NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that … In order to be of assistance to persons carrying out religious duties within the community, the Council [of the London Borough of Barnet] are, on an experimental basis, introducing a Community Parking Permit that will enable the permit holder to park in any permitted parking place within the Borough’s Controlled Parking Zones.
Religious leaders on official business in part of north London will be able to park for free using special permits.
Applications from worshippers on faith business will also be considered.
Mike Freer, leader of the council, said: “The importance of religion to many Barnet residents cannot be underestimated and the council has acknowledged this with a policy that will assist spiritual leaders when engaging with people in times of illness or crisis.”
A new permit introduced by Barnet Council will allow people carrying out religious duties to use residents’ parking bays, to avoid the struggle to find a parking space. … Councillor Mike Freer [said] “This new permit shows our commitment to improving the quality of life for local residents and increasing wider participation for all in religious, cultural and community life.”
Religions currently recognised by the council include Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, Unitarianism and Zoroastrianism. Applications from any other religions will be considered “on their own merit” in consultation with the Barnet Multi-Faith Forum, according to the council.
The following is their attempt at humour:
In the 2001 census 390,000 people across England and Wales declared that their religion was “Jedi”, a belief inspired by the conflict between good and evil in the Star Wars series of films. Census officials bowed to public pressure to include Jedi on the list of chosen religions, but it remains to be seen if the parking badge will be awarded to people carrying out Jedi duties.
This definitely gets my new ‘religion taking the credit’ tag: if these people are doing vital work then their entitlement to permits to help them do so should depend on that, not on their faith. That would allow Humanist, atheist and secular people doing similar work to benefit, and help filter out people abusing the system for indoctrination purposes.
A few weeks before that, a report was published by the Church of England and something improbably named “the Von Hugel Institute” called Moral But No Compass. I would link to the report, but despite being both designed and likely to influence government policy, it isn’t freely available to the public. It costs £9.95. They’re charging for propaganda! (Only religious people ever do that. Well, them and McDonald’s.)
This report, according to the BBC, whose writings I am allowed to read,
The report … suggests the Church is discriminated against in competition with private companies who provide welfare, which Bishop Lowe suggested was partly the result of a continuing process of secularisation under the Labour government.
Well, surely secularisation is a good thing? I realise the Church of England are the last people who are likely to agree with that idea, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to defend their alternative. That means they have to defend it more — they clearly have a vested interest. (It’s hard to imagine what Labour government he’s been watching that he thinks are “secularising” anything at all.)
It also calls for a level playing field for faith-based organisations including churches, and for a “Minister for Religion” to be appointed.
What the hell would he do? “Hello, I’m the Minister for Religion. Are you doing religion? Yes? Splendid. How about you? Are you doing religion? No? Well, that’s fine too.” There’s no Minister for Videogames, is there? There’s not even a Minister for Sex, and that’s a potentially dangerous activity vital for the future of the country that far more voters practice that religion. I honestly cannot think of even one thing that a Minister for Religion would do. (As such, I’d love that job.) It’s also worth noting that we already have Alun Michael MP running the government’s new “Faiths Taskforce”, and Stephen Timms MP, Labour’s Vice Chair with special responsibility for Faith Groups. And the Lords Spiritual. Is that not enough?
Nor do I understand what the accusation that the government is “religiously illiterate” might mean. I might assume it means that the government doesn’t understand that religion is dangerous, divisive and discriminatory and should abandon its various faith-based initiatives, but it seems more likely that a report commissioned by the Church is using it to mean that the government doesn’t take an active interest in their particular brand of dogmatic pastimes. But since they won’t let me read the report without paying, I don’t know.
The Bishop of Hulme Stephen Lowe, spokesman on urban affairs, told BBC Radio Four’s Sunday Programme that the Church was far and away the biggest voluntary organisation in the country, and had been for centuries.
Good for you.
The bishop said the Church was providing help and support to groups as diverse as elderly, homeless and unemployed people, drug addicts and asylum seekers. It also provides hundreds of chaplains to hospitals, prisons and the armed services, and thousands of schools, he said.
