Secularism defended in House of Lords debate
November 26th, 2012
Baroness Falkner gave a robust defence of secularism during a debate on religion in the House of Lords on Friday. The debate, on ‘Religion in the United Kingdom’, was moved by Lord Singh to ask the Government what assessment they have made of the role of religion in society in the UK.
Starting the debate, Lord Singh claimed that ‘Religion today has a bad press and has been pushed into the margins of society’, and many of those who spoke continued on this theme. Lord Curry of Kirkharle said that he was ‘deeply concerned about the increasing dominance of secularism’, and claimed that ‘many Christians find themselves not only marginalised but in some cases victimised’. Lord Curry went on to complain about ‘atheist groups’ who are ‘actively campaigning to stop Christian and Catholic groups opening new schools – even going to court to get them stopped, as happened recently in Richmond’. Extraordinarily, given the increasing trend of outsourcing public services to religious groups, Lord Curry also claimed that ‘Christian charities are finding it increasingly difficult to get funding from public bodies.’ At the end of the debate, Minister for Faith and Communities Baroness Warsi summed up by claiming that ‘religion plays a vital role in British society’.
However, secularists also made vital contributions to the debate. Baroness Falkner said that she wanted to emphasize ‘the role and importance of the secular space in public life’, and she declared that ‘I am a secularist’. She said that religions have just as much right to express their views as anyone else, but that these views should not have a privileged position in public policy. She said that secularism is becoming more widely appreciated in the context of a multi-religious society. She also objected to the presence of the Bishops in the Lords, criticised the Anglican Church’s attempts to block same-sex marriage legislation, and lamented Parliament’s rejection of legislation to legalise assisted dying and stem cell research. She ended her speech by saying that ‘the secular point on which I would like to conclude is that religions should not have privileged positions to restrict others’ freedoms – something that they do far too often.’ Praising Baroness Falkner’s speech, Baroness Flather said that she was ‘pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, put in a word or two that did not quite pass for praise of religion.’
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Baroness Falkner’s comments in the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/121122-0003.htm#12112245000873
The full text of the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/121122-0003.htm#12112245000890
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.