The row in Birmingham over primary school lessons that teach an accepting attitude to homosexual relationships has been making headlines for most of this year, and now the courts are involved: the City Council has applied for a permanent ban on protests at the school gates. So far this escalating dispute about 'tolerance' has not displayed much of it – on either side. Muslim parents have been portrayed as backward and bigoted, while the local authority has been labelled Islamophobic.
Behind this head-on clash is a moral problem that stretches far beyond Birmingham and far into the past and the future of this country. It's about negotiating a settlement between a liberal democratic state and those religious groups who reject its principles. How far can the state afford to accommodate beliefs, teachings and practices that 'enlightened' opinion abhors? Some would draw the line at the point where religion refuses vaccination or blood transfusions to children. Others are worried about the wider social consequences of being too 'tolerant of intolerance'. How much should non-religious citizens reasonably expect to be free from religion?
Religion is central to our cultural heritage; it created our great institutions, held communities together and fed the roots of the values we profess. But the European Enlightenment set out to establish a social order based not on religious superstition but on reason, equality and human rights. If that's not quite how it's turned out, what's the solution? Is it to strive more fiercely still for a secular consensus, or to make new space for dogma some of us had thought was dying if not dead? How much does co-operative living ultimately require the stretching of our moral imagination?
Featuring Anna Carlile, Assad Zaman, Dr David Landrum & Dr Stephen De Wijze.
Producer: Dan Tierney
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