In favour of privatisation

Of religion, that is. And not the ads on public transport type – the liberal secularist type.

Somebody passed me this petition calling for state recognition and salary for a female cleric in a far off land of which I know little, to bring her in line with her more conservative counterparts.

She is at a detriment, and because of her sex as well as her religious denomination, but I don’t support this. State funding and state recognition of one religion under-privileges, in a number of different ways, citizens of other religions and – most importantly to me personally – none; it takes their money and subsidises the religious choices of others. As the case of the Church of England over the centuries shows, the power accrued has been significant – for example there remains a rump of 26 Lords Spiritual on the legislature. They actually get to contribute to debates and try to influence the vote. It’s good that things are going in the other direction now – an end to the blasphemy laws, civil and same sex partnerships, but there is still a fair way to go.

So I think we should oppose state funding or special status for any religion, while at the same time defending the freedom of all religions – including, for example, the freedom to conduct public acts of worship. Nor do I think we owe religions respect, only defence – and only insofar as they aren’t themselves illiberal.

So I’m with Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802.

I want a liberal secularist society of the John Rawls variety – religious communities thriving as private associations under the law without claiming either my respect or my taxes.


12 thoughts on “In favour of privatisation

  1. America = disistablished church but no belief in god = lose election
    UK = established church but mention belief in god = lose election

    so be careful what you wish for as there might not be such a direct link between these things.

  2. I think what Matt is partly saying is that a US presidential hopeful won’t get elected unless they say they’re religious.

    Never mind a black president, a president who has made it clear throughout their campaign that they are an atheist – now THAT would be amazing.

    Anyway, I thoroughly agree with you, FiG. Unfortunately, the results of Prop 8 here in California show there’s a long way to go. That said, a lot of the Yes vote was just plain homophobia.

  3. Yeah, awful news about Prop 8. Speaking to Laura and Toni the other week about how even before then if they got married Laura wouldn’t be able to immigrate because it’s state law and not federal law really brought it home to me how much more difficult international love is if you’re gay.

  4. Hi FiG
    You will see that I am with you on this one…
    Here is a letter I intend to send in the next few days to the board of Governor of my kids school.

    To the attention of the Chair of Governors and all Governors of XYZ School

    Object: Is our School an inclusive non-denominational School or a Christian School?

    Last year, Christmas celebrations in the Infant consisted in a Nativity play finishing with the sentence (read by a teacher) “and after all, this is the true life of Jesus Christ, so let’s celebrate.” I mentioned this event, effectively an instance of religious proselytism, in a meeting with the Head Teacher early in this year hoping that future celebrations would be more respectful of other faiths and non-believers.

    This year, the end of year celebration bringing together “all” the children and parents of KS2 will be a “Christingle & Carol Service in ZYX Church.” Parents and children who have a different faith or do not hold religious beliefs are thus given the choice between being forced to go to Church or being excluded from this whole School event.

    If children, or their families who do not feel comfortable going to a Church to sing Christian songs are given the choice between being excluded from the end of year celebrations, or being made uncomfortable, then it practically makes the claim that the school is “inclusive” meaningless. It renders the concept of “non-denominational schools” rather meaningless too.

    The 2006 Education and Inspection Act puts a new duty on Schools to promote community cohesion. Specific acts of worship of a single faith, even the dominant one, do not promote community cohesion.

    The 2006 Equality Act puts the School under an obligation of not discriminating on grounds of religious or non-religious beliefs. Excluding parents and children who are not of Christian background and would not feel comfortable going to Church from the end of the year celebrations is, in effect, discriminatory, even if, of course, no intent of discrimination was present in the decision to organize this event in the Church.

    Under the Every Child Matters agenda, Schools have a duty to become more inclusive. All-school celebrations which are based around a single faith and take place in a religious settings are not inclusive.

    I hope that the board of governors will consider the question thoroughly and I am happy to provide more informations to the board or join a discussion on this matter.

    Best regards

  5. FiG and Rapha, whilst I agree entirley with your sentiments (I am no fan of relgion) this post is based on the established church being an issue.

    Given that there is legislation to prevent the discrimination like that which appears to have been practiced in the example above I am not sure that the ‘state sponsored’ religion is actually the problem.

  6. Papanomicron, it wasn’t based on the established church being the issue – it was trying to work out how you make a decision when one person is at a detriment – but in a sphere which should be private anyway.

    I’m for doing away with state funding / recognition for clerics and Rapha isn’t calling for a religious celebration for all denominations – he’s after an end to religious celebrations.

    Colleague told me today that in Germany they still have a church tax and she’s not sure if, say, mosques get a cut. She raised the point that the state takes these assorted clerics to have a powerful role in the public good. But what about the atheists – where is their share of the pot?

  7. should be reading your posts more carefully and not arguing with truthers on HP.

    Why I am trying to argue with you given my thoughts on those who believe in fairies I don’t know anyway – time for bed I suspect.

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