26 December 2013
City of shame if “Leicester is not a secular city”
“We are very concerned indeed that you chose to endorse a commemorative event that is a religious affair, inevitably dividing us and reinforcing the privileges of the Church of England. Mandela advocated an inclusive and plural society free from discrimination, prejudice and privilege”
The Leicester Mercury reported on this, together with comments from the Bishop of Leicester and Sir Peter Soulsby in its issue of 20/12/13 under the headline
“Row over religious elements of Nelson Mandela memorial in Leicester”
and published an editorial which can be read here under the headline
“Leicester is not a secular city”
Gush Bhumbra, President of Leicester Secular Society, has responded with an open letter for publication which reads as follows:
The title of your opinion piece of 20 December wears a point of shame as a badge of honour. “Leicester is not a secular city”.
Secularism, in guaranteeing freedom and equality, is a pillar of a just society, which we must be vigilant in defending.
Secularism guarantees everyone's right to practice their religion of choice.
Secularism prevents any government from promoting or persecuting any religion or belief.
Who could be against Secularism? The Church of England certainly seems to wish to protect its privileges. The exclusive privileges of this church are promoted by central government as the established religion.
The exclusive privileges provide by apartheid were promoted by the central government in South Africa.
Being privileged by government is no justification for privilege.
Is the Leicester Mercury advocating that the Church of England should have primacy over all other religions and beliefs, merely tolerating them and being prepared to work alongside them? Or should these be treated as equals?
Leicester Secular Society is against religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination by government and that is why I wrote to the City Mayor to point out the folly of choosing to make Nelson Mandela's commemorative event a religious one. We have a duty NOT to uphold unjust laws providing religious privilege.
So why would I choose to be offended and speak at such a religious event? I can only say it is my civic duty to take offence on the chin in order to be able to publicly proclaim my dedication to the cause that Mandela made his life's work. It was the only show in town where we could honour the man.
As to what could have been a plan for better more inclusive commemoration – how about this? Reminders of what he stood for, what he achieved, the struggle he went through, his famous and moving quotations.
This could be followed by a few words from some of the communities of Leicester who did what they could to promote his cause over the years, unions, political parties, students, and of course religious organisations, including the Church of England.
Secularism protects religion and belief. Let us all adopt it so we can proudly proclaim "Leicester is a secular city".