Yesterday I discovered that one of my favorite books, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by the Czech dissident Milan Kundera, had been released on DVD. Today I decided to stroll into Ealing to buy a copy to watch this evening, but when I got to HMV it was closed. I was a lttle bemused at first and then I realised that it was because it was Easter Sunday and ALL the shops were closed.
Now I have been the first to jump to support of freedom of religion in the past, despite the many illiberal acts that originate in the church, but the issue of shop closures on Easter Sunday has got me thinking that maybe its time to no longer ‘turn the other cheek’ when it comes to freedom of religion.
We need to be honest about the illiberal actions of the church. The church supported the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign which would have closed shops every Sunday if it had been successful. I wonder if the electorate appreciate that Liberals took centre stage in pushing this through against the wishes of the churches.
One of the reasons for the churches wanting the shops closed on Sunday is so that people will go to church rather than go shopping. Now the Sunday before Christmas is the ‘High Festival’ of Mammon, but we would rightly oppose the Churches being forced to closed on that day to help the economy.
Time and again the church has been liberal on things that matter to it such as freedom to display religious icons and illiberal on anything that is ‘against the book’ such as civil partnerships.
Since we are liberal on everything we end up supporting the church in some cases.
When we support freedom of religion we need to realise that that it is the source of the limitation of freedoms, and I believe that we need a more nuanced approach to freedom of religion.
What we need to realise when we campaign on an issue such as Easter Sunday Shopping is that we get a double effect. As well as effecting the liberalisation of Sunday Trading we draw away activists from the opposition to liberalised drinking laws which is also has a strong religous element. I believe therefore that we should, where possible, focus our efforts into liberalising laws which the church opposes – such as lifestyle freedom.
On the other hand if we focus on liberalising international trade we may well find ourselves on the same side as some religious groups, so maybe we could leave that to them giving support in name only ?
There are many Christians who do not want to force their beliefs on others, a significant proportion in our Social Liberal Wing, and we should reach out to them, but we need to isolate and tie down the religious fundamentalists who move from one illiberal campaign to the next.
So this Easter lets not ‘turn the other cheek’ lets shift our approach to deal with this issue.