Eric Chester (RCN) takes David Cameron to task over his promotion of a Christian UK.
During his recent Easter weekend address, Prime Minister David Cameron made a point of declaring that the United Kingdom was a “Christian country.” This is not the first time Cameron has used religion to advance his conservative agenda. In his speech, he argued that Christians had certain values, including compassion, that were those held by the UK as a whole. This is ironic coming from the proponent of the bedroom tax and a budget that cuts funds for the disabled, but hypocrisy has always been a trademark of mainstream politicians.
There is a great deal of talk about diversity and the importance of making the UK a place where people from different backgrounds and professing different faiths, or no faith, are fully accepted and have equal rights. Yet comments such as Cameron’s can only make those who do not identify themselves as Christians feel that they are being told by the government that they are second-class citizens, dependent on the sufferance of the Christian majority.
Insisting that the UK is a Christian country has implications that move far beyond political posturing. In spite of this, his remarks have gone unchallenged. The UK has joined the United States in an intensive bombing campaign intended to destroy the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Islamic fundamentalism has become the primary enemy to be destroyed at all costs. Yet the essential argument of Islamic fundamentalism is that the state and religion should be one. Cameron is making the same argument, only for Christianity not Islam.
As secularists and socialists, I am an atheist of Jewish background, we need to advance the antithetical position, that is a demand that calls for the total separation of church and state. We don’t need to look at ISIS to see where Cameron’s position can lead. In England, Catholics were persecuted for centuries by a government closely tied to the Anglican Church. Even now, the official church receives special privileges. Furthermore, way too much of the scarce funds for schools in Scotland goes to parochial schools designed to promote a specific theology which denies women the right to control their own bodies and to limit the size of their families.
Although there is a general agreement on the Left on the need to promote a secular society, there is an unwillingness to hold politicians responsible for policies that ensure the separation of the state and church. Jeremy Corbyn is not religious and yet he does not address these issues. He could have used his position to challenge Cameron’s claim that the UK was a Christian country and yet he did not. Secular socialists need to demand that the Labour Party speak up for a secular society.
The Scottish National Party tries to avoid these issues. Far easier to present a bland version of social democratic politics and hold out hope of another referendum than deal with the issue of sectarianism. Those of us on the Left should be pushing the demand that all funding for religious based schools be ended and that the state school system become truly secular and not a venue for promoting Protestant religious views.
Yet this is not enough. During the run-up to the independence referendum there was considerable talk of a Scottish constitution. One fundamental premise of a future constitution should be the pledge that an independent Scotland would be a secular society where the church and state were kept entirely separate. With the call for such a constitution, the push for an independent country would mean a movement toward significant change and not merely replacing one flag with another.