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Thought for the Day - Lord Singh

Lord Singh

The court ruling that councils have no legal right to hold prayers at the start of meetings has certainly created a bit of a storm. The Times headline, ‘Christianity on the Rack’, may be a bit over the top, but there is genuine concern over what some see as a continuing marginalisation of religion in public life.

It reminds me of a time when I approached a local authority who were giving grants to community groups for social welfare projects to do the same for religious groups. I got a short curt response: ‘we want nothing to do with all that bowing and chanting’. The same authority today does include religious bodies in its grants programme, confident in the knowledge that a small grant added to largely voluntary effort is true value for money in addressing social welfare issues.

To some, brief prayers before a council meeting are so much ‘bowing and chanting’; for others it’s an opportunity to calm moods and passions, and reflect on the real priorities and ethical implications in the work before them.. For myself, I see nothing wrong in attending the service of a religion that is not my own. But this was not always so. As a child my three brothers and I found out that Catholics did not have to attend the daily school assembly. We sought our parents support to opt out and get extra free time. They were unimpressed and I remember thinking of how unreasonable parents can be, when my mother said ‘forget it, its good to learn about other religions.
Ever since, I’ve been eternally grateful for her wise words which have encouraged me to study other beliefs in which I sometimes find resonant echoes of Sikh teachings. Bigotry, whether secular or religious, occurs when we refuse to look beyond the narrow horizons of our own beliefs and prejudices. This becomes unacceptable when we attempt to impose these on others.

In the past, religions sometimes used their might and muscle to promote their beliefs. Today some in secular society seem to be doing much the same thing. We seem to be losing a spirit of live and let live and becoming less considerate to the beliefs and feelings of those of other persuasions, even when the gain to us is proportionately less than the hurt to the sensitivities of others. It’s this that bothers me more than the actual court ruling.

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