Monday, 17 September 2012

March and Rally for a Secular Europe 2012

March and Rally for a Secular Europe 2012
Photo: Mary G

Secularism received a bashing from Eric Pickles this week, declaring the National Secular Society to be "intolerant" and characterising secularism as a doctrine which would ban "discreet religious symbols for reasons of political correctness." Pickles additionally deserves a gold-medal for his Olympian display of mental gymnastics when stating that privileging the Christian churches with "a particularly strong claim to be heard" somehow benefits everyone else. So you can imagine my surprise when I attended the March and Rally for a Secular Europe last Saturday, with people Pickles would probably call "militant secularists," all of whom were concerned about equality for all rather than the strict control of iconography in jewellery.

Posing for the camera
Photo: Amber W

I headed down with Jenny B and there was a good turn-out of people I knew through the AHS and other organisations including the BHA and NSS. Arriving late, we hurried to put up my placard with its rubbish joke which had started out as "I don't believe in miracles, since you came along ..." but that was technically inaccurate (secularism is a political statement advocating separation of church and state and is neutral when it comes to metaphysical claims) and the only thing worse than a rubbish joke is an fallacious rubbish joke! Alternatives I had considered included "Schools for Education, not Faith Segregation" and "Get Your Hands Off My Glans!" with an angry penis backing away from a circumcision blade. I think everyone was relieved that I'd not chosen the latter!

Numbers were down on previous years with only a few hundred turning out and the rally confined to a street down the back of Kings College London student Union. The 2010 March and Rally for a Secular Europe attracted 20,000 people for "Protest the Pope" when pontiff visited the UK. Perhaps future protests need a narrower theme, though it's hard to beat the Pope for a symbol of the worst of patriarchal religious control over people's sex lives and ecclesiastical displays of wealth and power.

The speakers covered a wide range of issues of religious privilege. Sue Cox, clerical abuse victim and a leader of Survivor's Voice was characteristically enthusastic, thanking the march attendees and hailing the event as "the yearly shot in the arm which keeps me going." Survivor's Voice is an important charity supporting those who have been abused and subsequently forced into silence by the Catholic Church cover-up and the AHS will be helping to raise money for them through this year's Non-Prophet Week.

Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner, made his case strongly, criticising the promotion of inequality by religious organisations whilst acknowledging the diverse views held by individual adherents.
Tatchell: "Religious organisations are biggest threat to equality for women & LGBT people ... but there are also people of faith who have stood alongside us for secularism and equality."
It was disappointing that there was only one speaker of faith (Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director of United Sikhs) at the event and no visible representatives from other faith groups. There was one guy wearing a t-shirt saying "Young Earth Creationist: Trolling Your Meeting," but he looked pretty godless to me! Perhaps it is understandable that the two most advantaged groups - Anglicanism and Catholicism - do not come out force, after all who would want to campaign against their own privileges removed? Having said that, if those religions can only maintain their position with state-support then that must represent a certain lack of confidence in the underlying tenets.

Robin Ince ended the rally with a broad speech, expressing surprise at how secularism and equality could be twisted to be presented as somehow anti-theist and lancing the moral pomposity of organised religion.
Ince: "The question is not how you can have morals without god, but how religious organisations can be so immoral with Him."
Similarly, he expressed incomprehension at how faith schools could possibly be considered as a way of promoting diversity
Ince: "The biggest enemy of bigotry is to mix with the people that other people are trying to make you bigoted against."
He's put the text online here, but I recommend watching the video to get the full effect with wild gesticulations and physical passion filling his words with sincerity, warmth and humanity.

Robin Ince - Speech at the Secular Europe march
Video: Matryer

It turned out to be an excellent day, with the Pod Delusion's 3rd Birthday party neatly rounding off proceedings with a healthy dose of skepticism, music and fire! For those who can't wait for more secularism, there's the Secular Conference next weekend in the Conway Hall with an all-star line-up including no less than Richard Dawkins himself.

If there was a single take-home message, I think it's that framing the removal of religious privilege as a form of oppression is a simple misrepresentation of what secularism is. Secularism means equality for all, protecting both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

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