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05 October 2012

Alliance hopes new equality chief will regain confidence of faith groups

Alliance hopes new equality chief will regain confidence of faith groups

The Evangelical Alliance is hoping the new head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will help regain the confidence of religious people in the UK.

Trevor Phillips stepped down as chair in September this year after six years in charge. The commission attracted criticism for its handling of religious beliefs following Mr Phillips' remarks that religious groups should leave their beliefs "at the door of the temple".

Following a recruitment process, Cambridge academic, Baroness Onora O'Neill of Bengarve, has been selected as the Government's preferred candidate for appointment to the role of Chair of the EHRC.

Welcoming the announcement, Dr Dave Landrum, the Alliance's director of advocacy, said: "Under Trevor Phillips the EHRC was unfit for purpose, it was unsuccessful and it compounded the deficiencies of our current equality laws and human rights culture.

"It was too often driven by a combination of religious illiteracy and hostility towards mainstream religion, and Mr Phillips' frequent ideological outbursts served to undermine the confidence many Christians had in the ability of the EHRC to take freedom of religion seriously."

Before the decision is finalised the Joint Human Rights Committee will hold a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing.

Baroness O'Neill comes to the post with considerable experience and knowledge of issues of justice, liberalism and equality.

The Alliance is urging the incoming chair to take an approach to equality and diversity that is genuinely appreciative of identity and difference.

Dr Landrum added: "The appointment of Baroness O'Neill provides hope that religion will be better understood and get fairer treatment from the EHRC. We want the commission to regain the confidence and trust of religious people and hope it can become a valued and respected public body that defends the rights of all in society. The Evangelical Alliance looks forward to working with the new chair and wishes her well in the role."

The secretary of state for culture, media and sport and minister for women and equalities, Maria Miller, said: "This is a really important time for the EHRC – strong leadership is vital and the new chair will play a crucial role in ensuring that it remains the valued and respected national institution it was always intended to be.

"I warmly commend Baroness Onora O'Neill to the committee for this role."