Like a chair who does not know his or her standing orders, so when engaging with faith groups, the state often seems unsure of itself and the rules of engagement. Politicians and officials use warm words but few have taken time to understand the language of faith. The result is clamour.
We have a strong democracy, with a rich heritage. It is something that we love about this country. We need to demonstrate more assurance as we debate, open to being enriched through the process.
This is my argument in a new paper for for the next issue of Renewal, the journal of Labour politics.
I argue that:
The bottom line for progressives must be an emphasis on freedom and equality, worked out through compromises in the British tradition, and here there may be a way forward for us when considering faith groups (and fundamentalist atheists of course). We need to have more faith in our liberal democracy while emphasising equality of choice.
[For example] Any woman can wear a veil or a cross if she is exercising genuine freedom of choice (subject to workplace requirements) and should have the same freedom, in practice as well as in theory, to choose not to do so. Equality of choice is a two-edged sword. For while it upholds certain rights of expression, it requires faith groups to ensure that freedom to choose is upheld and even promoted.
You can see a draft at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc9bg35v_3d3h7wd .
The Renewal website is at www.renewal.org.uk/index.asp .