11 March 2014

 

Community, diversity and the public good


I'm intending to go along to this event and decided I would set out my thoughts on the questions put so I will hopefully be able to give some cogent answers. As always as a Humanist I have to admit that I can be wrong and would therefore welcome comments below.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life: community, diversity and the public good

12 March 2014, 3.30-5.30pm

The commission asks:

What are the foundations of a democratic and diverse nation?
How is community identity formed in a multi-faith society?
Should the freedom of religious expression be limited?
How should religion and belief be taught in state schools?
What lessons can Leicester share about interfaith dialogue and action?

What are the foundations of a democratic and diverse nation?

I think the word liberal is missing here. Our liberties, established in the Magna Carta, Bill of Rights 1689 and the Human Rights Act, limit the power of the state over the individual and in my view precede and take precedence over democracy. These include the rule of law, free speech, freedom of thought and religion together with freedom of association.

The power of democratic government has to be limited in order to protect the individual. Hitler was supported by a majority and this was a major motivation behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A diverse nation is made up of diverse individuals.

How is community identity formed in a multi-faith society?

Diverse individuals should result in a diverse society. In a healthy society we belong to multiple communities. Religion cannot be the base for a sustainable society if it attempts to monopolise community.

A Sikh 
may be a member of a multi-faith society, but it is also an apartheid society (even if voluntary) and highly schismatic.

In a plural and inclusive society (which is what I believe must be our ambition) a Sikh might 
 I submit that this results in strong communities and a strong society.

Should the freedom of religious expression be limited?

No more than for free speech. Shouting “Fire” in a theater when there is no fire should be illegal. Inciting violence should be illegal. Otherwise we have to accept that free speech means that we have to be prepared to be offended and not react. Without the ability to offend, the term free speech is meaningless.

Accusing your opponent of causing you offence is a tactic, which allows you to avoid putting your own case, or pointing out the other’s flaws.

How should religion and belief be taught in state schools?

Comparative religion should be taught in state schools along side philosophy and critical thinking. Children should understand the history of religious beliefs and the main beliefs of those following the major religions, in order that they can relate to followers and avoid causing unintended offence.

The inculcation of religion should be the sole prerogative of parents and religious organisations.

What lessons can Leicester share about interfaith dialogue and action?

The civil authority must be agnostic and neutral with regard to religion (secular) and encourage dialogue between all communities (which includes all the groups that make up society).

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