If you don’t support religious freedom, then you don’t support freedom

by Kevin Meagher

Given we’re constantly told we live in an age of evidence-based policy-making, the reaction to the so-called Trojan Horse case in Birmingham owes more to Medieval peasant superstition.

What has warranted the blanket media coverage of recent weeks? No organised conspiracy to ‘Islamify’ state schools in Birmingham has been uncovered. No evidence of criminality has been produced. No charges are pending.

All that has happened so far, despite almost daily media attention and a series of top-level investigations, is that a handful of schools in one if the poorest parts of the city are to be placed in special measures at the behest of schools inspectors.

Yes, there are suspicions about what might have gone on, however much of the reporting has been little more than conjecture – more heat than light – blackening the reputation of Birmingham’s Muslim community in the process.

But that didn’t stop yesterday’s Observer. With no substantive news from Birmingham to report, the paper fell back on the old tactic of producing an opinion poll which showed:

“70% [of the public] said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out, for the avoidance of doubt, that parents who want to send their children to faith schools are still taxpayers. Just as it’s worth noting that none of the schools involved in the Trojan Horse ‘scandal’ are, in fact, faith schools at all.

Nevertheless, shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, was enjoined to comment. He thought the case “raised questions” about “how we manage potential tensions” around “faith, multiculturalism and state education”.

Underneath the angst about ‘hardliners’ or ‘extremists’ trying to take over Birmingham schools is a lazy and, frankly, racist, assumption that immigrants who have come to these shores in the past few decades will eschew their religion and culture to join home-grown Brits in trudging aimlessly around shopping malls on a Sunday afternoon. It has not come to fruition so far, nor will it. Why on earth should we expect Muslims not to think and act like Muslims?

This is the real significance of what is going on in Birmingham. The UK now has a resident Muslim population of three million. They aren’t prepared to stay hidden on the margins any longer. They want to retain their religious views and practices and part of that demand now extends to the schooling of their children.

Yet, if the price of more Muslim schools is a reduction in kids making long trips back to family members in Pakistan to avoid becoming ‘Westernised’, or if it weakens the influence of back street madrasses, then this is progress.

What Muslim community leaders in Birmingham are guilty of is trying to get faith schools by the backdoor – and on the cheap. By packing the governing bodies of non-faith schools, they are avoiding digging into their pockets like Catholics and Anglicans do. They fork out ten per cent of the capital costs of their voluntary-aided church schools.

Yet the situation in Birmingham conveniently serves as a proxy for those who would like to abolish all ‘faith schools’. So we are quickly diverted into talking about the apparent perniciousness Church of England and Catholic schools (which account for the vast majority of faith schools). They are, we are frequently told by people with no experience of them, hotbeds of division, fermenting religious tension and using religious adherence to control their admissions policy.

Piffle, of course, but lots of non-faith schools have tough admissions criteria. At Tristram Hunt’s alma mater, University School in Hampstead, the admissions policy was coughing up a hefty £6,000 a term.

Indeed, the concept of gender segregation is also well-rooted in our schools system. As Harriet Harman, a former pupil of the illustrious St. Paul’s School for Girls in London (£7,000 a term), could testify.

But behind the situation in Birmingham and the hoary old bluster about faith schooling lies something else: For a large and noisy chunk of the liberal-left, the religious are simply all mad and wicked.

Well, that’s not quite true. If a vicar opens a food bank or an Archbishop berates a minister over the bedroom tax then they are tolerable; in a “useful idiot” sort of way. But that’s as far as it goes.

Religion can have no role, either as a voice in the public sphere, nor can its adherents get involved in the business of providing public services. They are inherently divisive and their values are inimical to those of ‘enlightened’ secularists.

Again, words are misused. I am a secularist too. I don’t see any need for a Sharia-compliant air pollution strategy or, for that matter, a Catholic transport strategy (although this might well involve renationalising the railways for the Common Good).

Yet, supporting peoples’ religious freedoms is what pluralism and tolerance – two of our much-vaunted British values – are all about. Alas, the faux liberal-left simply thinks everyone should behave and think like them. Of course, in this respect, they are not liberal at all.

Personally, I dislike the practice of Halal and Kosher slaughter of animals, but I recognise this is incredibly important to Muslims and Jews and respecting their religious practices should outweigh the circumstances in which animals bred for the plate arrive on it.

There are some reasonable and workable red lines we can apply to Muslim schooling and, when the hysteria in Birmingham abates, perhaps we will return to them. (Just as the Department for Education ‘expect[s] to see’ evolution, not Creationism taught in science lessons in evangelical Christian schools).

