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A call to embrace Britain’s Christian heritage

Muslim Cabinet minister slams rising ‘militant secularism’

- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LONDON — When it comes to religion, British politicians tend to heed the famous advice of Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alastair Campbell - "We don't do God."

In contrast to the United States, the deity is rarely invoked on the campaign trail or in political speeches.

But a Muslim Cabinet minister has become the latest member of Prime Minister David Cameron's government to urge the country to embrace its Christian heritage.

Sayeeda Warsi also said that "militant secularism" poses a threat to Europe, a comment that has angered atheists and highlighted the divisive political potential of religion.

Ms. Warsi's views will strike a chord with some religious Britons who feel threatened by growing secularization and by recent anti-discrimination cases, including one that saw Christian hoteliers fined for refusing to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room.

In an article published Tuesday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Ms. Warsi urged Europe "to become more confident in its Christianity."

"You cannot and should not extract [the] Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes," she wrote.

"My fear today is that a militant secularization is taking hold of our societies," she added, accusing some atheists of having the same intolerant instincts as authoritarian regimes.

Ms. Warsi, a prominent member of Mr. Cameron's Conservative Party, is leading a delegation of British government ministers to the Vatican, where they are to meet Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday.

In advance extracts from a speech she will deliver in Rome, Ms. Warsi said religion has been "neglected, undermined - and, yes, even attacked" by recent British governments.

She said Britain has become a place where "faith is looked down on as the hobby of 'oddities, foreigners and minorities.' "

Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat lawmaker and vice president of the British Humanist Association, said Ms. Warsi's talk of militant secularism is "self-serving paranoia."

"There is nothing militant about calling for an end to blasphemy and apostasy laws or wanting religious persecution of women and gay people to end," he said.

"Secular liberal democracy, which involves the separation of church and state and an end to religious privilege, is the best guarantor of religious liberty and free expression."

In Britain, God is rarely considered a vote winner - though comments by Ms. Warsi and others suggest that might be changing.

Mr. Cameron recently urged the Church of England to lead a revival of traditional Christian values to counter the "slow-motion moral collapse" that led to the August riots in England.

This week, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles condemned a High Court ruling that a town council in southwest England must stop holding prayers at the start of meetings.

"We are a Christian country," Mr. Pickles said.

Traditionally, that is true. The Church of England is the country's established church, with Queen Elizabeth II as its temporal head. Bishops help make laws as members of the House of Lords.

In the 2001 census - the last for which full results are available - almost 72 percent of people identified themselves as Christian. But most Britons are not regular churchgoers, and many see Christianity as a loose cultural identity rather than a strong faith.

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