People of faith are being driven from public life

‘They will hate you because of who I am,’ Jesus says in the Gospels. He forgot to add: ‘And the ones who don’t have a clue will point and laugh.’ It’s a lesson Carol Monaghan has learned abruptly.

Monaghan is MP for Glasgow North West and a member of the Scottish National Party. A former science teacher, it’s fair to say she hasn’t grabbed the media spotlight in the way some of her colleagues have since entering Parliament in 2015. Still, she’s gone about her duties as an MP, seeing to the needs of her constituents, and serving on the Commons science and technology committee.

This week, the TV cameras finally found her. On Wednesday, Monaghan turned up to her committee and was met by a colleague’s question. What was that on her forehead?

Monaghan is a practising Catholic and had been to Mass that morning for the dispensation of ashes. For Catholics, and other denominations, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and a period of fasting, self-denial and reflection. Ashes are applied to the forehead, with the priestly reminder: “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return”. This ceremony prepares Catholics for six weeks of contrition leading up to Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Monaghan explained to her fellow MP and was met with a blunt response: ‘But this is going to be broadcast’.

To her credit, she kept her ashes intact, explaining: “I think they just thought I didn’t want to be embarrassed – but I was not going to rub it off. Many religions have visible symbols and Christians should not feel any embarrassment in either practising their religion or in the public display of religious symbols.”