Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The decision to refurbish a crematorium should have been a minor one. However, this refurbishment involved replacing a cross-etched window pane, leading to claims of “creeping secularisation” and national media coverage. Malcolm Cupis, editor of Bath Mercury, penned an editorial entitled “[Bath and North East Somerset] Council insults Christians at Christmas”. Mr Cupis believes:
It is nothing more than an act of petty vandalism and a significant revealing insight into the burning hatred and open contempt of the most authoritarian, illiberal and militant cultists in modern society.
Despite being about a glass pane, Cupis’s editorial is rather opaque. B&NES Council refurbished Haycombe Cemetery and Crematorium – its first interior improvement since it was built in 1961 –replacing all of its windows and costing about £140,000. This included one pane which had a cross etched into it. The purchase of a new cross-etched glass sheet would have cost significantly more than a plain pane, so it is incorrect to say that “taxpayers of Bath have had to fund this sorry charade in political spite”. Thanks to a petition which received nearly 5,000 signatures, the council chose to install a plastic and mobile cross for Christian services. However, ‘B&NES Council makes good compromise’ would have not been such an engulfing editorial.
Cupis blames the cross’s removal on appeasing “the tiny minority of aggressive secularists who said that they found it distasteful”. No such secular campaign against this cross exists. Haycombe Cemetery and Crematorium is not a Christian building, but is run and maintained by B&NES Council. The local council had received some complaints about this cross from bereaved visitors, leading to an installation of a blind. It is unclear how the editor can confidently state these visitors were “aggressive secularists”, rather than people from other faiths. Cupis then claims – in complete contradiction to his previous sentence – that the cross was “causing no offence or no consternation”.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Council wrote that the Equality Act 2010 codified a duty to “ensure that we are not offering less favourable treatment to our service users on grounds of their religion or beliefs (or because they do not have a religion or belief)”. Since taxpayers may hold any variation of religious belief, council funds should not be used to support religions. As Thomas Jefferson elaborated, it is the secular state that defends the freedom of religious belief.
Mr Cupis adds that:
If you are not a Christian, and you do not believe in the words of Christianity, then surely the symbology [sic] of the cross means nothing to you. So why the naked hatred? Why does it not then just become a meaningless shape rather than something that you have to direct enmity towards?
Symbols can be encoded with religious ideas. Rejecting those ideas does not mean the symbol becomes “meaningless” – it can be clear to non-believers what symbols represent.
This refurbishment is neither an expression of “naked hatred” nor of “open contempt”, but a council fulfilling its enumerated duties.
Juhani Taylor (Bath Mercury): In Defence of Secularism