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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Nick Clegg Should Be Commended For His Honesty, Not Pilloried

Reacting to the news that the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has said that he doesn’t believe in God, the National Secular Society (NSS) said that he should be commended for his honesty.

Terry Sanderson, President of the NSS, said: “Mr Clegg has been honest about his beliefs and that should be commended. We hope that his opponents will not try to use this honesty against him. A non-believing MP can be a good, all-round representative of the people, it doesn’t make him anti-religious.

“We worry that the religious interests that are resurgent at the moment will try to exploit this news in destructive ways. In the USA a recent poll indicated that it would be almost impossible for an atheist to become president. We would certainly not want that situation in this country. If that had been the case, we wouldn’t have had Winston Churchill in Downing Street.

“To charges that he wasn’t open about his beliefs – or lack of them – before his election, we would point to Ruth Kelly, who kept her association with the Catholic group Opus Dei quiet. Her constituents knew nothing about it until newspapers exposed it.”

Mr Sanderson added: “We certainly hope that religion is not going to be an issue for politicians in Britain as it is in the USA, where presidential candidates are hysterically trying to outdo each other in the piety stakes. We must not allow religion to become a test for public office in this country. We have, until now, regarded such opinions as personal and private.”

Mr Sanderson commented: “The NSS has expressed concern at the recent grouping of Catholic MPs in Parliament, who had been to a meeting with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor to discuss opposition to the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill and had secured the lifting of the Government whip from the vote. The intrusion of religion into politics in such an overt way, and almost certainly against the wishes of the majority of the MP’s constituents, is unacceptable. If politicians are going to vote at the behest of a religious organisation, they should be upfront about it at election time. At least atheist MPs aren’t open to such lobbies with a powerful emotional hold over them and can truly vote with their conscience.”

The National Secular Society’s founder, Charles Bradlaugh, was a radical MP in the nineteenth century who was denied his seat in Parliament because he was an atheist and was thought to be unable to take the religious parliamentary oath (the only option then). He was re-elected five times before Parliament allowed him to take his seat. He then brought forward legislation that would allow MPs to affirm as well as swear on the Bible.

December 19 2007


Published Wed, 19 Dec 2007