Friday, 6 May 2011

Why religion shouldn't enjoy special favour

Today's Leicester Mercury carries the final "First Person" column by Allan Haye, in his capacity as Humanist Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Leicester.

I've enjoyed his contributions to the ongoing conversation of the city through these columns - indeed, I've posted most of them here. I can't say I've agreed with everything he's said in his columns, but I've tried to represent him uncensored here - and largely without making intrusive comments of my own, either in the blog or the printed or online editions of the Leicester Mercury.

On the occasions when Allan and I have discussed the merits of him having his own blog, he's said that he doesn't really see the point when I'm doing such a good job of representing his views in mine!

Maybe I should say that I've agreed with him more often than not - and that I agree with virtually everything he has to say in this final piece.

I'm sure it's not the last we'll hear from Allan (who is a director of Leicester Secular Society) in the pages of the Mercury. I look forward to meeting him again at the various places and events where our paths tend to cross: Amplifed Leicester; SACRE; Christians Aware Faith Awareness courses at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road; and at Philosophy in the Pub at the Swan and Rushes.

Why religion shouldn't enjoy special favour 
Allan Hayes reflects on his year as humanist chaplain to the Lord Mayor of Leicester 
My year as Chaplain to the Lord Mayor has been an interesting and rewarding experience; meeting people from different communities has been a particular pleasure. The year started with some tension over the Civic Service in the cathedral. It proved impossible to agree on a way that I as a humanist could give a short address in what was a Christian service. As a consequence the Lord Mayor, the Lady Mayoress and I felt unable to attend the event. 
The same problem could arise for any other non-Christian chaplain. This raises the obvious question: in a diverse city with people from a variety of religions and with many who do not belong to a religion, shouldn't a civic event be one in which we can all feel part and to which we can all contribute – a celebration of today's Leicester for all by all? I think so. 
I have tried to encourage dialogue and improve understanding by my letters and other activities. I am grateful to the Mercury for carrying these and to individuals and organisations that have helped. 
During the year there have been repeated attempts to pin words like "aggressive", "extreme" and "militant" on secularists and atheists and accuse them of trying to exclude religion from the public space: this is a dangerous tactic, but fortunately, we have largely avoided it in Leicester.
Secularists recognise that religions are important to many and should contribute to the public debate, but insist that this must be done openly and through the normal democratic process: religions should not be embedded in the state structure or specially privileged. We are joined in this view by many within the religions who favour a secular state.
However, while pursuing dialogue and understanding, we should not overlook the facts that are being created on the ground.
The urgent issue now to my mind is whether our schools will help our children grow up together or will separate them by religion. The new free schools can be proposed by a local group or an outside body and be approved by the Secretary of State with very little local consultation. For a start, a Hindu free school, eventually to take 420 pupils, is opening in Evington in September next to St Paul's Roman Catholic school. I am told that other free faith schools are being proposed in the city. Change could come quickly and could damage both community schools and social cohesion. My experience as humanist representative on the Leicester Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) shows me that most families are very happy with how our community schools deal with religion. I would ask that if they hear of proposals for faith schools they get in touch with local head teachers and discuss the situation.

 Read this article on the Leicester Mercury website, along with reader comments:

1 comment:

  1. This entry wzs picked up and published by the DMU and Leicester Daily (Fri 06 April 2011):