Saturday, 18 February 2012


The Rt Revd Tim StevensBishop of Leicester, writes the First Person column each Saturday in the Leicester Mercury. Here's the one that appears in today's paper.
This is not the time to build a secular state
The Bishop of Leicester considers public faith in a week of mixed fortunes for religion
Public faith has been much in the news this week. The story began with a judge's ruling about Bideford Council. Although he did not forbid the saying of prayers in the council chamber, he ruled it to be unlawful that such prayers should be part of the formal council proceedings. The ruling seems to have triggered an outcry from many quarters. It is mostly regarded as another step on the long journey towards removing any religious acts or rituals from our public life.
Many have seen this judgement as part of a process of marginalising Christianity which has shaped and coloured our national story.
The Queen spoke at Lambeth Palace this week of the important role of the Church of England as creating a space in which faith can be celebrated and shared as part of our national life. She, of course, is aware that prayers are said in both Houses of Parliament before the start of each day's proceedings. And she is aware too, that most of our great national occasions are marked by public acts of worship.
That will certainly be the case on many occasions during this jubilee year, and especially in St Paul's Cathedral during the national celebration of the jubilee in June.
It raises the question, what would a secular culture look like? If there were no public prayers said before any Government proceedings, if there were no great services in our cathedrals, and if there was no monarch to act as head of the Established Church, would our lives be more free and fulfilled? What if the spires and towers of our parish churches were removed from our cityscapes and landscape? What if every village no longer had an ancient iconic building at its heart?
What if the mosques, temples and gurdwaras were removed from Leicester?
It seems that the practice of religion is so fundamental to human beings that it is impossible to eradicate it.
So I hope we might all become more relaxed about this in this country. No-one is forced to worship against their own conscience.
The great majority of people in this country are quietly sympathetic to the Church while not practising their faith in any committed way.
But there is no general desire to see a secular State from which all signs of human believing have been removed.
And here in Leicester I have no doubt at all that when the Queen comes to town in three weeks time, she will be feted by people of all faiths and none. Many of us will wish to join her celebration, giving thanks for her faithfulness and Christian witness, and we shall want to pray both privately and publicly for her immense contribution to our national life over 60 years. This surely is not the time to build a secular state, but rather an opportunity to make those who are secular feel at home in a country which is comfortable with celebrating its heritage of faith.

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