I reproduce here, with permission, the main leader from the last edition of the Catholic Herald. It raises some important points for discussion.
David Cameron has recently described British values as: “a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law.” We agree, but behind such a general statement lie many traps. In recent times there has been a growing pattern of discrimination against moral and religious opinions and practice. We may think of Catholic adoption societies, attacks on faith schools in the public sector or nurses being required to supervise abortion administration in hospitals.
Now, it would appear, attacks against freedom of debate and discussion are appearing in the universities – the very institutions which assume, and have assumed since the days of Plato, that rational and free debate is at the heart of the discovery of truth. We have in mind here Cardiff University where the student union is intent on converting the University to a pro-abortion stance. This follows a decision to baulk a debate on the damage of abortion culture to our society by Christ Church, Oxford.
We need to see these serious incidents against a background of growing secularism. The philosophy here is plain: secularity is essentially neutral and any religious belief, or morality related to such belief, is grounded in superstition. We may be allowed to maintain and even to act upon such values provided we do so in private, but any manifestation in public life must be taken as a form of intolerance to be condemned or even directly punished. Organisations, such as the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, are skilled in public relations and their secularist propaganda addresses the passive agnosticism of our society.
So we all have to decide what kind of society we wish to be. The history of England and the British Empire shows us many attitudes and policies which it shames us to remember. But, at least eventually, the freedoms of opinion sustained by the freedom of democracy have won through. But if we allow ourselves to become a society with an inherent tendency towards control we will have destroyed the very instrument of our freedom. Of course free speech itself has its necessary limits which have been established over the centuries, but our history should lead us to champion a free and diverse society with an instinctive abhorrence for any controls which are not clearly proven to be necessary for the common good.
The rights to life, to religious belief and practice and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the United Nations. Perhaps university students have forgotten the sacrifices their forebears made to achieve the freedom which they enjoy. They will learn that the preservation of these rights, even to their own disadvantage, is the price of such freedom.
Contributors have, from time to time, noted a gradual slide into secularism in our society. But it may still come as a shock to discover that there are those who would deny us the freedom to argue the moral law in public. That, in the instances noted, the aggression comes from the next generation of our educated young makes it all the worse.
The leader describes our society as one of passive agnosticism. Should we be letting sleeping dogs lie, or does this make our society fertile ground only too ready to support attacks on religion?
We have had constructive discussion on the casual assumption that the idea of God as a creator carries little force nowadays. But there is active, and sometimes aggressive, attack on particular issues. Abortion is indeed the first one which comes to mind. The movement, under the banner of female reproductive rights, is national and international. There has been strong pressure even in the United Nations to have abortion, effectively on demand, as a right in every country. The gulf between those who hold that the human being in the womb is disposable and those who defend human life at every stage seems unbridgeable.
The active campaign against faith schools has been strongly boosted by a minority of Muslim schools – and this has been neatly turned into ammunition against any faith (read, Catholic) school. Many now take it for granted that the use of public money to support religious education is simply unjust. This is reinforced by a condemnation of ‘indoctrinating’ the young with superstitious beliefs. Moreover, it is claimed that the exclusivity of Catholic schools damages the integration of society.
Sometimes we may think that the only ace in the pack available to us is the popularity of Pope Francis. While this is well deserved we should not rely on it. You may be sure that there are those who seek for any crack or misinterpretation which can be used to bring him, and thus the Church, into disrepute. You may remember the damage done to the standing of Pope Benedict by the pack snapping at his heels.
But, as always, it is not enough to say what others should do. We must not forget the effect we have on our families, our friends, and the institutions to which we belong. Our particular rôle is to bear witness to the secular world.