London, Aug 4 (IANS) — Christian organisations would be well represented on the committee. The Observer reported that the move would amount to a “major break with British traditions that religion and government should not mix“.
Known as the Faith Community Liaison Group, it will have an input into controversial policy areas such as faith schools, which are allowed to select their pupils on the basis of their beliefs and religious discrimination.
Although based in the Home Office, it will advise the Departments for Education, Culture, Media and Sport and Trade and Industry.
The move has raised the hackles of secular groups.
Keith Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, which includes in its membership a number of Labour MPs, said: “We feel this is a further example of the government’s desire to favour and privilege religious organisations, and wonder when the opinions and needs of those who are non-religious will be similarly regarded.
“The non-religious feel alienated and excluded from the political processes that help shape our society.”
The ministerial working group has been set up in the Home Office. The move is believed to have the strong support of the two other leading Christian members of the cabinet, David Blunkett, the home secretary, and Paul Boateng, chief secretary of the treasury.
The Observer reported that Blair, a committed Christian who keeps the Bible by his bed, knows he is taking a risk by revealing the importance he places on religion in informing his politics.
Christian organisations said that there was much that could be learnt from religious groups and the work they do in the community.
“This is an important development that goes way beyond a narrower set of faith community concerns like faith schools or regeneration,” said Graham Dale, director of the Christian Socialist Movement, of which Blair is a member.
Dale added: “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.”
Some officials were reported to be concerned that the government would fall victim to unfavourable comparisons with the Republican administration in America, where President George Bush makes no secret of his religious faith and rightwing religious organisations have a powerful input into policymaking, particularly on sensitive issues such as abortion.
© Copyright 2001-2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.