Secularism has been described as a separation of church and state. In the UK, historically our government has been closely linked to the Church of England. As a result there are many instances where religious groups in general, and Christians in particular, are given special privileges over others. We argue that in a modern, multi-cultural, and increasingly non-religious society such practices are unfair.
Why does it matter if religious groups are given privileges?
We think it is fundamentally unjust, and contrary to our human rights, for one group of people to be given special treatment over any other. Such practices encourage hatred, bias and discord betwen different groups in society. Every citizen should have equal access to public sector facilities and their rights should be equally valued by the state.
Give an example of religious privilege
A prime example is schools attached to a religious denomination. Many of our state-funded schools are ‘faith schools’, which are allowed to select pupils and staff based on their religious preference. If an organisation discriminated in this way on any other basis, such as race, sexuality or age, it would be seen as discrimination and against the law. Education is a key area where we campaign for equality.
Do we want to get rid of religion?
No, Secularists are not opposed to individuals following their own faith. In fact, one of the basic principles of Secularism is that our individual choices are protected by law. In the UK, we are protected by human rights legislation, which includes the right to follow – or not follow – a religious faith.
Does Secularism = atheism?
Secularism is an often misunderstood term. In the past, the word “secular” was used to describe a general non-religious worldview, but this meaning is now considered out of date. Because of this historic meaning, secularism is often confused with atheism, but whilst many secularists are atheists, some do have a religious faith. They simply agree with the principle that their faith should not be a reason for them to be given special privileges by the state.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves…
“Secularists oppose religion or the religious being afforded privileges, which – put another way – means others are disadvantaged… Secularists are not against the right of individuals to have a religious faith. What they oppose is special treatment for religious beliefs and organisations.” BBC Online
“Secularism, like democracy, involves treating people as individuals, not as members of a group.” Muriel Fraser
“Secularism is a belief in equality in politics, education and law, regardless of religious belief.” Richard Gilyead, (in letter to The Guardian, 10 April 2008).
Find out more
To find out more about Secularism, visit the National Secular Society website, take a look at some of our recommended books or come along to one of our meetings or events and ask us in person!