A state free of religion is a core liberal belief

Mike Morgan Giles argues that Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is wrong - we need “militant secularists”, whatever they are.

 

The separation of church and state has recently been in the spotlight, following a court decision regarding prayers being held during government meetings.

The issue of religion, however, stretches far wider than this, and that is where the problems lie, for instance: the existence of 26 unelected religious clerics sitting in the House of Lords and influencing the laws of the country; the Church of England remaining an officially state sponsored institution; and the public purse funding the religious indoctrination of school children.

To be clear – wanting a separation of church and state isn’t about being against the right of those with faith to practice their religion freely in their own time.

It’s about ending the entrenched privilege within publicly funded institutions to those practising religion – in particular, but not limited to, Christianity.

For example, religious schools are allowed to take public money to promote their own religious agenda – but in 2007 when there was an attempt to create a school for those of no faith, this was rejected out of hand.

The unelected 26 clerics in the Lords can have a major impact on the way the country is run. For instance, when there was a vote in 2006 on allowing terminally ill people the right to die, they organised and voted against the reforms.

This came in spite of the fact that in almost every poll on the topic, over 70 per cent of the public came out in favour of changing the law.

Another example of the influence of religion on the political process is the existence of polling stations within religious buildings. A study found that people near a religious building reported “significantly more conservative social and political attitudes than similar people near a government building”. It went on to say that this could “affect the outcome” of a tight election.

Campaigners will claim that religion plays an important role in providing community activities, but recent statistics show that there is virtually no difference in the number of religious and secular volunteers. Another myth pervaded is that those practising religion are more moralistic – but it is clearly possible to live a life based around strong values without the need for a belief in a higher being.

Religious folk often use census statistics to justify unfairness too, with the 2001 data implying that 72 per cent of people are Christians, with just 15 per cent having no religion. Politicians and others often use this ‘official’ data to determine how and where to divert resources and public funds.

However, there are two key problems with this – the first is that the gathering of information from the census on this topic is obtained through asking a leading question – namely ‘What is your religion?’ rather than using a neutral one.

Secondly, to rely on the accuracy of the census question is also to support the premise that ‘Jedi’ is the UK’s fourth religion – above Sikhism and Judaism. People will frequently tick the box saying ‘Christian’, without considering if they are actually one – essentially they were told they were as a child and never thought about it since.

More accurate surveys in fact suggest something very different. The British Social Attitudes Survey instead shows that 51 per cent of people are non-religious, with 43 per cent of citizens being Christian. In fact, only about one in nine people actually practices religion regularly.

Many countries around the world separate church and state effectively, but being separate doesn’t mean religion can be above the law. In the 21st Century, writings on ancient religious scrolls should never subsume genuine laws and be used as a justification for bigotry.

Fortunately, in social terms we are growing closer to this point – for instance, owners of private businesses such as B&Bs can no longer use religious beliefs as an excuse to turn away those they disapprove of. Marriage is now also being actively considered for same-sex couples, which again is a positive step.

However, in the public sphere an issue still remains – the use of public money to fund and support organised religion. People committed to genuine freedom should show a commitment to ending this publicly funded activity and the entrenched privilege that it brings.

See also:

We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisationEd Jacobs, February 14th 2012

2012 – the year the world must wake up to Christian persecutionEd Jacobs, January 8th 2012

Dawkins’s divine intervention challenges faith in his atheist integrityDan Smith, June 12th 2011

Diversity and democracy: Reforming the LordsPatrick McGlinchey, June 1st 2011

Lazy journalism surrounds the latest foster parents furoreSymon Hill, March 2nd 2011

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47 Responses to “A state free of religion is a core liberal belief”

  1. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/Xffq1fd2

  2. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/ylNQ0hiA

  3. Cllr Miles Windsor

    “@leftfootfwd: A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/hjwcdBAt” That's the Loony/fascist Left.!

  4. Gareth Hewer

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  5. Graham Hopkins

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  6. Birchington

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  7. Gary Banham

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  8. Kevin Gulliver

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  9. Sally Galloway

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  10. anon.

    RT @PatronPress: #UK : A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/AthNZSkP

  11. Eleanor Derbyshire

    Good summary which shows how far we still have to go to get fair and secular and tolerant society. http://t.co/DEzCL7yj

  12. Anonymous

    Have elections to the house of lords, get rid of the actors and others who are given the privilege of being lords or Dames , get election and then these people can stand.

