There is a dangerous and almost imperceptible drift that has taken place in the Liberal Democrats in recent years, a drift away from tolerance, of acceptance of religions and faiths, alongside secular belief systems like humanism, towards a moral conformity. A moral conformity that certain views are part of who we are; and that many faith based, Christian views are rather something to be reserved for private worship that should be kept firmly out of the political arena. It may not be as obviously discriminatory as the abuse I experienced during that election campaign, but it is nevertheless equally damaging and illiberal. The received wisdom amongst too many Liberal Democrats, from MPs and peers to the wider membership, seems to be this: believe what we believe when it comes to ‘moral’ issues or issues of conscience, or you are not a Liberal Democrat. The trouble with that view is that it is not only illiberal. It is the very antithesis of liberalism.
Let me be clear: as a liberal I believe everyone has the right to think that what I believe faith-wise is bunkum and nonsense. They have every right to say so publicly if they wish without fear of criminal prosecution for blasphemy or religious hatred (I am assuming any liberal would make their views on my faith in a temperate and respectful way even if they fundamentally disagree with my beliefs!). But nevertheless, as long as without threat, abuse or hatred, they are entitled to do so! Indeed I would fight for their right to do so. But I fear that what we are heading towards now in the party is away from freedom of conscience and towards a new moral conformity, and it is a dangerous trend.
The paragraphs above are an extract from my article in the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum’s new publication, Liberal Democrats Do God. It is time we recognise the drift that is taking place within the party, and decide to put freedom of conscience back where it should be – and has historically been – at the centre of liberalism.
If this trend continues, the Liberal Democrats could no longer be seen as a place where people of faith feel comfortable; and if these people are pushed out, it will be a tragedy not just for all Christian liberals who would no longer have a home, but also damaging to a party that wants – and needs – to have a broad appeal electorally.
Liberalism must remain at the heart of the Liberal Democrats and therefore continue to be the reason why Christians, as well as those of other faiths and none, decide to join, to campaign, and to stand.
I am a liberal not in spite of my faith. I am a liberal not just alongside my faith. I am a liberal because of my faith. So anyone who denies me my right to believe in Jesus Christ is denying me of my right to believe in liberalism. That philosophical path is the road to intolerance, to undermining freedom of conscience, a road that no true liberal would proceed along.
This and other issues will be discussed at the LDCF fringe event on Saturday 14th September, 8.15pm – 9.30pm at the Shuna Room, Crowne Plaza, where the publication Liberal Democrats Do God is being launched.