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Friday, 19 July 2013

Commemorating 200 years of Unitarian Religious Freedom

British Unitarians this weekend will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Unitarian toleration Act which became law on 21 July 1813. The Act removed penalties against those who were deniers of the Trinity who had not been given toleration under the Toleration Act of 1689 and the Blasphemy Act of 1698. It's promoter, William Smith MP, rightly said that the Act enabled every Denomination of Christian to preach their respective tenets without let or hindrance, "none, legally daring to make them afraid". Since then Unitarians have continued when they gather to toast "civil and religious liberty the world over".  

The General Assembly has published a worship pack on 1813 prepared by myself which will hopefully be used in services this weekend.

The most significant effect of the Act was that it aided the emergence of Unitarianism from the shadows. The name "Unitarian" could now be used in public without fear. Unitarianism was now a distinct and separate movement within Dissent rather than being purely an intellectual position held by individuals.

Our commitment to religious freedom stems directly from our own experience. Blasphemy legislation remains in place in many parts of the world and is used, and abused, to harass political and religious dissent and sometimes to settle personal disputes. An accusation of blasphemy is particularly pernicious and dangerous. It is difficult to refute and the public can be easily inflamed by emotive rhetoric. Justice is rarely done, even if the accused is cleared by the secular legal authorities.

In reflecting upon the Unitarian experience we should be motivated to support the demands for religious freedom of others. You can do this by joining the International Association for Religious Freedom, a worldwide multi-faith not for profit campaigning organisation.  

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Unitarians Celebrate Royal Assent for Same Sex Marriage Bill

It has been a bit of a roller-coaster for the Same Sex Marriage Bill over recent months but yet today we can truly celebrate now that the legislation has received the Royal Assent. This is an historic day for the full inclusion of LGBT people in society.

Unitarians began this journey in April 2008 when our General Assembly supported the right to hold civil partnership ceremonies in places of worship. At the time it seemed so radical and unachievable. To move so quickly to same sex marriage in church as well as in civil settings is a remarkable step.

We would congratulate members of all political parties in both Houses of Parliament who have steadfastly supported equal marriage. To our opponents we say that your fears will be found groundless.

We are pleased that Parliament accepted our arguments that those faith groups who wished to host same sex marriages should be able to do so. Religious freedom meant the right to say yes as well as no.This was, of course, not in the original consultation paper yet the Government responded to our sincerely held views.

Same sex marriage has been controversial, however, with our friends in the Quakers, Liberal and Reform Judaism and in other faith groups; we have prevented this from becoming a "culture war" between faith and secular society. There is clear support for same sex marriage across people of many faiths and none.

Unitarians will be working with the Government to ensure that the regulations that will govern provision of same sex marriage are workable and that the lessons surrounding the somewhat flawed introduction of civil partnerships in religious premises will be learned. So let's celebrate today; with the hard work ahead.