Opinion: State Should Be Neutral Toward Religion

September 19, 2005

Source: New Statesman


On September 19, 2005 the New Statesman ran an opinion piece by Nick Cohen, a columnist for The Guardian, about the controversy over faith-based schools and welfare services in the UK. Cohen argues, "The London bombings have brought Britain to a decisive point where it can choose between two incompatible versions of liberalism. The first path is the one new Labour has been stumbling along for so long. In the name of tolerating diversity, it wants faith schools that will deliver sectarian education, faith-based charities that will deliver sectarian welfare, and a universal blasphemy law to inhibit faith's many critics. Respecting difference sounds and often is admirable, but it will lead to a liberal apartheid that separates Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs... The alternative is to follow the liberal principle of equality... The overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish state schools should be abolished because they offend against equality of access. As there are hardly any Muslim schools, no one will be able to shout about Islamophobia. If we don't abolish them, then we'll have a country where whites go to Christian and Jewish schools and browns go to Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools. In short, the state should stop playing God. It should say to people of all faiths and to the large number of us with none that it is neutral and will treat us equally."