  13. Pulp Ark

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/Rl20y6vb #Good_Society #Atheism #bigotry #bishops #muslim #tcot #sioa

  14. Mike Morgan-Giles

    Article for @leftfootfwd on the role of #religion in #state and #government affairs – http://t.co/VJHC5dti #andrewmarr

  15. GrrlScientist

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/eHAYh3gZ "1 in 9 [british] people actually practices religion regularly"

  16. Michael Stryder

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/Yi6HU4Yz

  17. Michael Barley

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/eHAYh3gZ "1 in 9 [british] people actually practices religion regularly"

  18. Religion

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief: The issue of religion, however, stretches far wider than this… http://t.co/X2wPz8vl

  19. Santa vs. Dog

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief: The issue of religion, however, stretches far wider… http://t.co/FX2eMveK #religion

  20. Ollie

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/eHAYh3gZ "1 in 9 [british] people actually practices religion regularly"

  21. Political Planet

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief: Mike Morgan Giles argues that Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is … http://t.co/zyWz5Ra3

  22. Irene Short

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  23. Lords News

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief: The issue of religion, however, stretches far wider than this… http://t.co/Zco1Thge

  24. Michael Moore

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  25. Mike Morgan-Giles

    As Roman Catholic Cleric attacks same sex #marriage,article for @leftfootfwd on why #religion shouldnt be in politics- http://t.co/VJHC5dti

  26. Jedgardee

    I’m torn on this one. I’m all for getting rid of the privilege and having elections. My problem is I think the last thing we need is more politicians, especially ones like we have at the moment. I would like experts in there; it’s just that I don’t know what the best way is to get them……

  27. Michael Oldroyd

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/5P1yLFoh

  28. Matt Wardman

    >The unelected 26 clerics in the Lords can have a major impact on the way the country is run. For instance, when there was a vote in 2006 on allowing terminally ill people the right to die, they organised and voted against the reforms.

    About 14 Bishops voted.
    And the majority was 48.

    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2006-05-12b.1184.0&s=%22right+to+die%22+2006-01-01..2006-12-12+section%3Alords#g1290.1

    Agreeing with you on reform, but don’t overegg your pudding.

  29. KMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: A state free of religion is a core liberal belief, writes @mgonthemike: http://t.co/fqm2khwg #NewsClub

  30. Anonymous

    DAMN !!! wish more people in the USA felt the same way as the writter of this article. We are becoming more and more religious and creating more and more inequality, going into more “wars” and cutting more help for those in need. Sounds like a nice compassionate Christian place to live…if you are a conservative Christian that is.

  31. Patrick

    You would do better to defend this country against Islam, not Christianity.

    Oh, but hang on, that would be ‘racist’, wouldn’t it? So we can’t do that. No, we’ll only criticize Christianity. Because the figureheads are mostly white and middle class.

    More hypocrisy from the Left.

  32. Newsbot9

    That’s a very American doctrine, and it’s one which has lead to an inability to discuss when policies are religious.

    Importing that problem isn’t a good idea.

  33. Snapdragon

    A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/8CS15Ki5

  34. Gbunton

    “People will frequently tick the box saying ‘Christian’, without considering if they are actually one – essentially they were told they were as a child and never thought about it since.”

    An important point about this is the circular nature of the argument, it is almost a ‘chicken and egg’ style paradox. The social privileges that organised religion enjoys allows it to influence people to tick the box on the census, which is then seen as evidence that religion should continue to maintain it’s privileged position.

  35. Andy Hicks

    RT @leftfootfwd: A state free of religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/5T8UlLsc

  36. Newsbot9

    There are plenty of ways it could be structured. But, an elected house of lords needs equivalence to the house of commons. No delays, but the ability to kill bills which come before it which it cannot support.

    And the system of voting for it needs to be a fairly pure form of PR, if the commons remains FPTP.

  37. Anonymous

    Please read what you write and think it through before posting. Let me explain.

    Below is a list of the ways in which Christianity alone is treated as a ‘special’ case:

    – Prayers before meetings in the houses of commons and lords
    – The Lords’ spiritual
    – The Queen, Head of State and Head of the Church of England
    – Large amounts of public money finances invested in the C of E.
    – Widespread media attention when Christians are ‘mistreated’ (i.e. treated exactly the same as everybody else – the gay couple inn story is a perfect example – they broke the law and expected special treatment).
    – There are vastly more state-funded Christian schools than other religions (although I would argue that religion has no place in education whatsoever).

    Here is a list of the ways in which Islam alone is treated as a ‘special’ case:

    And don’t you dare say Sharia law courts.. they’re civil and non binding. You can have your own court on the same terms as well if you want. The reason Christian’s don’t is because our own civil courts uphold laws founded on Christian ideals.

  38. Pastor Bob

    A state free of <b>religion</b> is a core liberal belief http://t.co/GxWM1EP5

  39. Anonymous

    >- Prayers before meetings in the houses of commons and lords

    That’s hardly worth a mention, as the recent Bideford case shows. Trolling around since 2008, and the NSS came up with precisely ONE green-ink complainer amongst 100+ councils who do the prayers thing.

