We are increasingly told by some leading Christians that Northern Ireland has become a cold house for them because Christianity is being marginalised.
Yet there is no point in crying foul when religious belief is rightly losing its privileged position in society.
Opinion polls indicate that the majority of people are ahead of the leading spokesmen in church and state on matters such as abortion, gay marriage and integrated schools.
Many believers are in denial about this growing secularisation and pretend it isn’t happening. So they present themselves as wiser or more knowledgeable than the public at large – or even the professional experts, as Edwin Poots did over the health risks of gay blood and Alastair McDonnell now does about tests for fatal foetal abnormality.
Paul Givan wants a ‘conscience’ clause that would create a religious exemption in the province’s equality legislation, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers on the grounds of ‘strongly held religious belief’. But he fails to explain why this privilege should apply exclusively to beliefs of a religious nature.
There are countless opinions I don’t like but I put up with them. Is he saying that Christians have a god-given right to be intolerant?
Similarly many Christians lament the lack of prayers before most council meetings and complain that it is just another example of Christianity being erased from society.
Yet they fail to realise that in a pluralist liberal democracy others have rights too, including freedom of belief and freedom from belief.
If Christians have the right not to put gay marriage messages on cakes, then by the same reasoning non-Christians have the right not to have Christian prayers foisted on them. Arguably, the later have an even greater case because the bakery isn’t being forced to participate in a gay marriage ceremony whereas the non-Christians are being compelled to partake in a ceremony of worship.
Contrary to the judgment of some Christians, we atheists and humanists are generally a tolerant lot. We do not seek to prevent Christians from saying their prayers.
All we seek is a level playing field in which we have the same rights and freedoms as believers. Christians need to accept that this implies they can no longer impose their beliefs on the whole society in the way they have done for most of our modern history.
Humanist Association of Northern Ireland