Dr John Sentamu: Archbishop of York claims tolerance in UK has 'negative virtue'
Tolerance has become a negative virtue in Britain as important but contentious subjects are no longer discussed, according to the Archbishop of York.
By Martin Beckford
Published: 7:30AM GMT 04 Feb 2010
Dr John Sentamu warned that differences over areas such as immigration and funding of public services are just being thrust into the margins where they fester rather than being talked about openly.
He claimed the Government is trying to remove religion from public life in the name of tolerance, and force people to keep their faith behind closed doors.
The Archbishop, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, also echoed Pope Benedict XVIs criticism of the Equality Bill this week as an “unjust” restriction on religious freedom.
He said that a clause attempting to define religious workers in order to exempt them from the anti-discrimination law would have caused serious problems for churches had it not been removed in the House of Lords, by making it impossible for them to demand that new employees were Christian.
In a speech to Newcastle City Council on Wednesday, Dr Sentamu said: This is symptomatic of a trend which has intensified in Britain over the past fifty years in the name of tolerance.
That is, an attempt to remove religion from public life. And in the process, tolerance, which is supposed to be the tool to help us deal with difference and disagreement has instead, become a negative virtue a means of diminishment and marginalisation.
Today, many people imagine we are living in an increasingly secular age. At the same time, the Church has taken something of a battering from critics. Some of these are uncomfortable about the churchs role in the public square, preferring to relegate it to the private sphere.
These are the people who would prefer we didnt talk about Church schools and instead talked about faith schools where all faiths could be conveniently blended together and kept in a safe place a process of ghetto-ization at work in a ferocious and insidious way.
They are not all hostile to religions in general or the Christian religion in particular. They simply dont want it in the public square.
However, the 2001 census figures show us that we should be less fearful of claiming our religious heritage. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the 2011 census. Religion is a core aspect of peoples identity and should not be relegated to the private square.
The archbishop said that Britain should be proud of its recent history in guaranteeing civil liberties and creating equal opportunities for all.
However he added that the prized virtue of tolerance is now being used to stifle debate.
Tolerance has become a restricting quality a grudging putting up – with rather that a positive means of building a caring, peaceful society.
The problem with this is that it does not give us the means of voicing and dealing constructively with differences.
We give people private space but do not encourage public discussion and debate on key areas which are seen as difficult such as religion, immigration, the optimum funding for public services. In consequence, these areas of difference are thrust into the margins where they do not go away but instead, tend to fester.
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