In all the furore about ex councillor Bone’s ‘victory’ in the alleged war of secularism against faith it is worth reminding everyone that he actually lost the case, as far as his most substantive arguments went.Judge Ousely did not uphold his claim that he was being discriminated against, or indeed having his human rights violated, by having to listen to someone praying in public with consenting adults.
He prevailed, or rather his sponsor, the National Secular Society, did because the saying of prayers at the beginning of council meetings had not been part of the legislation enshrining the Local Government Act of 1972. Under the new Localism Act, according to Eric Pickles, the right to have public prayers in such meetings will become permissable, so the temporary ban will not last long. Making the ‘ victory’ not even worthy of the description Pyrrhic!
The glee of those claiming an unwarranted moral victory is about us unjustified as those claiming a moral defeat. This week saw one of the worst essays yet into public debate by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. On Radio 4′s Today Programme he lumped together the Bideford case with notorious Christian B&B case, wherein the owners of a very picturesque hotel in Cornwall , had refused to admit a gay couple in a civil partnership to the double room that they had booked over the phone. Hospitality was one of the sacred values of the ancient world which is reflected most often in the Bible, so it is even more difficult to defend the decision of those B&B’s owners to shut the door in the face of travellers, purely on account of their sexual orientation.
Some scientists have been working on the idea that the feeling of disgust was not only a vital evolutionary weapon against all the toxic matter in our primordial world, but the root of our sense of morality. This is not an entirely new perspective; anthropogists have long reflected upon the relationship between moral and dietary taboos – the book of Leviticus is a good source! But it does raise the interesting possibility that ex Councillor Bone and the B& B owners are not as far apart as they might wish to be, for both seem to have disgust at the centre of their motivation; the former reacting to the strong Yuk factor he finds in public prayers, the latter to homosexuality. Both would claim morality and rationality too, of course, but I am not convinced that is the whole story.