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25 Feb - 02 Mar , 2012
Increasing Marginalisation Of Religion
In Britain

Increasing Marginalisation Of Religion
Over the years, the power of Christianity in particular and religion in general, has been in steady decline in Western Europe and Britain has been no exception to this trend.
In a poll conducted in 2005, only 38 per cent of people in the UK had said that they believed there is a God, although in the 2001 census, 70 per cent of the population had defined themselves as Christians. That probably was more an indication of social rather than religious identity. In a poll conducted last year, while 53 per cent identified themselves as Christians, only 29 per cent answered in the affirmative to the question "are you religious?". An overwhelming 65 per cent answered the same question in the negative. Another poll found that 50 per cent of the people say they have no religion, the figure having gone up from 31 per cent since 1983. The number of people who attend a religious ceremony of any kind stood at only 14 per cent in 2010, and much of that was probably made up of adherents to faiths other than Christianity as the number of non-Christians has risen from 2 to 6 per cent during the same period.
But while Christianity may be receding as a religion in terms of its impact in public and private life, its place is being increasingly taken by a strident secularism that is showing a militancy and intolerance of almost Talibanesque proportions. A few recent instances have highlighted this, the most important of which has been a ruling by the High Court that local councils have no statutory rights to hold prayers at council meetings. In what is being described as a landmark judgement, the court ruled that Bideford council in Devon had no statutory powers to hold prayers during council meetings. As many as half of the UK's local councils are believed to hold prayer sessions as part of their formal proceedings. In Bideford's case, the prayers were minuted.
The complaint against the practice was made by a councillor, Clive Bone, who was supported by the National Secular Society. The Christian Institute gave financial support to Bideford town council.
Increasing Marginalisation Of ReligionWhy exactly the Councillor, in question, a professed atheist, considered it necessary to go to court over this matter is difficult to understand. While the council said prayers as a part of the official agenda, anybody who did not want to take part in them was obviously not being forced to do so. And the council is still free to say prayers before council meetings as long as they are not part of the council agenda.
The court's decision has sparked a furious debate over the growth of 'militant secularism', a denial of religious values that is now being forced down the throats of people who want to practice their own faith without trying to influence anyone else.
Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, said the judgment could have "incredibly far-reaching consequences". "Will the next step be scrapping the prayers which mark the start of each day in parliament?" he asked.
Carey told a local daily in UK, "These legal rulings may also mean army chaplains could no longer serve, and that the coronation oath, in which the King or Queen pledges to maintain the laws of God and the lessons contained in the gospels, would need to be abolished. This is a truly terrifying prospect.
"It is clear that these sensitive matters can no longer be left in the hands of judges. It is time for the government to act – both to amend local authority legislation, letting local councils themselves decide whether they want to continue the time-honoured custom of saying prayers, and, more broadly, to protect the Christian traditions on which the country is founded."
At the vanguard of the cry against this 'militant secularism' is the chairperson of the Tory Party, Baroness Warsi, a Muslim of Pakistani origin. Chosen as the rather unlikely head of the largest British delegation ever to visit the Vatican (in commemoration of 30 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between London and the Holy See), Lady Warsi's tirade against this militant secularism received rapturous applause at the Vatican.
Warsi quoted from Pope Benedict XVI's speech about putting religion back on the political agenda that he made at Westminster Hall during his UK visit in September 2010, adding that the pope had personally congratulated her after she said governments should "do God".
Later the Vatican said it was "really happy" Warsi had come to speak. It gave her a page one slot for an opinion piece in its daily newspaper, and the Holy See's future diplomatic corp was out in force to hear her.
Warsi dwelled in her speech on her Muslim upbringing by her Pakistani parents in the UK's Christian culture; an experience which she said had taught her "that being sure of who you are is the only way in which you will be more accommodating of others".
"Only when you realise that the other does not jeopardise who you are, can you truly accept and not merely tolerate the presence of difference," she said. Sending her daughter to a Christian school had reinforced her Muslim identity, she added.
Religion had caused bloodshed, she admitted, "but trying to erase this history or blind ourselves to the role of religion on our continent is wrong".
Picking up on a long-time Vatican complaint, Warsi lamented the fact that there was "not even a word about Christianity in the preface of the European constitution" because of "what the Holy Father called 'the increasing marginalisation of religion' during his speech in Westminster Hall".
The Baroness followed this up with an article in The Daily Telegraph in which she warned of the rise of "militant secularisation" across Europe.
"My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things; when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere."
This sidelining of religion and the advance of secularism into domains that many would see as personal is particularly worrying to British Muslims, many of who observe the tenets of their faith with devout conviction. There are still many people who, although they may not share that love for any faith, yet have the tolerance to understand it. Thus it is that in Britain, unlike France, one can wear religious symbols like the hijab or the crucifix at state institutions like schools and public offices. It is of great importance to British Muslims that things stay that way. There is, however, nothing that gives them the reassuring guarantee that they will, the Baroness' brave foray notwithstanding.

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