Phillips riles the religious, and Pickles moves against council prayers ruling

A POLL currently running on the Telegraph website asks: Should religion have a say over public law? So far 52.56 percent of respondents have said No, while 42.45 percent said Yes.

The poll was sparked by the Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, who this week claimed that religious authority should end “at the door of the temple” and give way to the “public law”. He argued that Roman Catholic adoption agencies and other faith groups providing public services could not operate by “a different set of laws” from the rest of society.

Not surprisingly, religious leaders – including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey – rounded on Phillips, not the least because he drew a comparison between exemptions demanded by faith groups and Islamic sharia law.

Legal specialists said Mr Phillips’s comparison was “inflammatory” because Islamic sharia law was associated with draconian punishments in some parts of the world, such as stoning and amputation of limbs for crimes including theft and adultery.

Phillips singled out the adoption agencies that fought a long legal battle to avoid being forced to consent to placing children with homosexual couples under equality laws.

Last year, following a High Court case, the Charity Commission ruled against an exemption for Catholic Care, an adoption agency operating in Leeds.

Speaking at a debate in London on diverse societies, Mr Phillips backed the new laws, which led to the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in England.

You can’t say because we decide we’re different then we need a different set of laws. 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.

The ghastly Eric Pickles

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Community Secretary Eric Piggles … er… Pickles says he plans to reverse the recent High Court’s “illiberal ruling” that a Devon council’s prayers were unlawful.

He says part of the Localism Act that aims to give councils greater powers and freedom will be brought in early.

By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness.

He added that the Bideford council case should be “a wake-up call”.

For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation. But this week, the tables have been turned.

The Localism Act 2011 establishes a “general power of competence” enabling councils legally to do anything an individual could do unless specifically prohibited by law.

The National Secular Society questioned the act’s reach and said the move could be challenged in court.

Hat tip: AngieRS (Phillips report) and to the outraged dozens for the Pickles news.