Secularism could be an election issue
Secularisation is not on the retreat in western Europe. Yet it is true that new threats to individual liberties and to the religious neutrality of governments are coming from many (not all) organised religious denominations. National situations are somehow different from one another, but nowhere in Europe is the society going back to the time when a common set of religiously-based beliefs was the one and basic common ground for values and views shared by almost every member of the society itself.
This paper, presented to Liberal International last year, warns of the threat to secularism posed by organised religion. The LI authors write,
In the new multireligious society more than ever, the strictest religious neutrality of public institutions, the highest possible degree of separation between government and religions is the only possible recipe to preserve individual rights and the fabric of liberal democracy.
This ‘highest degree of separation’ isn’t possible as long as we have faith schools. Liberal Democrat Dr Evan Harris MP, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, has consistently challenged the existence of faith schools, while the party as a whole has not. The British Liberal Democrat Party is a member of LI.
The Labour Party won’t get rid of faith schools, so enthusiastically encouraged by T Blair, partly because they fear losing votes over the issue, especially Muslim votes. Maybe we haven’t done enough to stir the British electorate out of its usual apathy and make secular education an issue that at least one of the major parties – the Lib Dems – will support? Personalities rather than politics – when Blair will go and if Brown will take over – have been the focus of attention over the next general election. Maybe it’s time we tried to set at least some of the agenda?
I feel a letter to my local political parties coming on…
I’ve looked at the Green Party’s web site for any references to faith schools, and couldn’t find any. A lot of their info is annoyingly presented in downloadable PDF files, with very little substance. Could be one of the reasons they don’t get many votes.