Religion and politics don’t mix. Faith groups use the language of rights to undermine those rights. Britain needs disestablishment

Religions are demanding special rights, and emasculating equality

 

Share

Ukip hogs the limelight but the hot issue of the moment is religion in modern Britain. David Cameron declared this nation “Christian” and wants believers to be more evangelical. Must be why humble proselytisers – Seventh Day Adventists and other messengers of Christ – rang the doorbell this Sunday. I politely told them I would not be converted and that I kept my faith matters private. They were kindly, though disappointed, and two of them said they’d be back. Oh, please, no.

Our PM neatly passed over the Reformation, the break from Rome, etc. And the ongoing sectarianism between Christ’s people in Northern Ireland. In this Jerusalem, Catholics were and still are sometimes treated as second class, or suspect citizens. Some Christians matter more than others. When the Coalition Government – honourably and impressively – pushed through gay marriage laws, the phalanx of multi-faith objectors tried but could not stop Parliament. Millions of Christians oppose this law. Was this not a Christian country when it was passed?

A group of eminent academics, writers, scientists and artists, including Philip Pullman, Ken Follett, Professor Steve Jones and Professor Jim Al-Khalili – reacted to the PM’s thoughtless and incendiary comments. Interestingly, most savvy faith communities didn’t object. Of course, they didn’t. Britain’s highly organised Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others know and rejoice that the man in charge is not a proper secularist. If they support his Christian mission, he will grant them influence in public affairs. Religion and politics are getting closer. God help us all.

I have faith and pray and avoid the company of noisy, atheist wolves. Religion is a vital part of a decent, civil society. When archbishops speak up for the poor (and irritate Iain Duncan Smith), when rabbis offer support to asylum-seekers, when Sikh priests give food to the hungry in their temples, when Muslim imams encourage charity, when faith leaders oppose state violence, they are the nation’s conscience. But, bit by bit, religions are demanding special rights and dispensations, and with well-honed piety are emasculating human rights, equality and autonomy. (They actually use the concepts of human rights and equality to get their own fiefdoms, segregation and legal adjustments.)

Here are a few examples: among Michael Gove’s free school fiascos are not only hard-line Muslim academies, but Christian, Hindu and Sikh ones, too, which secede from mainstream education and brainwash pupils to follow what they are taught, and to think of themselves as members of that community and not of our multi-part nation.

The Law Society has just issued a briefing note to lawyers about sharia inheritance diktats which give females less or no inheritance. For Orthodox Jews, divorce is only possible if the husband agrees. That agreement is called get. Without his permission, a wife is a chained woman. The 2002 Divorce (Religious Marriage) Act stipulated that, without get, a civil decree absolute can be denied to the wife. Within Hindu families, religious texts are used as alibis to steal property rights from widows. The law does not protect them.

Cameron’s call is religious braggadocio, put out for political effect. And it did fly. At the weekend, the Lib Dem president, Tim Farron, confessed he was a committed Christian; Lord Rowan Williams ruefully spoke about empty churches and our “post-Christian” age; Jack Straw backed the PM; Tony Blair called for another Crusade against “evil” Muslims, and the Muslim Baroness Sayeeda Warsi joined the unholy choir: “Politicians didn’t talk about their faith because they were seen as odd to do so ... People don’t feel they can dress in a Christian manner, [they] can’t talk about Christianity and faith.” And that, claims the Lady, our Minister for Faith, leads to increased support for far-right groups. Silly comments, from a ministry of utter folly.

Let this go on and we could end up with abortion laws that kill women. (Read Savita by Kitty Holland on the young Indian woman who perished because medical staff in a hospital in Ireland couldn’t perform a life-saving abortion.) And with kids never playing with those outside their religions. This is happening in faith schools of all denominations. My own daughter was treated as an outcast by some staff and parents in a Church of England primary school which my taxes help pay for. And with religious apartheid in universities – already well progressed. And with religious relativism.

Nick Clegg is right: disestablish the Church of England and cut the links between crown, state and church. We must also stop religious leaders from getting into the Lords, phase out faith schools or make them mixed, and ensure there is one law for all. Politicians should be democrats, not representatives of chosen gods.

This column is a song for secular democracy – the only fair, safe and universalising governance system. America, hyper-diverse and the most fiercely Christian nation in the West, is a secular state. Yes, we can be, too. And must be.

Twitter: @y_alibhai

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"