Hello! What’s your name and your current position?
Richard Scorer. I am Head of Serious Injury and Abuse litigation at a leading law firm. I am based in Manchester but work all over the UK.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in London and got my university education in Scotland and America, studying history and working briefly as an investment analyst in the City before retraining as a lawyer.
I work as a solicitor in private practice, specialising in serious injury, human rights and child abuse cases. I have written extensively on these areas, both legal textbooks and articles and more recently a study of the Catholic abuse crisis in England, written for the general reader. I have also been politically involved as a Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate.
Secularism as a concept is often misunderstood. If you had to explain it to someone in your own words, what would you say?
Very simply, separation of church and state: no religion has special political or legal privileges, or public money; religion cannot be a pretext for discrimination/denial of fair and equal treatment to minority groups.
Of course, religion can influence people’s political views, and in general terms I have no problem with that. The Labour party historically owed much to nonconformist Christianity. Many other progressive movements in history, e.g. the black civil rights movement in the USA, have drawn inspiration from religion. The problem comes when people try to use religious dogma to assert special legal privileges for religious groups, or to deny equal treatment to others, as happened recently with the debate over same sex marriage and when Catholic adoption agencies sought to discriminate against gay and lesbian adopters. That’s where secularism rightly calls a halt.
What’s the most common misconception that you come across about secularism?
That it’s the same as atheism. Of course, secularists can themselves be guilty of fostering this impression, but the idea that secularism and atheism are the same is actually quite a parochial British misconception.
In America, the founding fathers saw separation of church and state as a means to protect dissenting religious views from state repression, and it remains a core American value, although the religious right have tried to undermine it.
In Turkey, Kemal Ataturk was a devout Muslim but believed in the separation of mosque and state (he abolished sharia courts in 1924 – how ironic that 90 years later, the Law Society of England and Wales seems keen to promote sharia law). To conflate secularism with atheism is ahistorical.
Why do you think secularism is important?
It is becoming more important all the time. We live in a multicultural, multifaith society which is becoming, in a world of global population movement, ever more diverse. Such a society can only function fairly and justly on the basis that all are equal under the law, one law for all, with no religion getting special privileges. Once you have special legal privileges for the Church of England – now very much a minority faith in this society – then other religions want a slice of the action and you end up with the balkanisation of society into competing religious interest groups.
As a secularist, what concerns you the most?
For the last few years much of my work has concerned abuse of children in religious settings, and the reluctance on the part of some religious groups to submit to secular authorities in their handling of abuse allegations. That has obviously been a problem in the Catholic Church. More recently my focus has shifted to Islamic religious institutions, where abuse has been a taboo and many victims feel terrified to disclose.
What also concerns me right now is the active promotion of Islamic extremism in some parts of British society, often fuelled by Saudi/Wahabbi money and using sharia law, and, predictably, faith schools. Public discussion of these issues is conflated with debates about immigration and some on the left feel reluctant to talk about what is happening for fear of fostering ‘Islamaphobia’. The right response is a robust secularism in which no religion has special privileges or public money and where all citizens are subject to the same law of the land.
Complete this sentence: “I’m a secularist because……”
I’m a secularist because it’s the best basis for a fair and just society which treats all its citizens equally.
Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.
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