Baroness Warsi’s recent comments about secularism showed her ignorance about how it can be religion’s greatest friend, and should always be. Secularism, at its heart, represents a separation between religion and the state, which benefits both the atheist and the believer.
For atheists, secularism gives us assurance that religion will not be an officially supported part of our government system. That we will have no direct religious influence over our Government, no bishops in the House of Lords, and no official religion. Of course, we can’t stop people being elected who have religious beliefs, and their beliefs will affect their votes and opinions, but to not have religion ingrained in our government system is the ideal to which we aspire.
For religious people, secularism gives them the freedom to practise their religion, and worship their God[s] as they like, by the simple premise of leaving people alone to live their private lives as they choose. How can we as secularists demand that religion play no part in our government, but then turn around and say that our government should play a part in our religions?
Prayer is not intrinsically wrong, and praying before a meeting is your choice. If people wish to pray before a meeting, what business is this of miner or another atheist? Perhaps you wish to go to the chamber early and have some quiet contemplation time; perhaps a private prayer in your party’s office, perhaps an empty side room could be used. If the Government decreed that it was illegal to privately pray at any point, I would hope that secularists up and down the country would be up in arms.
Much more importantly, we are right not to allow peoples religions or belief structures to excuse them from not following our laws. Atheists who do not like homosexuals break the law when they don’t allow them to stay at their hotels. Christians should break the same laws and expect no exceptions. Atheists who are not permitted to wear any visible jewellery in their employment should follow those rules, and should not expect that religious colleagues get special exception because their God demands the wearing of jewellery of whatever type.
But these well-known and well-publicised cases don’t mean that we want active discrimination against religious people – which would break the central tenant of secularism. At heart, all Liberals should be secular – they should expect the Government not to interfere in the private lives of its citizens, including their religions – and the religious should not expect exceptions from laws because their particular God tells them it’s necessary.
So I promise, on the first day that the Government passes a law banning private prayer, stopping people printing Bibles or Korans, or making it difficult for people to get to their Churches, Mosques or wherever they want to go on whatever day of the week they want to pray, I’ll be there at your side protesting, and I mean that. And all true secularists up and down the country will be there too.
* Andreas Christodoulou is the Treasurer of the Northampton Liberal Democrats, works as an auditor in Leicester, and writes here in a purely personal capacity