First Person Column in Leicester Mercury Dec 13th 2012
they are a’changin’
As the new President of Leicester Secular Society my
particular interest in the 2011 Census has been data relating to religion and belief
in Leicester. These stats are quite
different from the national averages, revealing a city that is more diverse than
most other places and, notably, where the four main belief categories
(Christian; Non-religious; Muslim and Hindu) are relatively evenly balanced,
with a sizeable number of Sikhs too.
The new figures show that the number of Christians (of
ALL denominations) is now down to only 32% of Leicester’s population. Those without religion (atheists) are the
second largest group with almost 23%, while Muslims check in at nearly 19% and
Hindus at just over 15%. Sikhs are at
about 4.5%. In other words no single
belief group is anywhere near dominant.
I believe this means that no spokesman for any single religion can be
seen as a moral spokesman for the city.
Each belief community has something to offer in this respect.
The key objective of Leicester Secular Society is to
achieve a “separation of religion from the state”. We have no desire to ban religion, worship of
gods or religious rituals. These are
matters of personal conscience and we will do as much as anybody to protect
those fundamental rights. Indeed, in a
world where religion often seeks to impose its dogmas onto society as a whole
it is increasingly obvious that only a secular state can guarantee freedom of
religion and belief for all.
We believe strongly that religion can divide people
against each other, especially when national or local government gives favoured
status to one belief over the rest.
This is why we have campaigned against the creation of
ever more publicly funded ‘faith’ schools and have called for the ending of
religious rituals in public bodies, like prayers in council meetings and the
religious ceremony to welcome a new Lord Mayor.
This is why we believe that national and local celebrations of events
like Remembrance Day for those killed in war should not be based on a specific religious
ritual but on secular respect, reflecting that those who died were of many
different beliefs. This is why we must
question the financial privileges given to religious bodies, like publicly
funded chaplains in hospitals, prisons and armed forces. If the religious want them then it is obvious
who should pay.
In terms of policy making it is time that those who
live good lives without religion were given proper respect with consultation
alongside religious bodies. In education
the Religious Education syllabus in community schools could be replaced by a
syllabus that covers all paths toward living as good citizens with or without
religion. It is also well past time that
any residual ‘political correctness’ in not questioning harmful practices based
in religious dogma was eradicated from public bodies and law enforcement. We must stand by ‘one law for all’.
The new Census statistics must give all the City’s
policymakers and opinion formers pause for thought.
President of Leicester Secular Society