Every weekend one of our neighbours makes a loud clanging noise. It carries for several blocks in all directions and soon lots of people arrive at their door.
I’m talking, of course, about our local church. Like many, I find church bells evocative and nostalgic but, joking aside, substitute bells for the pounding dance music enjoyed by other minorities and our reactions might be quite different.
What do religious people mean by the word “public”? We often hear complaints that secularists are trying to “remove religion from public life”. This doesn’t mean that religion should not be seen in public. For a secularist the public sector is that area of our society which is shared by all: our non-denominational schools, our legal system and government, and yes, we do believe that religion should not have an automatic right to a say in these institutions. Scottish schools are statutorily obliged to have regular religious observance and we have three unelected and irremovable religious representatives on all local education committees. If religious people want a greater voice in political life they can stand for election on that ticket and I would fight for their right to do so.
Secularism is different from atheism. It has no metaphysical beliefs and is simply a principle of social administration which allows religious people to worship openly but also protects everyone else from having religion imposed on them or their children. Surely that is fair? Secularism is the separation of church and state.
We have no wish or right to judge the philosophies of our fellow citizens but religion does not speak for all. Indeed, who other than the religious believer who fears the loss of established privileges would oppose secularism? Could it be that the push for universal religious belief might relieve private doubts in the minds of the faithful? A touch of The Emperor’s New God?
I am quite happy to give my religious neighbours a friendly wave as they publicly answer the call of the church bell on Sunday – but less so if they try to bring their church to school on Monday.
• Neil Barber is communications officer of the Edinburgh Secular Society