UK: Tony Blair's pact with God

Prime Minister Tony Blair has great plans. He tried to avoid revealing them prematurely, because he was weary about the public response. But they have leaked out in a written parliamentary reply and were picked up by The Observer. Blair is reportedly all set to broom out good old Secularism and to invite God to the center stage of policy making. In a "major break with British traditions that religion and government should not mix", according to The Observer, he has appointed a religious body, representing Christian and other faith groups, as high-power advisory committee to the British Government. The "Faith Community Liaison Group" is part of the Home Office. Its sphere of influence includes officially the Department of Education, Culture, Media, Sport, Trade and Industry.

Chair of the ministerial working group is Fiona Mactaggert, Home Office Minister for 'Civic Renewal'.. Mactaggert describes the committee's tasks: "Its terms of reference are to consider the most effective means of achieving greater involvement of the faith communities in policy-making and delivery across Whitehall [and] to identify the specific policy areas where this input would be most valuable. The Prime Minister is aware of our plans and attaches considerable importance to this.. It will lay down the foundations for the effective involvement of the faith communities' perspectives and needs in policy development across government.."

Christian groups are rejoicing about the Prime Minister's move. Says Graham Dale, director of the Christian Socialist Movement, of which Blair is a member: "The group will have the freedom to engage in policy issues across the board but also to address other less tangible areas like values in public life. It raises to a new level the recognition of faith as a factor in government consultation and indicates the government's willingness to engage with people of faith in every area of public life." Besides various Christian groups, there are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish communities represented in the committee.

Tony Blair is a committed Christian, who "keeps the Bible by his bed", reports The Observer. But up to now his special relation with God remained more or less a private affair. With his new project, to place religion at the center of British politics, he has finally come out as a political agent of religious revival. Secularists in Britain have raised an alarm. "We feel this is a further example of the government's desire to favor and privilege religious organizations, and wonder, when the opinions and needs of those who are non-religious will be similarly regarded", wrote Keith Wood, executive director of the respected old National Secular Society in a letter to Mactaggert. Despite repeated requests, complaints Wood, 'non-religious groups' have been excluded from any involvement in the 'religious' working group.

To counter the severe blow against Secularism and to prevent a country with exemplary liberal and progressive traditions from sinking into the morass of all-religious "spirituality", the voice of Secularism needs to be clear and sharp. Religious advisory committees to governments of secular states have no locus standi, neither legally nor logically. They have to go, because their existence violates the very principle of separation of state and religion. Pleading for "equal rights" within illegitimate establishments legitimizes them. It's a question of principles, not of numbers.

Blair's quiet attempt to re-empower Christianity in its new attire of an all-religious partnership is highly alarming. It calls for decisive resistance of the enlightend part of the public before it is too late.