No Sharing Sharia

by Felix Alvarez

 

‘I hold that the rights of non-religious people are not treated on an equal footing in Gibraltar today.' - Felix Alvarez

 

Global events have recently brought the issues of Religion and Secularism home to the resounding fore. Gibraltar is never exempt from what happens elsewhere, and living as if change does not occur in this small peninsula is a questionable fetish. If we think we are immune from its effects, we are mistaken: anti-semitism and arabophobia are just as likely to occur here at any time as anywhere else. We need to pay attention, now rather than later.

 

Political versions of the various faiths have been increasingly manifest globally in the past few decades. Whether it’s the type where Biblical claims on Middle East real estate by both Zionists and Jihadists are so tragically made, the terrible Buddhist massacres in Myanmar against people of different faith, the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and elsewhere, or the strident ‘God Hates Fags’ variety, Religion-based ideologies have increasingly found their way into headlines, eroded freedoms and, indeed, killed countless innocents. Politics and Religion today are intertwined in a way, perhaps, they have always been. Mind you, Communist and other ‘atheistic’ dictatorial regimes in the past and present have, themselves, not been free of atrocity. Stalin, Mao, and North Korea’s leaders more recently, like Caligula, did not recoil from deifying themselves. Dogma is never anything but dogmatic, whether its source is claimed as supernatural or human. It demands belief without scientific evidence (‘faith’) , and as such is beyond argument or discussion, the lifeblood of democracy. A licence given in no other domain of human discourse.

Religion has a long history. Some of it intellectually, artistically, and philosophically rich, some of it shameful and barbaric. But noone is advocating throwing the baby out with the holy water. Nonetheless, at a level of governance, the only safeguard against the negative encroachment of sectarian Religion is democratic secularism.

 

                                                                                             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is true enough to say, however, that non-religious people are responsible for this state of affairs themselves through long silence. They need to come out and speak up.

 

Thus baldly put, a question will perhaps arise in readers’ minds. As a Human Rights  defender, am I advocating the end of religious rights? There can be no doubt whatsoever in my thinking that the rights of people of faith are inviolable. Equally, the rights of people of non-religious views (atheists, agnostics, secular humanists), must not only be respected but given active and equal voice and influence. A just society cannot violate these rules.

 

But I hold that the rights of non-religious people are not treated on an equal footing in Gibraltar today.

 

Watch GBC, listen to the radio or read the papers, and you will know what I  mean.  When  did  you  last watch  the series ‘A Question of Secularism’ on the telly? The scales are not evenly tipped. It is true enough to say, however, that non-religious people are responsible for this state of affairs themselves through long silence. They need to come out and speak up.

 

Ofcourse, the majority of people in Gibraltar today will be nominally ‘of faith’. They are, for instance, ‘cultural Christians’ rather than convinced believers. Most of us have been christened, communioned or otherwise included in the social rituals and statistics of the distinct denominations at an age where no willing or voluntary consent was possible. Nonetheless, the Census statistics, whether we like it or not, will generally reflect us as of this or that religious grouping due to its hold on cultural rather than religious identity. It is, quite frankly, a misleading and inaccurate fiction based on which a great many decisions of different degrees are taken above our respective heads.

 

The UK’s Law Society has sought over the years to accommodate creeping acceptance of Sharia Law into Britain, allowing its application on issues of inheritance and other areas of civil law. This is a dangerous precedent which must not be allowed to continue to undermine rule of law legal and political structures; it is also one we, here in Gibraltar,  must be forewarned about. The rights of women,  sexual minorities, and indeed of dissenters to speak openly without fear on matters of Religion or otherwise

must be guarded and protected. It is not a route Gibraltar should sleepwalk into at any point. Blasphemy law in  any shape  or guise  is anathema to  freedom;   the right to offend or be offended paramount. Only incitement to hatred and defamation can stand

at the edges of our right to free speech.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking out against and criticising  religious thought cannot  be scared  away by targeting free speech on a spurious accusation of ‘racism’ or otherwise. Indeed, it must not.  It is an attempt to  re-establish an  imposed  historical political correctness from which modern ‘PC’ itself rebelled and arose.

