Happy Christmas, secular Britain

Posted: Tue, 20th Dec 2022 by Stephen Evans

Happy Christmas, secular Britain

2022 was the year which made the case for secularism stronger than ever – not only in the UK but across the world, says Stephen Evans.

Claims that striking unions have declared 'war on Christmas' have at least taken the heat off secularists this year.

Previous Decembers have seen a steady slew of tall stories about 'militant' secularists wanting to take the 'Christ out of Christmas' or replace it entirely with some sort of godless Winterval. The claims were usually nonsense but batting them away became something of a Christmas tradition at NSS HQ. Things have been quieter this year. Perhaps our message is getting though?

Christmas has never been the target of secularists. Like almost everyone else, we see it for the inclusive religious/secular mash up that it is ­– and welcome the chance for a bit of a midwinter break.

In truth, nobody can claim Christmas as their own. The same should be said of our state and its intuitions.

Prime ministers and political leaders have in the past used this time of year to claim Britain is a 'Christian country'. Such claims have never been accurate, but this year's census figures should ensure that claim is retired for good.

The number of people identifying as Christian falling below half of the population is a watershed moment. Church of England Sunday attendance figures being at just 0.9% of the English population tell an even starker story. Christianity being a minority interest provides a real opportunity now to rethink and reform our political settlement to reflect reality. The census figures paint a picture of growing irreligiosity and religious pluralism. An inclusive secular state, not a Christian country, is the best way to manage that diversity.

Next year's coronation in which King Charles will be anointed by a bishop and swear to defend the Anglican faith will serve as a glaring reminder of the archaic religious privilege at the heart of our constitution. It's a privilege that makes every sensible secular reform a herculean task.

Nevertheless, throughout 2022 we've been working tirelessly to achieve a secularist influence over public policy. Our proposals for updating marriage law were reflected in the Law Commission's recommendations for reform. In the face of religious opposition, we've successfully lobbied to improve women's access to abortion services and for a review of assisted dying laws. We've promoted the rights of children to live, learn and develop their beliefs free from religious coercion and control. And we've stepped up whenever necessary to remind religious offence takers that free speech is a positive value we're unwilling to surrender.

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Secularism's role in allowing equality and human rights to flourish is too often unrecognised and hugely underappreciated. In a world where polarisation, authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism are gaining ground, the secular liberal democratic ideals that underpin human rights can't be taken for granted.

This year's US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v Wade was a wakeup call to remind us all that conservative religious views threaten women's reproductive rights globally. Closer to home an ascendant religious right is eroding reproductive freedoms in Italy and Poland.

Meanwhile, women and religious and sexual minorities living under Islamic regimes have continued to feel the full force of a complete absence of secularism. The Iranian women leading protests and risking their lives to overthrow their despised theocratic rulers know better than most that a state separated from religious institutions is necessary to protect everyone's rights and freedoms.

Secularism's time has come.

Our mission now is to bring people together to build a freer, fairer and more tolerant society. A secular state is the best means of achieving this.

So, enjoy the festive break – and make it your mission to make a stand for secularism. Join us as a member today, and we'll put your principles to work, championing freedom of belief, expression and choice.

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