It’s right up there with Iran’s nuclear programme, North Korean missile testing and genocide in Syria, though you may be excused for having missed it.
Yes, local councils, all over the country have been mercilessly discriminating against atheists by… offering preferential parking rates on a Sunday morning to those who attend church. Some don’t even charge them at all.
Mysteriously, inexcusably, typically the Church of England has done nothing about this. Instead, it has wasted its time welcoming and commenting on a UN report on eradicating poverty and transforming economies through sustainable development and then – wait for it – in announcing a fast by a number of bishops to draw attention to the Big IF Fast and to the fact that one in eight people around the world go hungry every day. Talk about misplaced priorities.
But, be not afraid. Just when you worried that no-one would right this terrible wrong, the National Secular Society has stepped forward and is suing Woking Council for its discriminatory policy of allowing free parking for worshippers on a Sunday. Using the Equality Act (what did the NSS do before the Equality Act?), the NSS is treating Woking as a test case. If successful, it may herald the end to this crime.
This is not, I assure you, a joke. I read it in The Guardian. According to the paper’s legal correspondent, Keith Porteous Wood (executive director of the NSS) drove to Woking one Sunday in April and had to pay the £3 to park his car in the Heathside Crescent council car park. Unlike local worshippers, who believe strange and terrible things, Mr Porteous Wood, who is rational, “was afforded no opportunity to park his car there without charge.” And this amounts to discrimination. The rest, as they say, is legal process.
The world waits with baited breath for the outcome of this case, and while it does I can drop the heavy sarcasm to make what should be an obvious point. The Church (of England, in particular) is often accusing of getting exercised over the wrong (i.e. insignificant) ethical issues. Sometimes the accusation is justified; more often, I would venture, it is not. Either way, in the light of this story, it is, shall we say, ironic. This blog is not often use to defend atheists and secularists, a tough bunch in no need of Christian soldiers, but it needs saying that this action cannot (surely?) be representative of either atheist or secularist opinion in Britain, much of which will, I assume, find it more than a little embarrassing.
As so often the case, The Simpsons nailed reality long before we lived it. Attending a Prison Rodeo the family are told by the warder not to feel too bad for one particular convict. “He’s here for erecting a nativity scene on city property!” Marge shakes her head in sadness and horror. “There’s so much evil in the world.”
Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos