Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shami Chakrabarti On Religious Tolerance

Following on from the furore of recent days over UKIP's introduction of a highly illiberal policy of banning the burqa, I found an excellent article in The Times today by Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty on religious freedom in a modern, liberal democracy. Her piece is not about the burqa ban, but the persecution of Christian Nadia Eweida by British Airways and the state for wearing a crucifix. It follows on quite nicely though, and below are Shami's three paragraphs that truly hit the nail on the head:

It seems to me that any society has three choices in dealing with this small question of religion.

The first is to elevate an approved faith to the point of dominant status over all other belief systems. It is formally woven into the legal, political and social system, every sphere of public life and as much of private life as possible. An extreme example might be Afghanistan under the Taleban; a more moderate one, Britain at earlier and less enlightened times in its history.

The second option is, in many ways, equal and opposite. It is based on the view that faith is all dangerous, divisive mumbo-jumbo. No good can come of it so, if it cannot be eradicated altogether, it must be chased from the public sphere, confined to a place of worship or the home, upstairs under the bed with the pornography. An extreme example would be Stalin’s Russia; a more moderate one, the French Republic.

You will have guessed that I favour a third approach that is based on human rights and resonates well with a society such as Britain’s. Here the struggle for religious freedom has been strongly connected with the struggle for democracy itself.

I wish Nadia Eweida well in her appeal on behalf of all those of us who not only wear a crucifix, but value the freedom and liberty of all those who choose to practice their faith, whichever it may be.

We must also respect and welcome the liberty of those who disbelieve, and let them argue their case against religion without threats of harm for doing so.

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