Eric Pickles Fights ‘Militant Atheists’. A Militant Secularist Reply.
Militant atheists should ‘get over it’ and accept Britain is a ‘Christian nation’, according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Having previously introduced laws that ensure parish councils can avoid legal challenges for holding prayers in public meetings, Pickles this weekend urged non-believers to avoid imposing their ‘politically correct intolerance’ on others.
Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum, the communities secretary said he had ‘stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish’.
‘Heaven forbid,’ he added. ‘We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.’
In his speech, Pickles said the Government had also ‘backed British values’ and ‘stopped Whitehall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be it the EDL, be it extreme Islamists or be thuggish far-left, they’re all as bad as each other’. From here
This follows the much more strident claim by Baroness Warsi in February that,
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”
There have been many commentaries on this bluster.
One of the best, by Matt Broomfield (Left Foot Forward), focuses on the secular alternative to Pickles’s ‘Christian nation’.
What is secularism?
Following Broomfield we note that,
Secularism is not Atheism.
Secularism is the policy of opening up society to all beliefs by making no one faith or non-faith a central part of the public sphere. This means no public subsidies for religious groups, and certainly no “established” Church. It means that education is free from religious doctrine. It means that official religious values, symbols and practices in these areas – such as schools – should be excluded.
It is not Extremist.
Broomfield states, “In his speech, Pickles aligned secularism with the extremist doctrines of the English Defence League and militant Islam, saying “they’re all as bad as each other”. In reality, secularism is not a religious or political ideology at all, so much as it is the absence of any one dominant ideology.
It is not Intolerant.
Broomfield notes that secularism has nothing to do with the Marine Le Pen’s claim that Front National schools will only lay on pork for children to eat. This is as bad as forcing people to eat Halal food (something rigorously forbidden from diet example, to all Sikhs). Le Pen is not a secularist – she has backed Catholic led-demonstrations against gay marriage and teaching gender equality in schools. Such has been the importance of this clash that Libération has a whole special section on its site devoted to it: here. Those citing the FN should look there before pontificating about its opportunistic ‘secularism’.
But more is needed.
In Britain the education system, particularly through ‘free schools’ and academies’ has been wide open to the influence of faith groups. These have imposed their narrow agenda with public funding.
Some on the ‘left’ would no doubt prefer Pickles to promote faith more broadly.
The multiculturalism that has been used to promote religious causes, from reinforcing traditional authority, to the state where active communalism, with public subsidy is promoted by municipalities like Tower Hamlets. It bolsters reactionary political influence of religious groups – the opposite the aim of secularists who wish to make the public domain open and free from bigotry.
Only a militant, that is vigilant, secularism, can fight back against this.
It requires not just the ‘absence’ of an official doctrine but a conscious effort to undermine religious dogma.
That is, not an official replacement doctrine but a call for mass pressure and activity to create free spaces for people’s ideas, culture and values.
Contrasts with the Front National.
But before one lie gets repeated again and again, nobody has ever proposed the following (as Broomfield claims), “the National Front’s plans to force Muslim schoolchildren to eat pork.”
A weaker version of this claim, closer to the truth, is made by the Bob Pitt,
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.
The Front National proposes to put pork on the menu in all school canteens.
In practice this has not meant denying an alternative.
« Il y a toujours eu deux menus dans les cantines : l’un avec porc, l’autre sans porc pour ceux qui ne désirent pas enconsommer. Naturellement, cette possibilité sera préservée dans les cantines de Fréjus, l’essentiel étant que la liberté de chacun soit préservée »
There has always been two menus in the canteens: one with pork, the other without pork, for those who don’t want to eat it. These possibilities will be maintained in the canteens of Fréjus” (Front National town).
Today Le Monde summarises the real conditions which the Front National operates within.
It debunks some myths. Essentially that there is a major issue about Halal food in French school, and that Marine Le Pen’s Party is laying down an important marker on the subject.
The question of pork is a sign of secularism in danger
But the issue is not new, the vast majority of canteens offers alternative dishes and have done for decades, and no religious organisation has recently made a special request on this subject.
Le Pen’s party will not accept halal in canteens
But there is none in the places where the party is in charge.
Impose the presence of pork on school menus
This is already the case for all menus that we could see in towns run by the FN.
– But maintaining a substitute menu
But this, too, is already the case in most FN run towns
– If the municipality cannot offer an alternative to pork dishes, would it keep the pork?
This is already the case in the past for menus in FN controlled towns.
– Finally, will the president of FN ensure that “there are always two menus”
This is mostly true for municipalities run by the FN, it is not in general the practice
So, not only is Halal Food not a major topic of controversy, but that all it boils down to in practice is that the Front National claims that it will “offer” a pork menu.
The only really major fault of their position (distasteful rhetoric aside) is that they do not guarantee to offer an alternative Halal – or vegetarian? – dish.
But in practice they do: as can be seen below.
|Ville FN||Restauration||Porc dans les menus||Substitution proposée?|