The wall of separation between church and state is under threat once again.
Not officially, of course. We in Britain have no written constitution, no final recourse to turn to in the event of gross government or judicial overreach, or the flagrant violation of our natural rights. But nonetheless, just as progress is being made elsewhere in placing religion in mutually beneficial quarantine from government, the parties of God (a term coined by the late Christopher Hitchens) are launching a counter-attack. And this time the attack comes not from the aggrieved Christian plurality, but the Muslim and Hindu minorities.
The BBC reports:
MPs are set to debate an e-petition aiming to make Eid and Diwali public holidays in the UK.
The e-petition is being championed in Parliament by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, after being signed by more than 120,000 people.
It is only fair that Muslims and Hindus have “the most important days in their faiths recognised in law”, the petition argues.
It should be noted that the government has already rejected the petition. But the fact that a Member of Parliament (and a conservative one at that) is willing to publicly go against the grain and argue for greater, not less government enforced religion in the lives of the people is worrying, and a sign that must be watched carefully.
The reasons for not widening the UK’s current public holidays are many, the first being the fact that shoehorning in another two religious public holidays which are set according to religious timetables rather than the economic rhythm and needs of the nation will only further exacerbate the current skewed system. At present, the UK’s bank holidays are concentrated very unequally in the early part of the year: a brace over the Easter weekend, a volley in May, a last hurrah in August and then the long, slow autumnal death march through the rest of the year until the people are saved by the Christmas holidays. This does little to take into account the needs of businesses (who lose their labour for a day), or for people who might wish the days to be spaced out more evenly.
Secondly, unlike many other countries, none of Britain’s public holidays are used for the beneficial purpose of celebrating our entire nation, our shared culture (as opposed to niche interests – a category under which Christianity increasingly falls) or our collective accomplishments as a British people. Unlike the United States, we have no equivalent to Independence Day, when we can all celebrate being British and indulge in an important exercise in positive patriotism. Unlike France, we have no Bastille Day, celebrating pivotal moments in our national history.
Aside from the fact that recognising pivotal days in our nation’s history helps to nurture the ties that bind us all together, it can be a money-maker too – the American economy may lose a day of labour every year on July 4 and Thanksgiving, but how much is injected into their economy through family gatherings, travel and public celebrations? And how great are the non-monetary benefits of fostering a shared sense of collective identity – one which Britain sometimes sorely lacks?
Thirdly, expanding the public holiday schedule to include more religious days would ignore the simultaneous (and popular) campaign underway to make St. George’s Day a national holiday. The saints days for the home nations are not recognised as UK-wide public holidays, which only fosters internal resentment and fuels the nationalist separatist causes which threaten the balkanisation of Britain.
And finally, written constitution or none, Britain urgently needs to raise a wall of separation between religion and our government, a cause that would be significantly set back by bestowing official government sponsorship on even more faiths. That is not to denigrate the great good that many religious congregations, parishes, charities and organisations do every day. But this social good cannot be used as a bargaining chip to blackmail the rest of the country (an increasingly secular one, for good or ill) into following the same lifestyle practices, moral codes or days of observance as the faithful.
Taken to its logical conclusion, ceteris parabus, this would mean the disestablishment of the Easter and Christmas public holidays. But this would not be a good idea. The Christian holidays, by virtue of having been part of our national fabric for so long, now occupy a place in our culture which transcends their religious origin. Many millions of people celebrate Christmas and Easter who have never set foot in a church, and could not name even the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Furthermore, businesses and organisations around the world – especially in Britain’s main trading partners in North America and Europe – also observe these days as public holidays, making it unwise for Britain to deliberately put itself out of sync. Thus, because the Christian holidays are so embedded in our national life, and are an important reminder to our nation’s history and Christian heritage, there should (and will likely never) be no move to end these holidays.
(This is in no way to suggest that religious festivals and holidays cannot or should not be observed in other ways. The annual Diwali celebration in Leicester, for example, is rightly acclaimed as one of the finest in the world – though such celebrations should at all times be privately funded through sponsorship, and never from public money).
Race, culture and religion often make a volatile, contentious mixture. By granting special rights and favours to some, it can only lead to resentment among the unfavoured, and embolden the beneficiaries to ask for yet further recognition in the future. We already live in an age of religious persecution complexes and exaggerated victimhood – from the mild culture war still fought by the socially conservative Christian rearguard in Britain to the disillusioned British youths jetting off to fight for their so-called faith in Syria – and the very last thing we should be doing is anything that fans the fames of discord at home.
The UK’s Hindus and Muslims (and Christians, and everyone else) are all equally British under the law, and have an equal, important stake in our society, to the extent that they are willing to be British first and foremost. Only recently in the Birmingham schools scandal we have seen the damage that can be done to education and to young minds when religion is placed on a pedestal and sycophantic multiculturalist apologists are too petrified of causing offence to stand up for British values against religious extremism.
Rather than debating the admission of two more exclusionary, religion-oriented public holidays to the British calendar, Parliament should be debating a root and branch review of all our existing holidays as part of a broader effort to make our days off count for something more than a chance for a long weekend and an excuse to jet off out of the country.
What if together we celebrated the Acts of Union which created Great Britain? Or Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in the Napoleonic wars? Victory in Europe day? Or any one of many other days that could plausibly be used to draw us together as people of a United Kingdom rather than a fractured coalition of different faiths, interests, grudges and resentments?
For the sake of our fraying national unity, admitting more faiths into the elite club of state sponsorship and approval must be rejected as the misconceived idea that it is.