Rhoda Kadalie
3 minute read
11 Apr 2014
9:00 am

Secularism gone mad

Rhoda Kadalie

The world's bastion of democracy, the US, is becoming a scary place for freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Conservatives are booted out of universities as speakers and lecturers; conservative students are being hounded out of public discussions; and religious intolerance is growing by leaps and bounds if the two stories I just read are anything to go by.

An “Eggstravangza” flyer in Dearborn Michigan, to celebrate an Easter tradition, has caused outrage. Some Muslim parents objected to the egg hunt on the grounds that a religious decision is being imposed upon Muslims, the Constitution is being violated and the separation between church and state should prevail with regard to the flyer, and that the school had no right to distribute it.

This is secularism gone mad, especially when schools recognise Ramadan and Eid and observe special diet requirements for Muslims and Jews. Surely parents are not compelled to send their kids on an egg hunt? And when children are excluded from the egg hunt on the grounds of religion, will that not be construed as discrimination? A right-to-religious-freedom Muslim spokesperson calls this “the hyper-secularism of the religious left” gone mad.

An equally alarming story from New York is the prohibition of schools allowing their school halls to be used as churches.

The ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second District is just the latest twist in a legal saga pitting the Bronx Household of Faith against the NYC Board of Education. The court found that NYC’s ban on renting schools to churches for weekend worship services did not violate the First Amendment right to free expression.

Since time immemorial mission and evangelical churches started like this in poor communities precisely because they could not afford to build churches like the mainstream faiths.

Secularists and left-wing organisations, such as the New York Civil Liberties Union, view the ruling as a constitutional victory. Is the US court sending out a message to the poor that schools should rather stay empty?

Here in SA for example evangelical and African Independent churches have started and grown in school and community halls, without any objection from secularists or other religious groups. The Baxter Theatre, a deeply secular institution, allows His People to rent its premises.

By allowing community and school halls to be used for cultural and religious activities society stands to gain, as it promotes social cohesion within communities. Perhaps some of the intolerance towards religious practices in the world may account for the growing fragmentation and alienation in cities and communities. In Egypt, Iran and Nigeria Christians are being persecuted in ways never seen before and there is no outcry from human rights organisations or the United Nations. Perhaps now is the time to remember Martin Niemoller’s famous quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.