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What role should faith have in a liberal public square? A quick trawl on Twitter of the phrase ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ predictably brings up a largely negative view: “Keep religion out of politics”, and “Religion and politics are a toxic mix.”

Much of this suspicion is from liberals who believe that the absence of faith is somehow a neutral position in politics; if you hold a faith you are at best eccentric and, at worst, intolerant and intolerable. This view holds that faith is acceptable if it is practised as a kind of private hobby, and if it has no bearing on your public actions or pronouncements.

As a liberal politician, and a Christian, I have been encouraged many times to leave my faith at the door when I engage in public debate. But, even if that were possible, why would it be desirable? I don’t want policymakers to be empty-headed and value-free. I want people to feel comfortable with expressing their views – and defending those views – in robust but respectful debate.

For a start there is no such thing as a neutral public square. We all approach life with a particular world view and set of values. These are developed, often subconsciously, from our parents, peer groups, teachers, the media and our culture. Society is formed of people with a myriad of beliefs and outlooks.

Second, the reality of faith is that it is not a private world view, but one that inspires action. Look at the response to the horrific Grenfell Tower fire last year. The local faith groups – churches, mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras – stepped in and provided food, accommodation, counselling and support over the following days and months. They were able to do this because they were already embedded in the local landscape, trusted and visible, and committed to serving and supporting the community.

This demonstrates faith that goes beyond the cultural and surface niceties of religion. This kind of faith is what drives many people, and it comes with a holistic world view, which in the Christian faith often includes an emphasis on the teachings of the Bible.

This is what liberals often find hard to stomach. But it has been largely forgotten that many of the values held by today’s liberal secular society are built upon Christian foundations.

The Biblical narrative centres on the idea that we are all created in the image of God, and that Christ died for each one of us. This powerful belief confers on every individual an innate worth. It carries with it the fundamental requirement to treat others with respect and dignity, no matter who they are. This is a truly ‘lofty equality’ on which the secular liberal concept of human rights is based.

Yet today’s debate is so often defined by the concept of ‘us and them’. If we view someone as fundamentally different to us, for example because of their race, religion, sexuality or language, it is then only a small step to justifying treatment of them that we would never tolerate if it was being meted out to our own family or friends.

There is an argument that the resurgence of nationalism in the UK, USA and across Europe has been in part due to the intolerance of ‘liberal elites’ shouting down any views that diverge from their own. And liberals should be ashamed of this sort of behaviour. John Stuart Mill believed that the greatest threat to freedom is the tyranny of opinion, using social pressure to freeze out certain views. Instead, liberalism should seek to promote conscience above conformity, and oppose the idea of society being beholden to any particular worldview.

A truly liberal society involves fighting for the rights and freedoms of people you don’t agree with. It means holding in balance the views of a pluralistic population by upholding freedom of speech, religion and conscience. It requires more religious literacy from our institutions and political classes. It also needs us to put aside personal attacks and learn how to listen respectfully and disagree well with one other

Tim Farron is MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and the former Leader of the Liberal Democrats. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Staying Faithful?. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.