Just over a year ago, the Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss and otherwise known as CORAB, published Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good. On 17 January, the University of Warwick’s Department of Politics and International Studies formally launched A Secularist Response to the Commission on Religion in Public Life, based on the outcome of panel discussions in March 2016 chaired by Dr Steven Kettell. The report addresses three main areas: vision; education and media; and dialogue, action and law. As might be deduced from the title, its main conclusions are as follows:
- Given its declining cultural standing, religion should not be accorded the same status in schools as core subjects such as reading and maths.
- Faith schools should be ended; they foster segregation and have a negative impact on social cohesion.
- Attempts to dictate the way that religion is reported by the press should be resisted and there should be no guidelines on minimum hours for religious broadcasts in the BBC charter.
- Public funds should not be used to promote religious viewpoints and should only be used to support interfaith dialogue where there is a clear social purpose.
- Existing exemptions from equalities legislation allowing discrimination by religious bodies on the grounds of belief should be repealed.
- Citizens who use religious tribunals should be made fully aware of their rights in civil law.
The purpose of the response, say its authors, is
“to provide a critical counterweight to the CORAB recommendations and ensure a secular viewpoint can be heard in the ongoing debate about the role of religion in British public life. It emphasises an alternative secularist framework to ensure that the rights and freedoms of all citizens are afforded equal weight and protection.”
A summary of its policy implication is available here.