Free Parking for the Religious in This British Town, but Atheists Are Out of Luck

If you ever happen to find yourself in Woking, Surrey, a large British town of some 100,000 people, you might be entitled to free Sunday parking in local municipal garages. But there’s a catch: the offer is valid only if you’re religious.

In that case, local churches or mosques will validate your parking stub. So count your blessings… and your savings! Woking subsidizes “religious” parking to the tune of £41,000 ($64,000) a year.

Ray Morgan, Woking council’s chief executive, believes people shouldn’t have to “pay to pray”:

“We take a view that those people who worship… have a special role in our society,” he said. “The way austerity is going in our society, faith groups might be the only people left standing who are doing any of the lower level social care.”

His view seems to be that being a worshipper “encourages one to participate in society.”

Got that, non-superstitious people? From the town council’s perspective, your godless contributions to society are as good as meaningless. Whether you’re an atheist businesswoman creating jobs with solid working (woking?) wages, or the agnostic organizer of a shelter for the homeless, or maybe just a freethinker tourist enriching the local pubs and oriental restaurants (sample Woking’s wokking scene!), no free parking for you.

Britain’s National Secular Society (NSS) thinks that isn’t right and is taking legal actionKeith Porteous Wood, executive director of the group, told the BBC what bothers him:

“We have launched this challenge to preferential treatment of worshippers because it’s neither legitimate nor lawful for local government to subsidize the activities of any particular religion and belief group. It would be fairer if the council either charged worshippers for parking, as they do everyone else, or provided free parking for all.

In the U.S., with its particular Constitution and the prominence enjoyed by the First Amendment, a suit over government benefits going exclusively to religious believers would probably be a slam dunk. (On second thought, we could talk tax exemptions and I’d be eating crow. Hmm…)

I don’t profess to know what the NSS suit’s chances are across the pond, but the fairness principle should hold sway with any reasonable magistrate.

Let’s not forget that the U.K. is one of the most secular places on the planet. Fully 42 percent of Britons are agnostics or atheists. Only 12 percent frequently go to church. It’s borderline aggravating when non-churchy citizens are publicly pooh-poohed and marginalized by the likes of Ray Morgan, but it surely crosses some line when, after Hizzoner is done talking shit about them, he hits them in the pocketbook to raise money for his favored minority.

I’m glad the NSS is telling Morgan where to park his prejudice.

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***Update*** Other cities in the U.K., including Canterbury and Leeds, also discriminate against non-religious parkers, and Edinburgh is under pressure from Christians lobbying hard for the same sorry practice.

(image via Overcoming Bias)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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