 

Areas of legislation here in Gibraltar continue to privilege Religion unfairly. Laws on our  books accord the  right to  religious access to  inmates in prisons  and patients in mental health facilities which no non-religious  counselor is statutorily allowed. Yet many of today’s patients and prison inmates might welcome and profit from non-religious, non-directional professional counseling and friendship instead of doctrinal visitations. At a minimum, they deserve the choice.

 

Similarly, in Education. Thankfully, Government has introduced a non-religious study option for our young people. Government needs to do more to make those ready options known to the public. Young people and their parents need to know that valid academic alternatives do exist, and provide study of equal subject weight. Likewise, the teaching of ‘R.E.’ in school should be comparative, not doctrinal. They should equip our young to learn about the many faiths available in our multi-cultural world, and ought not to serve, instead, as an educational course of limited doctrine imparted primarily, if not completely, by Ministers of one particular faith. And even if it currently is not (I am open to persuasion and correction on the facts since they are difficult to obtain) providing a full, properly balanced comparative approach across all Religions rather than one alone, can only serve to underscore our commitment to true and open learning in the world we inhabit, and foster understanding.

 

The sphere of private faith is a protected human rights category and noone of a sane non-religious or atheistic persuasion would advocate disrespecting personal choice. There can be no countenancing of discrimination in this field; it is fundamental to any decent modern society.

 

The distinction, however, must be drawn at the societal, democratic inconsistencies of a very long legacy of quiet, and not so quiet, influence and hold over politicians and institutions which Gibraltar – structured under a Constitution which is totally non-religious in nature – to this day does not fully live up to. Parliament, flying in the face of these legal, constitutional and political facts, continues to fail to separate Church from State through its insistence on rendering its deliberations pious by obliging all MPs to adhere to Christian prayer in sessions which are of a public, not private nature. MPs voted for that. But I submit it is an appropriated choice they have no right to hold. That they should exercise that preference in an aconfessional parliamentary chamber is no more right than that any Member of the House should interrupt proceedings in Parliament with personal incantations: sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. Except that the Speaker would insist on ejecting such transgression, whilst sheltering the other. What’s more, this state of affairs also flies in the face of elected members who make no bones about their non-religious convictions. How many more do not dare to openly reveal their secularism for fear of being damned unelectable? They, too, must not fear.

 

Whatever one’s religious, spiritual leanings or none, it is of prime importance that the institutions at all levels not only respect but be seen to respect the essential separation of powers of Church from State both in form and substance.

 

Powers that, unless they respond to the changing nature of Gibraltar, will only add further distance and feed disillusionment with politics, politicians and the institutions, especially among younger generations.

 

We must not be hesitant to exercise freedom and speak out.

 

(Reprinted from The Gibraltar Chronicle, 23 February 2015)

Speaking out against and criticising  religious thought cannot  be scared  away by targeting free speech on a spurious accusation of ‘racism’ or otherwise. Indeed, it must not.  It is an attempt to  re-establish an  imposed  historical political correctness from which modern ‘PC’ itself rebelled and arose.

 

Areas of legislation here in Gibraltar continue to privilege Religion unfairly. Laws on our  books accord the  right to  religious access to  inmates in prisons  and patients in mental health facilities which no non-religious  counselor is statutorily allowed. Yet many of today’s patients and prison inmates might welcome and profit from non-religious, non-directional professional counseling and friendship instead of doctrinal visitations. At a minimum, they deserve the choice.

 

Speaking out against and criticising  religious thought cannot  be scared  away by targeting free speech on a spurious accusation of ‘racism’ or otherwise. Indeed, it must not.  It is an attempt to  re-establish an  imposed  historical political correctness from which modern ‘PC’ itself rebelled and arose.

Thus baldly put, a question will perhaps arise in readers’ minds. As a Human Rights  defender, am I advocating the end of religious rights? There can be no doubt whatsoever in my thinking that the rights of people of faith are inviolable. Equally, the rights of people of non-religious views (atheists, agnostics, secular humanists), must not only be respected but given active and equal voice and influence. A just society cannot violate these rules.

 

But I hold that the rights of non-religious people are not treated on an equal footing in Gibraltar today.

 

Watch GBC, listen to the radio or read the papers, and you will know what I  mean.  When  did  you  last watch  the series ‘A Question of Secularism’ on the telly? The scales are not evenly tipped.

The Secular Humanist Society Gibraltar

© 2015 David Gibbins.  shsgib.org

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