The Guardian asks makes the statement; "A secular society, yes, an atheist society, no". I am not sure I understand the argument. Are they really expressing a desire for an atheist society? or is the desire a secular society? An atheist society seems unrealistic. One cannot dictate the beliefs of others.
A secular society on the other had, would have room for religion, but would not tolerate rules or laws forced on society that are based on religion or a religious tradition, like wearing the veil
The Guardian states:
Toynbee is right to argue for a secular state, but not if she means an atheist one with no room for religion. Britain remains to some extent a religious society. The 2001 census recorded over 75% of people identifying with a religion, mostly Christian. The Church of England says that 40% of the population attend a Christian service at Christmas each year. Even if the religious were a minority, that would not justify state atheism.
The Guardian seems to be confusing concepts here. It does not matter what the mix of religion in relations to each other or atheists. What matters is that no religion will get to force their beliefs on society. The Guardian's statement seems alarmist. Reading deeper I found that the guardian was actually supporting my point.
It is here that choice can play a role. Toynbee is concerned that by emphasising a woman's choice to wear a veil, women's rights are being undermined - since veil wearing is an example of "covering and controlling women", representing an ideology in "most cultures and religions the world over" from which "Western women have struggled hard to escape". Toynbee ignores the fact that equality of choice is a powerful and radical two-edged sword. It means not only that a person has a right to dress in a certain way (subject to the requirements of work and perhaps even common sense), but that they have a right not to dress in that manner.
The main issue seems to be one of allowing women to wear the veil, or outlawing it. As an American, I read something like this a think - "What the hell are they thinking?" it's a free country, if women want to wear the veil is their own business. There are limits of course, public safety is one concern, I'm sure there are others. The U.K. is different, very different. Libertarians would be up in arms over this issue here.
In the end, I scratched my head , what does this issue have to do with Atheism? Nothing really, but it got our attention.