When a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion, it is said to be secular.If being a secular state means keeping religion out of public life and out of education then quite clearly Britain is not a secular state.The Church of England (Anglican church) is still nominally an established church, and the Queen is the titular head of the Anglican church. I think it is fair to say that most people have no problem with the fact that we have a state religion and if they think about it at all they feel it is mostly a formality and believe that the governance of the UK is relatively secular.
But of course it is far more insidious than that and religion does influence many aspects of our lives.For example, in politics; there are prayers before parliament,in England, Church appointments are Crown appointments, the Church carries out important state functions such as coronations, a number of high Church officials have seats in the House of Lords (26 out of a total of 789 members), and are known as the Lords Spiritual as opposed to the Lords Temporal- royal weddings,state funerals and even the fact that there is still a religious ‘Thought for the Day on BBC’s ‘Today’ programme proves beyond doubt that religion is still entwined in our lives whether we like it or not. Conservative politicians particularly seems to be very much influenced by religion; indeed the Church of England has sometimes been nicknamed “the Conservative Party at prayer.” Generally speaking it is the right-wing lobby groups which talk up the idea of “preserving Britain’s Christian heritage” or insist that “Britain is a Christian country,” conveniently overlooking the unpalatable truth that the British Empire was claiming to be Christian while engaged in the slave trade, whilst committing committing genocide in Tasmania as well as many other unspeakable acts which are glossed over in out history and RE lessons.Christian symbols such as the cross are clung on to because many people are still attached to an outdated and reactionary idea of what it means to be British and Christian language can be misused as an excuse for homophobia and racial prejudice, especially by those who believe literally in The Bible.
Religion also affects our education system; a quarter of all primary schools are Church of England schools. The great majority of public schools are Christian foundations. Until 1944 there was no requirement for state schools to provide religious education or worship, although most did so. The 1944 Education Act introduced a requirement for a daily act of collective worship (the dreaded assembly) and for the teaching of Religious Education.The act contained provisions to allow parents to withdraw their children from these activities and gave teachers the right to refuse to participate. The Education Reform Act 1988 introduced a further requirement that most assemblies be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.In honour of the 400th anniversary of the Authorized King James Version, in 2012, the government is distributing a copy of the Bible to all primary and secondary schools.As one correspondent in the newspaper wrote, “It is state-sponsored indoctrination in religious belief, and must be stopped. Schools should be for teaching, not preaching.”
But religious zealots have their tentacles everywhere. On Saturday I heard on the radio the author Philip Pullman explaining why the sequel to the film of his book, The Golden Compass had never been made.He said simply that it was because of the outright opposition in America to the book’s theme of anti-organised religion.The author said, “When religion gets its hands on the levers of power – whether to go to war, hold people prisoner or decide what they can or can’t do – that is when it is dangerous. I find it very hard to understand how anyone can disagree with that.In the world we live in, both Catholics and Protestants have wielded that power to the detriment of very many people.” Even the former Archbishop of Canterbury in 2008 said that, that “it would not be the end of the world if the established church disappeared.” If people thought about it they would agree that the dis-establishment of the Church of England is not only desirable, but necessary.It is completely unacceptable for a certain Church to occupy such a position in the State.