It took the Emperor Constantine's say-so before churches could come with towers attached. Nelson was raised up on his Column as the very epitome of his country's ideal perception of itself.
Announce that you are going to put up a column in your back garden with Hitler on top, and you will speedily discover that it is everybody's business. And rightly so.
So the electorate of Switzerland have just made a statement about what values and beliefs they want to see affirmed by their skyline. They have seen how tolerance of intolerance has played out elsewhere in Europe, and decided to issue a symbolic warning to their cozy political elite that they will not follow it in a sleepwalking progress down the path trodden by its counterparts in countries such as Britain.
Consider this: the progressive opinion which the Swiss have so outraged is perfectly happy for Turkey to be welcomed into Europe. Turkey, a country in which it is for all practical purposes impossible to build a church, be it never so unobtrusive.
Here in Britain our Education Secretary, the never more aptly named Mr Balls, is trying to bluster his way out of the revelation that public money has been channelled to schools which are at the very least in the ideological orbit of Hizb ut Tahrir, an organization which makes Switzerland's SVP look like a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals. Hands up everyone who thinks this sets an inspiring example for observers in Switzerland or anywhere else.
And note that if, as we are constantly assured, the only problem was a tiny minority of extremists, these schools would have folded for lack of pupils. They haven't.
And yet, and yet. When the elite loses the confidence of the populace, however deservedly, and populists get their chance, the results tend not to be pretty. The SVP is evidently an unpleasant outfit which has little compunction about playing the race card. There's no escape from the principle that two wrongs don't make a right. A simple, blanket ban directed at one faith looks bigoted however valid the fears underlying it.
So how about this as a rather more sophisticated way of making the point that rights must never be divorced from responsibilities?
Tall-pointy-things-attached-to-places-of-worship-law (December 2009)
(and believe me, that will look mightily impressive translated into German)
Permission for the construction of tall pointy things attached to places of worship shall be conditional on the following:-
- All members of the worshipping community shall sign a declaration affirming their support for freedom of religion. This declaration will affirm that freedom of religion includes the right of every individual to choose their religious affiliation, regardless of any previous affiliation, without fear of punishment, reprisal or discrimination. It will also affirm the right of individuals to join together in faith communities and engage openly in religious worship. It will call for these rights to be respected in all countries of the world.
- The place of worship shall not be used for any preaching, teaching or dissemination of literature which contradicts the declaration on freedom of religion.
- The worshipping community shall be responsible for expelling any member who makes any public statement or commits any act contradicting the declaration.
- The worshipping community shall demonstrate that it does not receive funding from persons or organizations which do not uphold freedom of religion, or from citizens or domiciles of countries which do not uphold it.
- Any contravention of the above points shall result in a warning. A second contravention shall result in demolition at the worshipping community's expense.
And then let a thousand Alpine minarets blossom. Or not.