We always knew it could happen: A devout Muslim heads a conservative political party that takes office in a multicultural Western country, then leads a campaign to enforce mandatory prayer and to lobby for religious-based values and laws. How will people react?
Well, it happened in Britain this week, and here’s how they reacted: Judges and leading thinkers fought back in the name of a secular state, but the Queen, the Pope and Britain’s right-wing newspapers all spoke up in support of the Muslim party leader’s campaign.
In truth, no one is calling for a religious state or attacking faith. Rather, we are witnessing a showdown, across the West, between two competing definitions of “freedom of religion.” In one definition, the public sphere is a wide-open space: Citizens are free to try to impose religion, to invoke their gods in legislation, to wear whatever symbols they like. It’s a marketplace of beliefs, and may the strongest prevail.
In the other definition, that sphere is a neutral space: Religion is private and public places are unencumbered by competitions for divine supremacy. This definition recognizes that freedom of religion depends on a strongly defended freedom from religion. And freedom from religion is just as important for non-believers, who don’t want public life to be corrupted with spiritualism, as it is for devout believers, who don’t want their sacred beliefs to be sullied by the vicissitudes of politics
The problem in public life isn’t Islam, but religion itself - The Globe and Mail