Even though it’s a few months old I only recently came across this press release about British turban wearing Sikhs now being officially exempt from having to wear any headgear usually associated with any job. This includes items connected to health and safety such as protective helmets on building sites.

This got me to thinking, not for the first time, about the ongoing impact of religion on UK law. Naturally, this is a touchy subject. Daniel Dennett devotes much of his book Breaking the Spell to the concept that not only are religions themselves very successful memes but that almost as powerful is the associated meme of not being able to question their rules without being seen deeply disrespectful.

I’m a big fan of John and Hank Green (the Vlogbrothers) but in an episode of their podcast Dear Hank and John ever they answered a question about adult baptism with “just do it if it makes other people happy”.

This state of non-questioning or just-going-along has lead to a number of different impacts on UK life – including several things I’d not previously heard of. Most of these I discovered via National Secular Society.

Probably the best know item is the Lords Spiritual – the 26 Bishops who sit in the House of Lords due to the fact that we have an established church.

However, there are many other instances:

If any other groups of comparable sizes were to campaign for similar funding or exemptions they would stand very little chance of getting them. Yet, due to the tradition of religious accommodation in the UK these practices are likely to continue for some time to come.

There is some good news on the horizon – the report Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good published by the Woolf Institute was written by a combination of religious and non-religious authors and has a number of sensible suggestions. In addition, even some ministers are calling for the de-establishment of the Church of England.

All we can do is keep raising these issues and hope that the fact that regular church attendance has now fallen to less than 1.5% will mean that we won’t have to wait too long for positive change.

 

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