Chris Dillow notes that Gordon Brown is privileging religion:
What is a conscience? This is the question Brown opened when he said that “exercising your conscience will mean for Labour Party members a free vote” on parts of the embryology bill.
But, as Janine asks, why should conscience only permit a free vote here? To take just one example, many Labour MPs consciences might – or should – stop them wanting to put people in jail for 42 days without charge. But there’s little hope of a free vote on the Counter Terrorism bill.
What Brown means by “conscience”, then, is “religious belief.” Which raises the question: why should religious beliefs have a special status in politics that allows MPs free votes when they don’t get them on other grounds?
Why should religion be privileged above other belief systems? Dillow says it shouldn’t be. I go further than that: religious beliefs should be accorded less respect, less status, than for example secular liberal beliefs.
There are about 6 billion people in the world, and about 100 million of them die every year. Most of these people die of diseases, many (or all) of which could be curable over time with medical research. So medical research saves lives, and being against medical research — which opponents of the embryology bill are — kills people. Hitler only killed 50 million or so; these people want 100 million potentially preventable deaths to happen every year.
Most of the religious people who oppose the embryology bill are I suppose in their private lives good and decent people; certainly the vast majority don’t personally go round killing people. Which leads me to the conclusion that although good people do good things, and bad people do bad things, it takes religion to make good people do bad things.