The story of the judge who said he wanted to allow Sikhs to walk around with kirpans has prompted some debate across blogs that I quickly want to weigh in on.
My position, as I’ve said previously when writing on knife crime, is that schools should have the right to make up their own policy. In some cases a kirpan may not be of consequence, in other cases a school may be worried that knife crime is out of control. There may even be cases where Sikhs are running around stabbing people – in which case a school may like to step in and put in a complete ban. I’m in favour of local decisions based on local conditions, simply because there is a danger of some Sikhs abusing the rules that govern usage of the dagger.
Jako from Frank Owen’s Paintbrush says:
Insisting that Sikhs should have the right to walk around with their ceremonial daggers â€“ even in schools â€“ certainly suggests the man is possessed by a religious arrogance of such massive proportions that there isnâ€™t room for any other considerations.
Pity the BBC Asian Network didnâ€™t bother finding an opposing point of view. Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s a sensible Sikh out there willing to say that some of the more eccentric teachings of their faith should not be given privilege over the law of the land (and of course basic common sense).
The chances of finding a Sikh saying that the kirpan is “eccentric” are as low as the chances of a Sikh saying that the Gurus were idiots. Not. Going. To. Happen. I’m not particularly religious (I don’t follow Sikhism but I do say I have a Sikh heritage) but I wouldn’t go that far.
But there is a point about religion in the public space, and I think Dave Semple is spot on:
This principle is not at stake in this case. Quite the opposite. Thinking secularists would surely defend the right of anyone to do anything, provided that it was unlikely to result in harm or the coercion of any individual.
When Jako claims that â€˜the more eccentic teachings of their faith should not be given privilege over the law of the landâ€ I am at a loss to explain such anti-religious nonsense, a parody, almost, of real secularism. Just because something is a law does not justify it.
If we take the incident of the Sikh girl and her kara from a few years back, where no health and safety issues were at stake, the courts quite rightly ruled that to exclude her for wearing something so connected to her beliefs was discriminatory. So the law is not so uncomplicated as Jako thinks anyway.
Dave’s whole article is very worth reading. But I want to make a wider point here: there is a strain on the left that is militantly anti-religion, and not just pro-secularist. I’ve pointed out in the past that the National Secular Society also makes this mistake of conflating secularism with atheism and represents the latter view that a nuanced former view.
Politically, this means is that many lefties ends up pissing off people, especially Christians, who want to retain their religious identity in public. I don’t think religious people should get special treatment or be absolved of discrimination – but this misunderstanding of secularism really is a political liability.
If the left becomes anti-religion then we’ll never be able to build coalitions on many issues like fighting poverty, sustaining welfare programmes and get near any sort of power.
Update: I agree with Paul Sims on the Humaist blog
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