Tag Archives: National Secular Society

Privileged whinging?

I am preparing a talk on “Accepting pluralism in a secular society’ for presentation at this weekend’s Interfaith Forum. Hence my current interest in these issues.

Carrying on from my last post, Defeat for imposed prayer, this video shows a discussion on UK TV about the judgement on the Christian prayers in the Bideford Town Council official meetings.

Is Christianity Being Marginalised?

Thanks to Dr Evan Harris (@DrEvanHarris) – who I think is the guy in the jacket who spoke a lot and made the most sense.

It just demonstrates the difficulty of arguing these issues across the theological divide. Obviously they can be dealt with more efficiently in court.

“Fighting for faith”

Now Baroness Warsi,  the UK’s first Muslim cabinet Minister who is also chairman of the Conservative Party Tory Party, has chipped in. Attacking “militant secularism”  which she describes as”deeply intolerant” and “denying people the right to a religious identity”.

She is off to the Vatican for talks with Pope Benny and has declared We stand side by side with the Pope in fighting for faith.

Somehow conservative religionists in the UK have misread the Bideford Town Council legal discussion. it did not rule Christian prayer illegal, just that it should not be part of an official council meeting. Those so inclined could pray as much as they wanted before the meeting opened.

But this has stopped such people claiming martyrdom. Yes, that and words like marginilisation are being bandied around. But in reality what is upsetting these people is not marginilsation – just that they iare in danger of losing some of their priveliges. Andrew Copson from the British humanist Associal=tion respond to Warsi’s article with a series of twitter comments:

Signs Britain being taken over by militant secularisation

  • No 1: there’re more state-funded religious schools than ever before
  • No 2: more public services contracted 2 relig groups than ever before
  • No 3: we remain the only western state with clerics in the legislature
  • No 4: first PM in recent history to publicly call UK Christian country
  • No 5: 1st Muslim woman in govt at Vatican at public expense 2 see Pope

‘Census Christians’ don’t support their militant leaders

Mind you – these militant whinging religious leaders are very vocal – but how much support do they have.? Survey results released today suggest not as much as you would think. The Ipsos MORI research, commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK (RDFRS UK), shows (among other things):

  • 73% of ‘census Christians’ strongly agree or tend to agree that religion should not have a special influence on public policy
  • 92% of ‘census Christians’ support the statement that the law should apply to everyone equally, regardless of religion
  • 78% of ‘census Christians’ say Christianity would have no, or not very much, influence on how they vote in General Elections
  • 61% of ‘census Christians’ agree that gay people should have the same legal rights in all aspects of their lives as heterosexual people
  • 62% of ‘census Christians’ support the right of a woman to abortion within the legal time limit
  • Only 23% of ‘census Christians’ believe that sex is only acceptable within marriage.

As Andrew Copson, commented:

‘There is clearly a vast gulf between the views of what we might call “census Christians” and the politicians, politicised Bishops and Christian lobby groups that claim to speak on their behalf.”

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Defeat for imposed prayer

Bideford - Devon

Non-consensual religious ceremony has always offended me so I am pleased to see this victory for human rights  – unfortunately, in the UK, not NZ. But the case is relevant. The UK National Secular Society (NSS) challenged prayers in local council meetings in December 2010. The case in the High Court was taken against the Bideford Town council – Mr Clive Bone, a former councillor who objected to these imposed prayers was also a claimant. (See British Humanists welcome High Court ruling against council prayers).

Although this was a limited case the ruling will apply to the formal meetings of all councils in England and Wales, the majority of which are thought to conduct prayers as part of their meetings. Furthermore, the Judge recognised that there could be even wider implications and for this reason granted the defendants right of appeal.

No disadvantage to religious belief

The NSS welcomed the verdict –  executive director Keith Porteous Wood said prayers had been “the cause of tension in a number of local councils”. He added:

“This judgment is an important victory for everyone who wants a secular society, one that neither advantages nor disadvantages people because of their religion or lack of it.”


“The NSS is not seeking to deprive those who wish to pray the opportunity to do so; indeed, we fight to retain freedom of religion and belief. The judgement clearly states that religious freedoms are not hindered, as councillors who wish to do so are free to say prayers before council meetings.”

The judge made the same point. But once the meeting had become official one group could not impose its ceremonies on all:

“I do not think the 1972 Act […] should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors”.

He compared the imposition of prayers to bringing a  “potentially divisive ceremony, such as the singing of a political party’s song into a meeting.”

Whining by the privileged

On the other hand former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey interpreted the result as “the gradual marginalisation of the Christian faith, being pushed to the outskirts.”

He said religious freedom no longer seemed to be a priority: “Equalities seem to trump all other kinds of freedom. This is a time for Christians to stand up and be counted.”


“These legal rulings may also mean army chaplains could no longer serve, and that the Coronation Oath, in which the King or Queen pledges to maintain the laws of God and the lessons contained in the Gospels, would need to be abolished.

“This is a truly terrifying prospect.”

Critics of the ruling are painting themselves out as the victims. One blogger claimed : “here is a concentrated drive by progressive secularists to drive Christianity from the public square, and especially the body politic.”

This is the same attitude as the expressed by conservative religionists who have been opposing anti-discrimination laws. They see them as a violation of religious freedom because it prevents them from discriminating in the business and jobs on religious grounds.

So, the snuggle for human rights in a pluralist society continues.

Whanganui City Council

The Bideford situation closely parallels the local situation where the Whanganui City Council has rejected Councillor Clive Solomon’s complaint about imposed prayers at Council meetings.

Perhaps local secular organisations should consider taking similar action against the Whanganui City Councillor. After all one cannot over-ride legal human rights by a majority vote within a group. As Mr Justice Ouseley said in the Bideford case such votes by a council “does not give it power to do what it has no power to do.”

On the way to theocracy?

I really loved this section of the High Court ruling because it does sum up the situation we face with such imposed religious ceremonies. It’s a quote from a previous judgement and says:

“The precepts of any one religion, and belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of another. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and express religious beliefs. Equally firmly, it must eschew any protection for such a belief’s content in the name only of its religious credentials. Both principles are necessary conditions for a free and rational regime.”


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