Brandish that crucifix

Andrew Brown seems to have taken a Michael Ruse pill (may cause drowsiness, perversity of reasoning, tendonitis, irregular heartbeat).

The decision of the European court of Human Rights that Italian schools may continue to display a crucifix in the classroom is obviously a victory for common sense, of which only fanatics would disapprove.

Oh obviously; oh only fanatics, certainly. (What was that about gnu atheist rhetoric and lack of humility again?)

The idea that human rights legislation should be used to prevent children from being exposed to a crucifix is a profoundly totalitarian and superstitious perversion of one of our civilisation’s best inventions.

Well yes, it would be, but that isn’t the idea in question. Oddly enough, nobody was attempting to prevent children from being exposed to a crucifix. That would be quite a tall order, and would involve forcibly keeping children out of churches as well as off the streets, out of shops and museums, away from people – it would involve a quite remarkable program of visual isolation. What a good thing it is that that’s not the issue. The idea, of course, was to prevent the state from imposing a crucifix on children in state schools. That is a more limited ambition, do admit.

So Andrew renders his piece worthless at the outset, by misrepresenting the issue. What’s the point of that? Hooray, he says, the fanatics can’t do what they were trying to do – but they weren’t trying to do that and they aren’t fanatics, so what exactly is Andrew’s point?

And if a secularist is able to protest against the presence of a crucifix in a classroom on the grounds that it breaches her children’s human rights, why shouldn’t a Muslim bring a lawsuit against the V&A for displaying Christian imagery to her children when they are taken on school trips around it?

Because the two are different, for reasons that are too obvious for me to bother explaining. (Oh all right – a crucifix permanently stuck on a classroom wall is an endorsement, a teaching, an admonition; a trip to a museum is a different kind of thing altogether.)

The answer, of course, is that NSS thinks that secularist children – or the children of secularists, since it absolutely certain that no child is born a rationalist or secularist – have different and better rights to those of religious children, and especially Muslim children.

You may wonder how NSS got in there, and what it has to do with anything. I don’t know. It’s not that I omitted a previous bit where the NSS was mentioned or scolded; that’s its first appearance, out of nowhere. I think he meant “secularists in general” but accidentally turned that into “NSS” (without even the normal “the”). Bit of a King Charles’s head there, I’m afraid. At any rate – that’s crap. Secularism protects the rights of religious people. The ruling on the crucifix certainly does not protect the rights of Muslim children! Secularism would; this ruling does not – unless of course the idea is the odd one that Muslim children have a religious right to have a crucifix imposed on them in state school.

But it doesn’t follow from this argument that atheism is a privileged position that the state should teach and enforce. A theologically neutral state takes no position on the question of which gods exist, or, if you like, which conceptions of God (if any) correspond to reality.

But atheism isn’t the issue. Secularism isn’t atheism, and it is entirely possible, and indeed reasonable, for theists to be secularists for their own protection as well as that of other people. State neutrality on religion is not state atheism. That’s why I did a post a few months ago saying atheist schools would be a terrible idea.

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