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Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission will stand up for people of faith, according to chairman Trevor Phillips.

However, Phillips noted there had been a perception that the commission had not done so in the past.

The Evangelical Alliance described his comments as coming “toolate.”

Phillips spoke to TheTelegraph ahead of the publication of a major report into religious discrimination in Britain. The commission’s business “is defending the believer,” he said.

“Being an Anglican, being a Muslim or being a Methodist or being a Jew is just as much part of your identity and you should not be penalized or treated in a discriminatory way because of that. That’s part of the settlement of a liberal democracy.”

The report was authored by Broadway Baptist Church deacon Paul Weller, professor of inter-religious relations and senior research fellow and head of research and commercial development at the University of Derby.

Weller’s review of the research evidence over the last decade (2000-10) found that there is the possibility of a changing pattern in relation to at least perceptions of “religious discrimination and/or readiness to pursue potential issues of such discrimination in which Christians are increasingly highlighting examples and concerns.”

Weller reported that since December 2003, when the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations came into force, the number of tribunal cases to do with “religion or belief” has gradually increased.

However, Weller noted it is not clear “how far this relates to increased frequency of claims of discrimination or to a greater awareness of potential legal remedies for such discrimination.”

And Weller’s report said more evidence exists for religious discrimination against Muslims, with particular spikes following 9/11 and 7/7, than for other groups.

Phillips made this point in his interview, but noted that the “person who is most likely to feel slighted because of their religion is an evangelical Christian.”

He said there were a number of Christian activists who “want to have a fight” for political reasons, and the ground they choose to fight on is “sexual orientation.”

The Evangelical Alliance released a statement welcoming Phillips’ recognition that “many Christians feel increasingly pressured and disadvantaged in society,” and that faith cannot “simply be pushed indoors.”

However, it said that while Christians are not looking for exceptional treatment, “Mr. Phillips’ analysis is in some areas defective and, for many people, his belated acceptance that the Commission has a responsibility for religious rights, has come too late.”

Dr. Don Horrocks, the EA’s head of public affairs, said that if things continue as they are “the time may come when we see more Christians and people of other faiths clogging up our courts and prisons which surely is something that no one wants to see.”

This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.

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