Democracy, Secularism and Religious Freedom

I had a little debate on Twitter today with a columnist for the Guardian a Dutch MEP (hadn’t realised until I checked my sources!). Now, of course, you can’t really debate on twitter – its more a case of slogan shall speak unto slogan.

So there were a number of tweets back and forth – well three on each side to be precise!

It arose over the judgement from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and the role of crucifixes in schools in Italy! A lady from Finland moved to Italy and sent her child to school there. She objected to there being a crucifix in the classroom. Presumably because she was oppressed and because it would mean freedom for millions of others she decided to take it to the highest court in Italy (where she lost) and then took it to the European Court of Human Rights  where she won. This caused large-scale outrage in Italy where the crucifix is both a religious and a national symbol and they appealed the decision. It has just been announced that the Italian government has won. Ms in ‘t Veld was not amused.

Though it seems that most of the people want to keep them – but hey democracy presumably must be policed by people as sane as Ms in ‘t Veld.

Further more she saw it as vital for the Middle East as well

But the question is surely a valid one for both sides to discussed.

The problem with people such as Ms in ‘t Veldt is that they see their worldview as the only valid one. One that excludes religious beliefs from the general marketplace of society. It was shown the other night by Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou on the Bible’s Buried Secrets where she demanded that religion and politics be separated, which as I pointed out is both a religious and a political statement! But in a democracy she has a right to express her views BUT she has no greater rights than others (and the same is true for me).

The point is this. There is no neutral space. People don’t grow up in a vacuum whereby they get to an age where they rationally decide and view everything from a neutral position. We all of us have views and a background to contend with. Some of this is helpful and some of it unhelpful. But no-one can grow up in a state where our upbringing doesn’t mould us.

Now no country (that I know of) is asking for Arab states to have a secular democracy. Most European countries recognise that religion is part of the weft and wove of society and realise that it is very unlikely that there would be total separation of religion and state in the Middle East. What most would not want to see is a Theocracy – self-appointed religious leaders deciding what is acceptable and controlling society.

What most need is Democracy. Where the people decide. Now within this what we find is that democracy also realises that minorities need protecting. But a crucifix in a classroom? Please!!! As the court realised this is not a major issue that a country can’t sort out for themselves.


One comment on “Democracy, Secularism and Religious Freedom

  1. AbnormalWrench
    October 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Religious tolerance isn’t the mere allowing people to hold opinions on religion. It is actually respecting the various religious opinions too. I’m always surprised this is so hard to grasp for some people. Putting one religion up on a pedestal in a governmental institution is saying, you may believe whatever you like, but this one is most important.

    The issue is the endorsement, not the limiting of ideas. Religions do just fine without being endorsed by the government. This doesn’t prevent people from discussing them or wearing it on their sleeve. Nor is it an argument against educating people about religious beliefs.

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