It has been going on in the US for years, the theft of faith, the privatisation of Christian belief. Organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) throw a hissy fit when someone mentions God in public, for some perverse reason everyone jumps to attention and another Christian is put in the box marked “Not for Public Consumption.”
Well, now the National Secular Society (NSS) has won a ruling stating that Bideford town council, Devon in the UK acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said before meetings. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972. The good thing is that the action was won under obscure local government legislation and not on human rights grounds. Phew, aren’t we pleased about that? Bideford Mayor, councillor Trevor Johns, was bemused and disappointed by the ruling.
"We held two votes on this issue and won both of them by a majority," he said.
"That's what disappoints me.
"It was a democratic process - you don't go running to the High Court whenever you lose a vote.”
Actually, if your a fascist that is exactly what you do. You appeal to the law until the law no longer suits you then you change or abolish it.
The hero of this class action is former town counsellor Clive Bone. He left the council when he couldn’t get his own way. Perhaps the council was too democratic for him. Mr Bone, delighted with the decision as only a dog-in-the-manger secularist can be, came up with the secular saw that, "Religious freedom is an absolute right and so is freedom from religion an absolute right, in my view." The flaw in his argument of course is that absolutes have a habit of cancelling each other out and freedom of religion is not at all the same as freedom from religion any more than it can be the same as freedom from secularism.
You see, if Colin Bone has an absolute right to freedom from religion then, by the very nature of that right being absolute, it restricts absolutely my right to freedom of religion, i.e. I cannot practice my religion where his right prevails because his right prevails. By the same token, my right to freedom of religion, so grudgingly acknowledged by Mr Bone, robs him of a right to freedom from religion.
The solution, of course, is to recognise that neither freedom is absolute and that freedom of religion allows the religious to practice while allowing the secularist to refrain from practicing. The problem here is that Mr Bone, like so many militant secularists, insists not only on the right to have no religion in his life but on the right to have no religion in his presence or purview.
It is a question of what happens in a particular space, the public square, and what is often forgotten in this futile attempt to square the circle is that both parties cannot ultimately be fully satisfied. The secularist will point to a particular space and declare that it must, on the basis of freedom of religion, be considered neutral ground. But there is no neutral ground because the presence of religion offends the secularist while the absence of religion is not a matter of indifference to him but a cause for triumphalism in having driven religion from that space. He hasn’t gained neutrality but victory!
That sounds worryingly like fighting talk but, much as we might regret a combative approach to the issue, the truth is this is a war between two ideologies. Of course, the secularist would have us think that it is a conflict between the biased religionist and the “reasonable” secularist.
But in creating a space where religion is barred he creates a space where secular philosophy, by default, prevails. It is a space where he is, as this case ironically demonstrates, free to declare his views about religion while I am restrained from expressing mine. This silly situation exists because secularists have put into the minds of the general public the idea that secularism is not an ideology but a reality while religion is not a reality but a fantasy. This is a deceptive logical device where someone claims something to be true that has yet to be shown to be true.
In any event, this is a hollow victory because easily reversed by the expediency of councils simply inviting counsellors to attend prayers before the official business of the day begins. The judge made clear that, "The saying of prayers in a local authority chamber before a formal meeting of such a body is lawful provided councillors are not formally summoned to attend." In which case, secular counsellors need not go through the apparently terrible experience of hearing believers at their devotions.
The BBC’s Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Pigott commented:
“The tide has been flowing pretty firmly against Christianity in public life and it's caused huge concerns for the churches. They say it's being driven out of public life.” adding, “it's been very noticeable in the last few years that the tide's been turning against Christian practices which we've just taken for granted for centuries.”