Secularism is the belief that religion should have no place in civil affairs; that the church and state should be kept separate. There are religious secularists who agree with these principles but we are not religious.
A fully secular state is the only sort where everyone is free to practice his or her religion or to live free from religion without interference, provided that he or she doesn’t expect any privileges because of his or her personal beliefs, and doesn’t seek to impose them on anyone else.
The UK is not a completely secular state. We have an established church, bishops in the House of Lords, public subsidies for religious organisations, and preferential treatment for people of “faith”. However, we are more secular than we were. Organisations like the National Secular Society and Humanists UK are constantly challenging the influence of religion in public life.
We agree with the mission statement of the National Secular Society:
We want a society in which all are free to practise their faith, change it or not have one, according to their conscience. Our belief or lack of it should neither advantage nor disadvantage. Religion should be a matter of private conscience, for the home and place of worship; it must not have privileged input into the political arena where history shows it to bring conflict and injustice.
The National Secular Society is the leading pressure group defending the rights of non-believers from the demands of religious power-seekers. We campaign on a wide range of issues, including religious influence in the government, the disestablishment of the Church of England, the removal of the Bench of Bishops from the House of Lords and for conversion of religious schools (paid for by the taxpayer) to community schools, open to all.
1. We fight to protect free expression from attacks by religious groups, often keen to restrict comment about, and examination of, their activities.
2. We want the blasphemy law to be abolished* and artistic expression to be protected from religious censors.
3. We lobby the BBC to reduce the amount of religious propaganda paid for by licence-payers, very few of whom are interested.
4. We want to ensure that human rights always come before religious rights, and to fight the massive exemptions religious bodies are granted from discrimination laws that everyone else has to observe. The NSS was prominent in the campaign to frustrate religious bodies’ attempts to opt out of the Human Rights Act – we fought to limit exemptions in the employment discrimination legislation and other equality law.
Even now the government seems anxious to increase religious involvement in public life. Each increase disadvantages those who have no religion.
Only by secularising our institutions can we ensure that no religious ideology can dominate and discriminate against others.
*Since this was written, the blasphemy law has been abolished.