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 April10 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 to the Minister for Women Harriet Harman requesting that she rethink Mr Edwards’ appointment as a matter of urgency.
Jim Herrick, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, said: “Joel Edwards likes to present himself as Mr Moderate. He likes to portray those who oppose him as extremists. Yet he is a classic evangelical, one who will not accept that gay people are entitled to sexual expression under any circumstances. He is front man for a body that shelters a section of the population that is so illiberal one wonders where on earth this can lead in the context of Human Rights. This appointment is a step towards a redefinition of human rights.”
GALHA says that if the gay community doesn’t protest most vigorously about this appointment, some of its hard won new rights could be fatally undermined.
“Mr Edwards is going to present a most reassuring front when he is challenged. Don’t be fooled. His troops of fundamentalists are lining up behind him whooping with glee. They’ve got their man exactly where they want him. This appointment must be cancelled – and without delay,” said Mr Herrick.
The new EHRC amalgamates previous watchdog bodies dealing with race, disability and gender and adds new strands dealing with sexual orientation and religion and belief.