David Cameron needs to stop his bigoted intrusions into religion

Prime Minister David Cameron has a worrying habit of thinking he can interfere on religious practicesReuters

David Cameron fell into a trap yesterday.

It is an easy mistake to make, and one he has made several times before. It is the trap of politicians dictating how religious communities should and should not behave.

In response to a question on cuts to benefits for women yesterday in PMQs Cameron said: "Let me say this to the Labour party, one thing you could help with: no more segregated political meetings.

"Let us end the process of having people with bigoted religious views treating women as second-class citizens. I think you should all take a pledge: no more segregated meetings."

He was supported by the Welsh secretary, Stephen Crabb, who is a Christian. "Requiring men and women to sit apart is an affront to British values," he said.

First things first, Cameron needs get a grasp of the English language. According to the Oxford dictionary a bigot is someone who is "intolerant towards those holding different opinions". Gender segregated meetings are not bigoted. They may be uncomfortable but they are not bigoted.

In fact the label "bigot", which seems to have become fashionable in political discourse about religion, is more applicable to the Prime Minister than the meetings he is describing, thanks to his blatant lack of tolerance and understanding.

Beyond semantics there is a more important point. Obviously segregated meetings where women are not permitted to mingle with men might raise questions. They instinctively make us squirm and think there is something not quite right here.

However it is also deeply entrenched in some people's faiths and worldviews. However bizarre it may seem, some religious people believe that it is better for men and women not to mingle in public and choose to act in that way. That includes many women. It is crucial to recognise that for many this is a choice and not an imposition.

It is not the Prime Minister's role to dictate what is and is not acceptable for religious communities. The government's primary duty is to protect the people. So when a religious community incites or enacts violence, by all means intervene for the safety of society.

Segregated meetings however are not a matter of public safety. The government has no role interfering.

It was disappointing that Christian groups, so quick to jump into action at the sign of any government interference on Sunday schools or free speech, did not lift a finger to call out this interference indirectly aimed at Muslim communities. Would there have been the same silence had Cameron made the comments about Jewish synagogues?

Cameron's comment is part of a worrying trend of the government's growing belief it has the final word on what religions can and cannot believe. Extremist Disruption Orders (EDOs) and possible Ofsted inspections of churches have riled the Christian lobby groups quite rightly but they mustn't go quiet when the same happens to Muslims.

If Cameron wants to appeal to Muslim communities in particular but faith groups as a whole, he needs to learn his place. By all means step in when people's safety is threatened and hatred is promoted. But beyond that, however much you disagree with someone's worldview or however distasteful you find it, you must learn to respect it. Tolerance to all faiths must be the starting point.