The High Court in Birmingham made permanent an interim injunction against a group of protesters who had been staging an ongoing demonstration outside Anderton Park Primary School in the city. The protesters contested that the teaching of LGBT relationships contradicted their Islamic faith and used the veiled statement that the lessons are not “age appropriate”.
The protesters are, in reality, seeking to reintroduce Section 28 by mob intimidation, disguised as religious freedom and on the pretence of child welfare and protection. They are motivated by dogmatic beliefs which, while they have the right to hold these and worship howsoever they choose, they do not have any right to influence State education policy, which ought to be secular. It’s possible to get into a whole other treatise upon disestablishmentarianism but it’s not for this article.
Abrahamic organised religions are socially repressive and homophobic by their very nature. Whether or not their scriptures express this explicitly in the text, interpretive machinations by their priests, imams and rabbis need little to no creativity to conjure such tropes when armed with ambiguous works of fiction stretching to hundreds of thousands of words. The resultant religious dogma, carried by evangelical proselytism, infects the congregational psyche like a viral contagion. So, while not all followers of such religions may hold these views of their own volition, the religion actively creates space for such prejudices to inhabit and to metastasise.
Religion has another crucially damning facet, its tendency to seek to monopolise morality. This is particularly so in established State religion where the institutions of nations are mobilised to impose beliefs upon the national consciousness and imprint them upon the social fabric of its people. This includes prejudices around the religion’s chosen moral anathema. It just so happens that homosexuality is one such anathema common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Liberal secularism having taken precedence in most Western democracies has led Christianity in particular to attempt to tolerate perceived abhorrences but, now and again, backlash and regression occur.
Take the introduction of that notorious Section 28 in the UK in the 1980s, a legislative mechanism of oppression to a whole generation of LGBTQ+ individuals who are now in their 20s and 30s. Wiping knowledge of the very existence of an inviolable human trait from the face of the Earth, as far as children of the time were concerned, was an irrevocably hurtful and damaging act. Imagine denying children of one race the knowledge that any other race than theirs existed for the whole of their education. Yet, the curriculum of the time still required wide ranging study of the superstitious myths and fables of the World’s religions, which are a completely free choice to believe or not. This perversion must never be repeated whether by State or mob zealotry.
Religion must be tolerated and the freedom of worship and belief, or lack of it, must be vociferously defended but that is where it must stop. The right and freedom of expression to lampoon and criticise religion should be defended and upheld as the stronger when these inevitably come into conflict with one another. Tolerance and respect for the right to freedom of belief and worship by no means protects that religion from robust challenge in any form. Similarly, when the practice and observance of religion is forced up against secular society, it must be secular society that takes precedence.
Consider the example of religious dress. Sikh men cannot expect to carry their ceremonial daggers through airports and onto planes with impunity, we place a restriction for reasons of safety. While not always about safety, Islamic women who choose to wear a face veil for whatever reason cannot expect to fully participate and interact in a society where social recognition, trust and transaction can so often rely upon the display of faces to one another. In Western society we read facial cues subconsciously and subtle but vital information is conveyed in those non verbal communications. So, while there should be no legislative restrictions on such dress per se, as has been the way of the nationally secular French, choosing to dress in this way will, and should, have its inherent consequences. Being unable access services in banks and shops, collect young children from school, or to use or engage with the Court system are all examples of valid trade offs to this choice of attire. Society must stand unapologetic and firm in the face of this conscious and deliberate choice but also with an open handed welcome to all for positive engagement and interaction within our culture no matter that person’s background. This is not to impose bland homogeny, our society is all the richer for its many diverse multicultural influences, rather it is to provide a public space where we come together as a community with commonality. In doing so, we all temporarily leave parts of our individuality behind for the good of the group, instinctive and natural to the social animals that we humans are, as natural a trait as homosexuality is.