THE BLOG
16/02/2012 07:19 GMT | Updated 17/04/2012 06:12 BST

Politicians Out of Touch With Secular Public

Bad news. Militant secularism is out to get you. It wants to deprive your children of morality, rights and religious freedom. Or so says Baroness Warsi. And unfortunately she is not alone.

Bad news. Militant secularism is out to get you. It wants to deprive your children of morality, rights and religious freedom. Or so says Baroness Warsi.

And unfortunately she is not alone. Since the coalition government came into office, God has been creeping back into the public space. In December, David Cameron fervently defended the role of religion in politics in a speech marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

There is even a growing body of atheist apologists - in no small part spear-headed by Alain de Botton - who seem to maintain that non-believers have become too outspoken, too visceral, and evidently too effective in their diatribe against religion. But is this really true?

There is Dawkins, yes, who seems to have spent the last four decades honing his ability to be unlikeable. But the secular debate has nothing to do with charisma. It doesn't even have so much to do with whether or not God exists. It is about removing the (often corrosive) influences of religion from the realm of public policy.

Women and sexual minorities still bear the brunt of many didactic Christian impositions of "absolute morality" that have no place in a modern liberal society. Dianne Abbott recently resigned from a cross-party group that she dismissed as "window-dressing" for a move to deprive women of secular abortion counselling. The leader of the initiative - devout Christian and Tory MP Nadine Dorries - also tabled a bill calling for teenage girls - and only girls - to be given compulsory abstinence lessons as part of the national curriculum. Luckily it was pulled at the eleventh hour.

There is no doubt this regressive political agenda has support in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has himself publicly proclaimed that "it is impossible to view abortion as anything other than the deliberate termination of a human life." Meanwhile the ordination of women as bishops has only recently gained institutional footing and the vast majority of church leaders still view homosexuality as a sin.

In this context it is perplexing that so many - including Cameron - continue to brandish the bible as a shield against "moral collapse". More worryingly still is the assumption that atheists want for moral direction. Even Alain De Botton bizarrely argues that we are all "children" who need constant lessons in the distinction between right and wrong. (We can of course all breathe a sigh of relief that his School of Life is on hand to provide it.)

The suggestion that "militant" secularism is in any way discriminatory or comparable to totalitarianism is of course ridiculous. Secularism does not promote anti-religious sentiment, merely religious neutrality. This protects religious minorities - including non-believers - from intrusions from a predominantly Christian state. More importantly it protects all its citizens from the archaic moralisms of the Established Church.

Some believers suggest that atheists misrepresent secularist philosophy. Elizabeth Hunter recently argued that we should seek to "open a space where all people and all voices are allowed space to flourish" but goes on to suggest that democratic values outweigh minority opinion. She adds that the recent prayer ban controversy could have been settled outside of court - overlooking the fact that Bideford Council twice over-ruled Councillor Clive Bone's objections.

It is further difficult to envision how secularism can practically coexist with a system that is both constitutionally and politically tied to the Anglican Church. The UK is the only country - other than Iran - that grants automatic seats to senior clerics in its legislature. Daily prayers still take place in Parliament and nearly one third of the state's education budget is pumped into Christian schools. These policies are not only biased and grossly unjustified but serve to endorse a broader framework of discrimination and harmful propaganda.

For all the pushback that Richard Dawkins' latest research has received - it yields some interesting results. The vast majority (74%) of self-professed Christians support a separation between church and state. 62% are in favour of a woman's right to choose and 61% support gay marriage. These are important findings - not because they tell us whether religious self-identifications are relevant - but because they show us that it is political theists - not secularists - that have lost touch with the public.