali told the Daily Mail on Friday, February 17.

“I am very surprised that here he seems to be saying there should be a totalitarian kind of view in which a believer's conscience should not be respected."

Phillips, chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said religious rules should end 'at the door of the temple' and give way to the 'public law' laid down by Parliament.

He said Catholic adoption agencies should drop their opposition to accepting gay couples - even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs - because they were providing a public service.

"The law stops at the door of the temple as far as I'm concerned,” Philips said at a debate in London on diverse societies.

"Once you start to provide public services that have to be run under public rules, for example child protection, then you have to go with public law.”

Christian adoption agencies and hotel owners have fought legal battles against rules requiring them to treat gay and straight people equally.

Catholic adoption agencies have objected to legislation which requires them not to discriminate between gay and straight couples when considering applications.

Phillips backed the new laws, which led to the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in England, adding those who provide a public service must abide by the public law.

"Institutions have to make a decision whether they want to do that or they don't want to do that, but you can't say 'because we decide we're different then we need a different set of laws'," he said.

"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 shari`ah can be apply to different parts of the country? It doesn't work."

In Islam, Shari`ah governs all issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from, marriage and inheritance to financial disputes.

The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.

Sharia councils have been working in the UK for several decades with the key areas being family law, finance and business - although they have no legal powers to impose penalties.

Religion Role

Phillips' comments were also criticized by religious figures in UK, calling his comparison "strange" and ridiculous".

“It is a strange comparison,” Dr Philip Giddings, chairman of the Church of England's public affairs council, said, The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday.

Yet, Phillips dismissed the criticism, insisting his comments should not be seen as controversial.

“You would have to really work hard to make what I said 'inflammatory',” he said.

The comments made by the UK human rights chief threatened to add to controversy over the role of religion in Britain.

His comments came a few days after a High Court ruling outlawed formal acts of prayers before council meetings last week.

The ruling immediately pitted the Government against the courts as ministers urged councils to defy the ban.

Bideford council in Devon decided last night to appeal against the decision.

Last June 2011, Philips said that Muslims are better integrating into the British modern, multi-ethnic, multicultural community than many Christians.

Philips praised Muslim integration in the modern, multi-cultural British society, accusing Christians, particularly evangelicals, of being more militant than Muslims in complaining about discrimination.

He also warned that people of faith in general were “under siege” from atheists.

Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2 million who have taken full brunt of anti-terror laws since the 7/7 attacks.

Reproduced with permission from