"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 18 July 2011

Religious bigotry is still bigotry.

Following on from the Equality Commission’s blatant misunderstanding of the difference between equality and privilege, the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has mounted his own attack against equality legislation.
“Lord” Sacks, who occupies this privileged position merely by dint of being a Rabbi and for no good democratic reason, believes that in expecting religious people to obey equality legislation we are impinging on their religious freedoms. Even further he believes it will create a new “Mayflower” mentality where the faithful will leave in search of these freedoms
“I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty. We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century - a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.”
For one thing, this is a gross misreading of history, the Pilgrim Fathers left for America to escape the domination of one state sponsored religious orthodoxy for the freedom to pursue whatever faith they desired. In doing so the founding fathers wrote a constitution expressly preventing the U.S government from establishing or promoting one religion over any other, or indeed none.
Sure, we can argue that America has constant constitutional battles and challenges from the Christian right over this, they too make the same bleating calls for special dispensation, but essentially you are free to believe what you like.
Well guess what? You can believe what you like in the U.K too. You can believe that women are inferior to men, you can believe that gays are evil and bound for hell, you can believe that black people are the descendents of Ham and natural slaves. You can believe all of these things and you can justify it as a faith position (actually, probably the only way you could justify it). You can proclaim your misogynistic, homophobic, racist putrescent beliefs to your hearts content.
What you cannot do is impose those beliefs on other human beings. What you cannot do is refuse services to people you disapprove of if you are employed, or set up in business to provide those services. What you cannot do is put your beliefs above the law, those equality laws are there to ensure no citizens are discriminated against in the public sphere.
As an atheist there is no reason I cannot be a bigot too, it’s not exclusively the preserve of religion, and if I were I would be prevented from imposing my bigotry on society by the same equality legislation. Just because your bigotry has religious motivation does not privilege you in anyway. If you don’t want to perform civil ceremonies for gay couples, don’t be a registrar! That is the decision I would have to make were I so inclined. Just because you are a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim does not make your bigotry special.

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