UK Cabinet Minister Slams 'Militant Secularism'
Byline: Associated Press
LONDON -- When it comes to religion, British politicians tend to heed the famous advice of Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell -- "We don't do God." In contrast to the United States, the deity is rarely invoked on the campaign trail or in political speeches.
But a Muslim Cabinet minister has become the latest member of Prime Minister David Cameron's government to urge the country to embrace its Christian heritage. Sayeeda Warsi also said that "militant" secularism poses a threat to Europe, a comment that has angered atheists and highlighted the divisive political potential of religion.
Her views will strike a chord with some religious Britons who feel threatened by growing secularization and by recent anti-discrimination cases, including one that saw Christian hoteliers fined for refusing to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room.
In an article published Tuesday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Warsi urged Europe "to become more confident in its Christianity."
"You cannot and should not extract (the) Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes," she wrote.
"My fear today is that a militant secularization is taking hold of our societies," she added, accusing some atheists of having the same intolerant instincts as authoritarian regimes.
Warsi, a prominent member of Cameron's Conservative Party, is leading a delegation of British government ministers to the Vatican, where they are due to meet Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday.
In a speech in Rome, Warsi said that "too often there is a suspicion of faith in our continent." She said in Britain religion has been "sidelined, marginalized and downgraded" and "faith is looked down on as the hobby of 'oddities, foreigners and minorities."'
Warsi's words echo comments by the pope, who visited Britain in 2010 and warned of the spread of "aggressive forms" of secularism.
The Vatican appeared to approve of Warsi's speech. In a break with the usual protocol, it emailed the text to correspondents in Rome.
But Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat lawmaker and vice president of the British Humanist Association, said Warsi's talk of militant secularism was "self-serving paranoia."
"There is nothing militant about calling for an end to blasphemy and apostasy laws or wanting religious persecution of women and gay people to end," he said.
"Secular liberal democracy, which involves the separation of church and state and an end to religious privilege, is the best guarantor of religious liberty and free expression."
Secularists object to state funding for faith schools, whose numbers have increased under recent governments. There are state-funded Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools, as well as thousands of Church of England and Roman Catholic schools. All follow the same curriculum as non-faith schools, but can teach their own views in religious studies classes. …