Sunday, October 22, 2006

Secular state/secular society

One of the great advantages of the UK over the US is that is can discuss secularism far more easily, without the shrill voices of evangelical conservatism drowning it out. The Sunday Times in London has its editorial today merely raising the question "Time for a Secular State" calling for debate on whether the last vestiges of state involvement in religion should be scrapped, and I agree they should - as they have been in the US (although that has been under threat for a while). The editorial asks:
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Should we carry go on, hoping the curiosity of an established church — to which the majority is attached, but only very loosely — can continue to co-exist with other religions, whose followers are more committed? Or is it time to move to the American or French models with their formal separation of church and state?
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Indeed, I would say speed the day to separate church and state. The Sunday Times has a long feature on this matter. Religious freedom means the state is blind about what religion people believe in, or whether they do at all. In fact one of the healthiest discussion now is to consider whether religion has any validity at all. Minette Marin in the Sunday Times argues that there should be no religious schools. She says:
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"It should be possible to agree that for various reasons, many of which are politically embarrassing, the time of state-funded faith schools is past. Faith is no better a criterion for attending or running a state school than race. No new ones should be created; the old ones should gradually lose their religious identity as many have done already and as they probably will do naturally. Religious indoctrination and observance don’t belong in state schools, in a multifaith society, not any more"
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Absolutely, it is outrageous that the state should have anything to do with education whatsoever, certainly not religious based education. However, in a free society parents should have the right to send their children to a religious school, if one exists - and pay for it themselves. Any more than that, and you have the state engaging in parenting. Although Richard Dawkins argues that giving children religious education is as bad as political education - that saying a child is Catholic or Muslim is as bad as saying they are socialist, conservative or indeed libertarian before they are old and mature enough to decide for themselves. Imagine how much religion would exist if children were kept from religion until their teens? Then if given lessons on each religion and atheism, were allowed to choose which one made the most sense for them.
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I would argue that it is wrong to indoctrinate children about religion, but that it isn't a state matter. Parents indoctrinate children about all sorts of things, and as long as there isn't neglect and physical/sexual abuse, the state should err on the side of non-intervention. The state is not a better parent, it is a protector of last resort.
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Nevertheless it is encouraging that Dawkins latest book The God Delusion is a best seller in the UK. If only our friends from the Middle East got a chance to read such a book or even be allowed to debate the non-existence of ghosts!

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