“Recently, various Christians in our Society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle. You have only to ask a couple with regard to their bed and breakfast business; certain relationship councillors; and people who had valiantly fostered children for many years of their particular experiences – and I am sure they are not exaggerating them!” – O’Brien, 2011
In his message this year O’Brien told worshipers to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ” each day of their lives and he voiced his concerns over the growing marginalistion of religion. He demonstrated this by referencing the cases Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida who are taking their call for all employees to be able to wear a cross at work to the European Court of Human Rights. These women (one a former nurse and one an ex British Airways employee) lost their discrimination cases in 2010 after their employers told them they could not wear a crucifix while at work. Additionally an appeal court judgment upheld the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s finding that banning Ms Eweida from wearing a cross was not discriminatory because Christians “generally” do not consider wearing a cross as a requirement of their religion.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association pointed out in an interview on BBC News that these cases were not about the religious freedoms of the people involved being censored, but about a matter of health and safety in the case of the nurse, and a matter of uniform compliance in the case of the British Airways Employee.
When pressed Copson went on to talk about how he felt the Cardinal had used these cases in something that is becoming a bit of a tradition as a tactic to create a narrative about religious marginalisation as a cover for Christian lobby groups and figures, like O’Brien, arguing for more religious power and privilege.
Cardinal O’Brien and every other person who preaches about aggressive secularism and religious marginalisation are really only displaying their own selfishness and nothing more. For while they use ‘religious freedom’ as a phrase to justify their claims of being victimised for their beliefs, they also use it as a tool to victimise others for their non-beliefs and for their sheer audacity to request that they, the non-believers of this world, should not have to have the religious beliefs of others forced upon them.
I would defend the right of any colleague mine to wear a crucifix to work so that they may proudly display their faith for all to see. I know that they would probably defend my right to wear a necklace with a big, fat, bright red letter A on it to proudly display my non-belief.
I’m not so sure that Cardinal Keith O’Brien and his fellow ‘victims’ would be so quick to do the same for me, and that is why they are selfish – for presuming that religious freedom is theirs and theirs alone. When it comes to the victimisation of others, refusing a gay couple a room in your B&B is just as terrible as being refused the right to stay in a B&B based on your religious choice (only I would argue that who you are attracted to isn’t a choice, but which god you believe in is).
Religious freedom is not being taken away from those who practice any particular religion, it is simply being reclaimed by those who choose not to practice a religion. This means that in many instances religious privilege is being challenged and it is usually when this occurs that the biggest stink is kicked up by those who are religious. However I am not convinced that those claiming religious marginalisation are the majority and I personally know of many religious people who have condemned the actions of the few who over the last years have justified their bigoted behaviour with their religion.
The claims of ‘aggressive secularism’ are nothing more than toys being thrown from the prams of people who don’t like the idea that their religious beliefs no longer provide them with a privilege over others. Equality and freedom for all are not the definition listed under ‘aggressive’ in my dictionary, but perhaps that’s just me?