"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

Friday, 2 December 2011

Can secularists take the heaven out of Devon?

It’s not often the issue of Church / State separation appears in an English court. This is because unlike in America there is no legal or constitutional imperative for the two not to be entwined. Indeed, with bishops being members of the House of Lords our system of government specifically endorses religious involvement in politics.
However in Devon, Bideford Town Council is in court today over their custom of saying prayers before meetings.
The National Secular Society is taking the council to court on behalf of one of its councillors, Clive Bone who as an atheist claims he is embarrassed and disadvantaged at having to either sit through the event or leave the room.
Now personally, if I was him I would not turn up until the prayers were over, which if it exposed him to disciplinary action would make a perfect discrimination case to test.
However the discomfort of one atheist is not really the issue. Presumably, Bideford’s population contains no Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans or Druids concerned that their council tax is funding these councillor’s daily conversation with their particular invisible friend. What will they do if someone gets elected who is not an atheist but a devout member of another faith? Get an Imam in to lead a prayer to Allah? I doubt it.
The NSS puts it this way…
The NSS contends that the saying of prayers in what should be a secular environment concerned with civic business is inappropriate and could put off people of other religions and none from taking part in an important democratic activity.
Which seems fair enough to me. In a rational world this wouldn’t even be an issue, whether it’s legal or not a council chamber is not a church (or a mosque/synagogue) and should not be wasting its time in prayer or tax payer’s money defending this case.
I’m predicting that the council will win this one and get to keep their prayers as the NSS are going into this on Human Rights grounds, which despite the mythos of the right wing press is not the legal panacea they claim.
The NSS case is
· those of no religion were being indirectly discriminated against without justification (and this unlawfully)
· the Council’s actions breach Articles 9 and/or 14 of The European Convention on Human Rights (right to freedom of conscience and protection from discrimination)
· the Council has no power to conduct prayers
In America the secularists would win this hands down but in good old Anglican Britain I can’t see it.

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