Well aren’t you nice?
However, the report, published on Monday and entitled “Moral, but no Compass”, said the government showed a “significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England’s current or potential contribution in the public sphere”.
He said if the government wanted to benefit from the huge amount of work being done by the Church, it would have to change the way it dealt with it.
No. No, you’re not nice. What you’re implying, essentially, is that if the government doesn’t start handing you huge piles of public money then you’re going to stop providing help and support to elderly, homeless and unemployed people, drug addicts and asylum seekers. Is that a threat? It looks like a threat.
And it worked:
The event also marked the launch of a Labour consultation with faith groups, entitled Believing for a Better Britain, run by the new Faiths’ Taskforce, chaired by Alun Michael MP. It will be led by Malcolm Duncan, leader of the Faithworks Movement. The consultation aims to hear first-hand the concerns of faith communities and those motivated by their beliefs, in order to reflect those concerns in the next manifesto. Duncan’s lead role will ensure that the reporting remains independent.
That makes perfect sense. You don’t want your consultation into religion (about which disconcertingly little information is available and none from official sources as far as I can tell) to be at all biased, so you should get an independent arbiter in, such as the former Head of Church and Mission for the Evangelical Alliance, priest, and leader of an organisation which ‘exists to empower and inspire individual Christians and every local church to develop their role at the hub of their community’. He should be just nicely detached. He says:
People of faith are making a vital contribution to the United Kingdom. It is impossible to talk about community cohesion, joined up service delivery or strong and sustainable partnerships without understanding this.
and that’s true, but I bet almost all of those people also own cars, and I think it’s pretty clear the government doesn’t consider car-ownership something that should be rewarded.
Ultimately, I’m not against faith groups being involved in anything they might want to play at, but I don’t like the focus being on the faith. Faith is irrelevant at best. Focussing on faith excludes secular and Humanist groups, and it distracts from the main issue, which should surely be the work that’s being done. Charities and voluntary organisations should be judged on their work, not on their ‘ethos’. That way, a faith group that doesn’t discriminate would be at no disadvantage, and nor would a secular group who don’t discriminate.
I maintain that the government should be totally secular: it shouldn’t care at all about the religion of its people or organisations. If you want to run a religious charity, you go right ahead, but you’re still bound by all UK law regardless of what the Bible might say about gay people. “The advancement of religion” shouldn’t be a valid activity for a registered charity (PDF, page 5, although this whole document is ridiculous) any more than the advancement of drinking Coca-cola is, because the government shouldn’t care what religion, if any, you have. If ‘faith leaders’ want to talk to MPs, that’s fine, but they can damn well talk to their own MPs like everybody else. Religion shouldn’t exempt anyone from any law, and nor should it grant you any extra protections — don’t expect the law to act just because something someone says offends your faithful sensibilities. Churches wouldn’t get tax breaks. Obviously any bishops who wanted to sit in Parliament would just have to win an election like everyone else — or maybe make a large cash donation to the Labour Party. (Also I would not allow any private groups to run schools. All schools would be entirely secular and run by the state, and homeschooling would be legal only for those parents who demonstrated they wanted their children to learn a balanced curriculum and have access to support outside the home — which they would be required to demonstrate by not asking to homeschool them.) Ideally, religious discrimination rules would be axed: the government wouldn’t recognise religion at all, but it would recognise that you believe things — and that is a perfectly good basis on which to make employment decisions. Pragmatically, they’d probably be necessary as long as religion was widespread, although I think a general “you must only consider relevant things when making employment decisions” might be a suitable compromise. There would be no law against inciting religious hatred, but there would be a law against preaching any form of bigotry: atheists are evil; gay people are evil; Muslims are evil; whatever. The same law would thereby protect and condemn religious groups as and when they deserve either. And the government wouldn’t deal with organisations like Faithworks, because they exist to promote something that the government wouldn’t recognise.
That’s how I’d run a country. I feel sure it’d save a lot of bother.