Unfortunately, the fact remains that religious freedom is a cause the liberal-left simply doesn’t want to champion. But if you don’t believe in it, then you don’t believe in freedom at all.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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9 Responses to “If you don’t support religious freedom, then you don’t support freedom”

  1. swatantra says:

    Strange posting.
    The fact is ‘freedom of speech and activites involvong ibndividual liberties’, gives people like extremists an opportunity to make a mockery of ‘Freedom. And I don’t subscribe to that at all. We cannot have people that believe in jihad or sharia trampling over the rights of others. We cannot have FGM or forced marriages or racists being allowed to say what they like. We have Laws to stop them. I aldso personally fdon’t like halal or kosher, these are ritual killings from a bygone age. And I don’t like hijabs and burkahs and nicabs, that deny freedom to womenoften conditioned into wearing them. I don’t like child prides being taking out of the country for marriage to first cousins. Lets put a stop to all this nonsense and the curtailing of an individuals freedom to live and grow and not be cosnstrained or segrated or hidden from society.
    People like Kevin simply pander and pay lipservice to the concept of freedom. What they are saying is let these practices continue, becaise I don’t want to challenge you. Its the cowards way out.

  2. Michael says:


    And so, as with Rousseau, the recalcitrant will just have to be forced to be free…

  3. Tafia says:

    Religion must ALWAYS be secondary to the laws of the land in every respect. Where there is a conflict of interest, religion must always yield to the law and the state. And if it doesn’t then it must be forced to, very publicly and with the greatest severity.

    Laws, customs and common practice should not – ever – be altered to take account of religion and there should be no heed paid to ‘religious sensitivities’.

    I once worked in an establishment where sikhs were allowed to carry their dagger yet any other member of staff faced instant dismissal for carrying a knife.

  4. John Teid says:

    Parents should have the freedom , to tell their kids about a individual religion, although not scientifically correct, and use school to do so, and school governors should have the freedom, to see if that schools interpretation of religion breaks the law, having single sex comprehensive schools,has never been used to I doctrine into kids, that women and men’s roles in society should be different, religious schools, implying that women should have a different education to men does.

  5. Dave Roberts says:

    What exactly is the writer saying? It seems to me that he is saying that for some reason an unnamed group of individuals have decided to concoct a conspiracy in schools in Birmingham for the sole purpose of demonising the Muslim religion. Can we establish if this is what is at issue here?

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    “Religion can have no role, either as a voice in the public sphere, nor can its adherents get involved in the business of providing public services. ”

    All Tories and Labour people are just the same. Labour people are Fascists. Tories are all reliable left wingers. UKIP are all Communist. The EDL runs the Labour Party. BNP are Fabian socialists.

    With these totally ridiculous and totally untrue statements, the idea that all politicians are the same is proved to be ridiculous. It is, of course, a reductio ad absurdum.

    If I say that Muslims are all Church of England. Or if I say that all Christians are Muslim, then isn’t that equally ridiculous?

    I know that recommending sites is a bit naff, but please do look at this one. I do not think that, here, you are dealing with the Church of England or the Methodists, do you?

  7. John Reid says:

    Mike Stallard,your opening quote about religion not having a place in the public sphere, was that quote from someone or the article above, I couldn’t find it,

    No one os saying that Christians have the same values a some Muslims regarding gays or women, but the comparison that it’s utterly wrong to say that as Labpur aren’t the same. As the Tories or that those people are the opposite of what they’ve proclaimed, is silly.

    For the record, I’m sure their have been a few fascists in Labour over the years, there’s been Socialists,like in the words of Attlee, Harold Mcmillan in the Tories, and Ukip and the BNP have been invited to talk at our Fabians,didn’t the BNP claim that EDL was a Zionist organisation, Lord Glasman said labour should listen to those who have the same concerns as the EDL

  8. Ex labour says:

    Never let the facts get in the way of a leftist cause eh kevin ? If there are facts that shoot your case down then cry “racist”. You are so predictable.

    A culture of fear, bullying of teachers, deliberate attempts to change school culture, ignoring the national ciriculum, inappropriate influence, misuse of school funds, governance issues, unequal gender treatment, the list goes on and on.

    With religous freedoms comes religous responsibilites. The problem with you and the left in general you dont believe in personal responsibility.

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    There should be religious freedom

    But also, religion should be for the private sphere.

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