And by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, that ye establish Constantinian privilege

by Elias Blum

Yesterday, the clericalists wanted the constitution of an independent Scotland to maintain the established status of the Church of Scotland.

Today, it seems (from the comments I have received and the conversations I have had) that they deny that the Church of Scotland is established at all. In place of ‘establishment’, they prefer the term ‘recognition’.

This is dissembling. If the Queen must swear upon her accession to uphold the Church of Scotland, and sends a Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly, if Church of Scotland Ministers have privileged access to ‘non-denominational’ public schools, and if the Church of Scotland is recognised by law as a ‘national’ church, how does this not amount to establishment? It is a different form of establishment from that which prevailed before 1921, or before 1843, to be sure, but from a political-legal point of view, it is an establishment all the same.

Still, they don’t like the word, so let us set aside words. Let us assume that they seek not the establishment of the Church of Scotland, but only its ‘recognition’.

These then, are my questions: (i) What purpose does ‘recognition’ serve? (ii) By what authority, or for what reason, do you feel you are entitled to such ‘recognition’?

I have yet to receive answers to these questions.

The reason, I suspect, is that ‘recognition’ can serve no legitimate purpose. Provided that religious liberty and non-discrimination are enshrined in the Constitution (which of course they would have to be, as they are integral to the European Convention on Human Rights), recognition adds nothing to the freedom of churches; it adds only to their status and power. It serves no purpose except to say to all others, ‘We rule here, this is our country, you heretics are second-class citizens.’

I’d also ask, ‘What are they afraid of?’ A secular Constitution, giving equal freedom to all and special privileges – or ‘recognition’ – to none, can harm no-one and nothing. What does a church have to fear from this? What does the work of the Kingdom of God have to fear from this? Nothing. The only thing threatened by a secular Constitution is the false pride of the institutional church.

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