    >- The Lords’ spiritual

    Agreed.

    >- The Queen, Head of State and Head of the Church of England

    No practical effect.

    >- Large amounts of public money finances invested in the C of E.

    Chapter and Verse? Such subsidies didn’t exist last time I checked.

  40. Mr. Sensible

    I’m afraid I don’t agree on the House of Lords; I do not want to see a carbon copy of a politicized House of Commons. I think what we have now strikes the right balance, and lets remember that the Bishops are 26 out of probably around 800 peers.

    I think it is important that we seperate Church and State. If we look at the Republican contest in America, we see that a lot of the candidates are in some way in hock to evangelical groups.

  41. Pastor Bob

    A state free of <b>religion</b> is a core liberal belief | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/NwKjlUCG

  42. AKT

    Surely, a “core principle of a liberal state” ought to be that parents should be able to educate their children as they wish, provided they are not teaching them beliefs which will lead to public disorder.

    As a Christian, I would not oppose people of no faith using public funds to establish a school for their children. Atheists pay their taxes to fund the education system just like me and so I do not think it is unjust, in principle, for them to expect that some of those funds should be used to establish a school to educate their children according to their wishes.

    However, even if, as you point out, the census data grossly exagerrates the number of Christians in the UK, the fact is that there are a lot of us! If we are going to be asked to fund the public education system it is reasonable that we too should expect that this system (for which we pay!) should make provision to educate our children according to our wishes.

    Your idea that all trace of religion should be expunged from the public square sounds like less like genuine “liberalism” and more like a tyrannical desire to impose your own ideology on the rest of the country.

  43. Edward English

    A state free of #religion is a core liberal belief http://t.co/DznSkFaA

  44. Ash

    Essentially we have two options if we want equality for parents and children of all faiths and none.

    One – ensure that in every local area, children of Christian parents have access to a Christian school, children of Muslim parents have access to a Muslim school, children of atheist parents have access to an atheist school, etc.

    Two – have universal access to secular (not atheist)* schools that simply don’t take a view on such questions as whether God exists or not, that emphasise shared values, and that leave the big questions about God etc. to parents/churches/mosques etc.

    Even in purely practical terms, the second option makes far more sense. (Of course, it makes even more sense if you believe that, in principle, no state institution should take an official view on whether God exists, how he wants us to live, etc.)

    *The distinction seems to confuse some people, but if you think of (say) a GP’s surgery: this is not a religious institution (your GP doesn’t lead you in prayer, or ask you to reflect on what God thinks of your behaviour), but obviously it’s not an *atheist* one either. It’s a secular institution that treats the beliefs of its patients as their own business.

  45. AKT

    I see your point, but you are forgetting the fact that in large parts of the country communities tend to be very homogenous. The practical problem you describe does not occur so frequently as you tend to suppose.

    If everyone in a particular borough is a Muslim, for example, why should they not have Muslim schools? Similarly, in large parts of rural England, many people either identify as Christian, or are happy to send their children to Christian schools.

    Your suggestion sounds like forcing everyone to go to *agnostic* schools.

  46. Patrick

    The fact remains that this site is replete with anti-Christian and anti-Catholic blogs, but you’ll never read any criticism of Islam in the UK.

    Let’s take an example. Just two articles higher up is a post about a Cardinal’s oppressive attitude towards homosexuality, yet meanwhile in East London, Muslims are putting up ‘gay free zone’ stickers in the street. In Derby they were putting leaflets through people’s doors calling for gay people to be killed. Rather more extreme than anything the Anglican church has suggested. So why is there no mention on these pages? Not a single word?

    If you’re going to criticise religion for its attitudes towards gay people, then in the interest of balance, let’s hear about the opinion of all religions.

  47. Ash

    “Your suggestion sounds like forcing everyone to go to *agnostic* schools.”

    Not really. Agnostics take the view that, in principle, we can’t know anything about anything beyond the natural world of which we are a part – including about the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings such as God. In a more colloquial sense, agnostics think we don’t know whether God exists or not. A secular school wouldn’t endorse either of those views; it wouldn’t be in the business of telling religious pupils, or atheist pupils, that we can’t actually know whether God exists or not. It just wouldn’t have an opinion.

    And I think your point about homogenous communities actually works against you. If communities were more mixed, it might be possible to fill a Christian school, a Muslim school, an atheist school etc in each area; but as it is, there’s only going to be a substantial demand for one or two types of school (Muslim in some areas; Catholic and Protestant in others). Minority groups in each area therefore aren’t going to be catered for.

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