Tell us a bit about yourself
Hi, I’m Jay Marshall. I’m a law student at the University of West London, and I’m also the President of its Law Society. I’m an aspiring lawyer.
Secularism as a concept is often misunderstood. If you had to explain it to someone in your own words, what would you say?
To be able to understand secularism, one has to understand the history process which brought about the idea of secularism. The United States of America is one of the most famous secular states, due to the fact that after the American War of Independence it detached itself from a tyrannical theocratic nation (the British imperialist colonies), and reformed into a nation under a written constitution which under its First Amendment and its Sixth Article clearly states that is to never make law respecting an establishment of religion and that it prohibits the use of any religious test as qualification for any public office – but it will also never prohibit the practise of religion.
James Madison said in Writings that: “Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together”.
This beautiful quote highlights the essential essence of pure secularism. The ideology of secularism is about the separation of Church and State, meaning that organised religion can not have direct involvement in the nation’s political process.
Secularism is also about opening up public discourse to a range of views, religious and non-religious, meaning that you can make an attempt to qualify for public office whatever your political or religious views are, and that your chances of success ultimately fall down to your ability to convince the public.
What’s the most common misconception that you come across about secularism?
Firstly, that “secularism is just atheism…”
A common misconception of secularism is that it is just politicised atheism. This is pure nonsense, as atheism is not an ideology nor is it a moral or political standpoint. All atheism means is the non-belief of the existence of deities. That’s it! You can be a secularist and be religious also. It is true; a lot of secularists are atheists or agnostics. But, then again, why would they want a theocratic state?
And secondly, that “Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao Tse-tung were secularists”.
Again: all untrue. Hitler was a Roman Catholic and in 1933 he signed the Reichskonkordat with Pope Pius XI in which the Pope dissolved the Catholic Centre Party in exchange for giving the Catholic Church a monopoly over the education system in Nazi Germany. Hitler also made a speech during the negotiations of the Reichskonkordat stating that secular schools were never to be tolerated and that the Aryan race needed to be a “believing people”.
The other three were undoubtedly atheists, but they were not secularists on the basis that they founded nations which banned religion outright, even though Stalin reintroduced the Russian Orthodox Church. But none of these people did their crimes in the name of their religious/non-religious persuasion. They did them because the political ideology which they belonged to allowed them to commit their crimes. Plus they were all psychopaths.
Why do you think secularism is important?
Secularism is incredibly important in the modern world. Especially in the United Kingdom, where we have developed into a very multicultural society, it is unfair to govern people in a way which shows a certain favouritism and gives particular status to the Christian faith.
I also think the idea of the United Kingdom being a Christian country is completely outdated and that the Church of England brings no real benefits to UK politics. An argument I often hear is that it is part of our country’s traditions and heritage, and that therefore there’s no need for change. But I disagree; keeping tradition alive for tradition’s sake is no reason to keep an idea going.
Secularism is such a revolutionary idea in terms of democracy, equality and human rights, and it’s an idea which has been ignorantly and arrogantly attacked by really low-rent intelligences and lazy minds.
As a secularist, what concerns you the most?
One thing which really concerns me is that we still have Bishops in the House of Lords as a matter of constitutional right, and like anyone who has studied Constitutional and Administrative Law will understand, these Bishops will have a say when a Bill gets passed through Parliament before it receives the Royal Assent. Frankly I find this outrageous as I’m convinced this blatantly shows favouritism towards the Christian faith (and a particular denomination) and demonstrates that citizens of other religions or no religion are being unrepresented.
Faith schools are also a big concern. A.C. Grayling once described faith schools as an oxymoron – as the term “school” implies the idea of discovering knowledge, and the term “faith” implies the idea of indoctrination. I also believe that faith schools divide communities as they are not connecting with people who are different within them, which can only lead to ignorance.
Complete this sentence: “I’m a secularist because……”
…I believe in the Enlightenment, in liberty, in democracy, in equality, in reason, in empiricism and in rationalism, and I believe in the eternal war against ignorance, intolerance and totalitarianism. But above all I believe in choice. Without choice, our lives are meaningless, and human life will be nothing but a means to an end.
Secularism cries out for the goodness in people, for the unity of us all, and for us to recognise that we are free to live our lives as we see fit. Secularism is not only sacrosanct for a democracy to thrive; it is essential.
Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.
Jay recently tried to organise an event at his university at which LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian and Sharia Watch UK Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters were due to speak about (amongst other things) student radicalisation, censorship on campus, and the difficulty of discussing Islam on campus. With just 24 hours to go, the university cancelled the event. You can read more here. The LSS is very grateful to Jay for his efforts and we hope we will one day be able to reschedule the event.
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