When The National reported last December that Scotland’s Isle of Lewis Council had decided to reject a donation of over £11,000 intended to fund the opening of a popular swimming pool on Sundays, the Council denied that religion was a factor in keeping the pool closed on Sundays.
A Council spokesman said:
The Comhairle considered this matter in October of this year  and agreed not to proceed with a trial Sunday opening. This is a democratic decision by the local authority based on an objective assessment of the likely costs and the employment and operational issues involved – not just purely financial issues.
It is a local matter which should be determined locally by elected councillors who are best placed to assess the issues and the local demand for a service.
Some of the cash raised came from the National Secular Society, which said it was convinced that religion was the key reason for the closure of the pool, but the Council spokesman denied this.
The Secular Society is incorrect in its assumption and assertion that the sports centre is not open on a Sunday for Sabbatarian reasons.
Poppycock, wrote Iain Campbell beneath The National‘s report. He claimed the reasons being given for its closure:
Are a smokescreen for religious meddling in and control over the lives of those who don’t share Sabbatarian beliefs. Look South, to our Catholic communities, and you will find similar facilities open on Sundays.
The Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is under majority control by a feckless, fundamentalist cabal who run Harris & Lewis as if it were a cosy little theocracy, for the benefit of the Presbyterian faithful. Anyone who doesn’t like it, is told to move away. Anyone who does open on a Sunday is punished with boycotts. Yes, these things actually do happen. The National should look into just how many of the region’s councillors are currently the subjects of investigation by the Standards Commission for democratic and other lapses.
Our islands are undergoing possibly the worst rate of population decline in modern history, and this is beginning to have a negative effect on service delivery. Unless there is some genuinely creative thinking by our community leaders on how to halt and reverse this decline, our leaders may soon be managing no more than a Free Church commune, entirely reliant on state handouts. Maybe that’s the plan?
A compromise is possible, but they won’t engage or collaborate. The money for a trial has been found, but they refuse to accept it. The elections are coming up and I fear they’ll use re-election as a mandate to keep the centre closed. The Scottish Parliament appears to be disinterested in the fact that a de facto satellite government is making a mockery of Holyrood’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
Reporting this week that Families into Sports for Health (FiSH), which spearheaded the fundraising drive intended to hand the money over to the council on February 3, The National Secular Society pointed out that Alistair McBay, vice-president of the NSS, wrote to Hebrides News that the Council:
Seems to wilfully ignore the fact that its job is to cater for all its citizens on equal terms.
Councillors are supposed to represent all their electorate and not just those of a particular philosophical belief which they may happen to share.
The very least we should expect of our elected representatives is that they judge and decide on key issues having given them due consideration based on reason, rationalism and the wider public interest. When instead individual councillors appear to make decisions based on personal religious belief and narrow personal conscience, then there is a democratic deficit that needs to be addressed.
Earlier, The National quoted McBay as saying:
We are delighted to be able to support these families in the Western Isles and their health initiative. As secularists, we have no objection to Sabbatarians staying indoors on Sunday and observing the Sabbath according to their custom but they need to understand that not all islanders share their religious beliefs.
The local council now has no option but to open the leisure facility for the trial year.
Lewis has a long history of religious fundamentalists blocking services from opening or running on Sundays, and Cllr Neil Beaton said the council should distance itself from a ‘stifling sanctimonious Sabbatarian shroud.’ In 2010, there was strong opposition to the start of a Sunday ferry service between Stornoway on Lewis and Ullapool on the west Highland coast.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn