Last week, Jacob Rees-Mogg gave an interview, which some have called “the end of his political career”. Depending on your political leaning, his performance on Good Morning Britain could have either made you squeal with delight, or feel sick to your stomach. Despite his contention that his views were in line with “the teaching of the Catholic Church” and therefore weren’t politically relevant, this failed to prevent the wave of criticism which followed the interview.
The issue at hand is not whether religion can influence one’s political views. It’s instead whether politicians can have those views inform their political stance on issues in Parliament. Politicians are there to represent us. Whilst manifestos and pre-election promises may provide some of the guidelines on how those politicians should vote, and the issues they will pursue as matters of political urgency, they cannot account for all of it. Mogg’s defence of his own, unpopular, views was that they will never be enacted in Parliament and that these decisions, made by free votes, will never be decided in his favour.
Contrary to Mogg’s belief, this does not justify politicians voting based purely on their own beliefs. They are still our representatives, and voting contrary to the wishes of their electorate is failing to fulfil their designated role. It is the duty of a politician to try to discern an area of consensus, and as far as possible to vote in accordance with it.
The problems with intertwining religion and politics go far further than causing offence to our democratic process. Religion in politics is derisive. It invites arguments about ideologies on which neither party will change their mind, and can encourage the demonisation of religious groups. So shortly following the Brexit vote, and in a nation which has seen a shameful amount of Islamophobia, it is plain to see how quickly minorities are attacked. To allow or encourage such potential for division is irresponsible. To endanger the minority groups who will feel the negative effects is neglectful.
The place of religion in politics may be up for debate in Cherwell, but religious views themselves are rarely put to the test in the same way as those unsubstantiated by a religious viewpoint. Mogg had to reply: “I’m afraid so” when asked if he opposed abortion in all circumstances, including rape. Surely this reluctant response demonstrates the precedence religious teachings take over logical reasoning.
If someone were ordinarily to oppose protection of rape victims, or equality for the LGBT+ community, there would be an uproar. So why is it deemed acceptable when blessed with the seal of religion? When it comes to politics, and the policies which will affect all of us, we cannot allow votes to be made without reason. That is not to say a religious individual cannot be guided by their faith, nor that they cannot advocate them when independently justified. It is just to say that where something is morally indefensible, being in line with “the teaching of the Catholic Church” is an insufficient answer.
There may be a concern that telling Mogg to keep his religion out of politics is denying him his religious freedom. A quick look at the current system would reveal it to be a lot worse. Our monarch serves as Head of State and Head of the Church of England, the Prime Minister selects the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the House of Lords seats 26 bishops as peers. This endorsement of a religion is inappropriate in itself, and such preferential treatment should be left as a historical relic, distinctly in the past.
Freedom of religion is important and should be protected. Individuals who wish to be guided by their religion are free to do so. However, if you are a policy maker in this country, we demand more. Views based on belief should be reestablished in reason, and we will never allow religion to be used as an excuse to discriminate against citizens. Mogg may never have to face the choice between an abortion and having his rapist’s baby, but for those who do, we won’t let his religion stop them from getting the protection they need.