Saturday, 18 February 2012


This appears in the Op-Ed column of today's Leicester Mercury:
Live and let live over the issue of faith
There has been a rather heated debate taking place over the past week about the place of religion in our society. First, there was an outcry over a judge's ruling that the saying of prayers as part of the formal proceedings in a council meeting was unlawful. Then, Cabinet Minister Baroness Warsi spoke out against "intolerant secularisation". And leading atheist Richard Dawkins entered the fray with the findings of a survey which he felt showed that religion was largely irrelevant in our society.
Isn't the answer to this faith versus secularisation debate really rather simple? Surely, it all comes down to that old saying: "Live and let live". As the Bishop of Leicester states in his column on the page opposite, nobody is forced to worship in this country against their conscience. We share his hope that we might all become more relaxed about this subject.
The most difficult issue is to what extent religion should play a part in public life. It seems to us that there are two aspects to this. The first is that there are a large number of people in this country who do adhere to a faith. It seems fair enough, then, that this should play some part in our public life and institutions.
If people want to send their children to faith schools, for instance, that seems a reasonable liberty in a tolerant society. To insist that faith schools should not have state funding would automatically deny that option to the vast majority of believers.
The other aspect is the fact that religion is interwoven into our traditions and culture. Churches are part of every village, town and city across the UK. In Leicester, mosques and temples have become part of our landscape. Similarly, religious services form a time-honoured part of many public events. This is part of the rich tapestry of our culture and that is a great strength of this country. We do not see why the saying of prayers in a council meeting, for instance, is any way objectionable. Those who do not want to say them are perfectly entitled to refrain from doing so.
Let's be honest, in this country it really is very easy to take religion or leave it. There is no societal pressure to follow a faith. It is very much a personal choice. We see no need to change the balance which currently exists. To each his own!

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