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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Newsline 27th May 2005

Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
Atheists Must Not Become Cinderellas At Work
Scottish Atheist Fights Catholic Discrimination In Schools
Christian Academies Being Forced Onto Unwilling Communities
Ofcom Lightens Up TV Regulation
Oriana Fallaci Prosecuted Again For “Insulting Islam”
Prayer Room Is Centre Of Religious Warfare At University
Major Event On Secularism To Be Held In Paris – Why Not Join Us?
NSS Speaks Out
How “Good” Christians Plan To Challenge “Filthy Atheists”
Active Secularism Day Is Shaping Up – Why Not Come Along?
Letters To Newsline

Quotes of the week

“People do not accidentally become religious. Being a Christian is not ‘natural’; it is an acquired characteristic. Like a language, it must be learned and, if it is not used in the home, in everyday conversation and in public life, it dies out. As the population that speaks a minority tongue shrinks, decline does not slow; it becomes faster. There is no natural obstacle to the death of a language. I do not see why the fate of a religion should be different.”
(Steve Bruce, professor of sociology, commenting on the decline in religion in Scotland - The Scotsman)

“Remember the saying, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses’? It seems as though the majority of the masses in this country need a 12-step program”
(Christine Marquette, Miami Herald).

“We stand in the path of a worldwide fundamentalist tsunami”.
(Frank Schaeffer, San Francisco Chronicle)

Essays of the week


The National Secular Society has challenged plans by a group of 11 high-profile employers who have launched a new organisation to help firms “recognise the religious needs of employees” and enable ethnic workers celebrate holy days and to “promote good business practice toward religious belief”. The NSS has written to the organisers of this initiative to question where the rights of non-believing employees fit into this.

The Employers Forum on Belief is the original brainchild of BT, the Land Registry, Accenture, Barclays, The Royal Bank of Scotland Group, B&Q, London Underground, Race For Opportunity, Shell, the Co-operative Group and the BBC.

The Forum’s main objective is to “exchange information and build awareness of all the main holy days and festivals in an effort to further its belief that, in today’s multicultural world, understanding the varying faiths and beliefs of all people is essential to good business practice”.

“Originally it was just a small group of organisations that got together to share knowledge of religious beliefs and issues in the workplace because there was no support group to do that,” said Amanda Jones, head of diversity at the Co-operative Group. “We wanted to create somewhere to go if issues of religious belief turn up,” she said. “We think it’s appropriate to say to the world in a soft and gentle way, ‘We don’t have all the answers, but we have a body of expertise.’ It is largely about greater understanding and building awareness.”

Launched last week, the Forum has committed itself to meet with different faith groups on a regular basis to shape new policy initiatives and share ideas on better business practice.

In a letter to Amanda Jones, Keith Porteous Wood asks to see documents that show what is being proposed in relation to holiday priorities, time off for worship, prayer rooms and employer-sponsored religious events, such as prayer breakfasts.

“The reality is that religion is not a burning concern to most people, and the introduction of religious privileges into the working environment will lead to conflict, as has already been shown in the USA, where arguments over the use of prayer rooms, about people attempting to evangelise unwilling colleagues, and issues of dress and beards. Given that religion is asserting itself in the workplace to such an extent, we are determined that the rights of non-believers to similar privileges will not be lost,” Mr Porteous Wood said.

BT, for instance, has a number of flourishing “faith groups”. These include the 700-strong Christian network and a fledgling Muslim group. “The EFB is about sharing good practice to ensure mistakes are not repeated,” said Caroline Waters, chair of EFB and director of People Networks and Policy for BT.


In a case that could have wide implications for the rights of non-believing workers, an atheist teacher at a Roman Catholic high school this week claimed he was barred from promotion because of religious discrimination.

David McNab, 53, a maths teacher at St Paul’s High School in the Pollok area of Glasgow, told an employment tribunal how he was made to feel like a “second-class citizen” when his headteacher told him he could not be considered for the post of principal teacher of pastoral care because the job required Catholic Church approval. Glasgow City Council argues that it was an occupational requirement for the post and denies discrimination on the grounds of religion or religious belief.

Mr McNab told the tribunal that he had taught at the school for 15 years, but, although it was a Catholic school, he was an atheist. Asked by Brian Napier, QC, representing him, how he had coped, he replied: “Very well. I have had one or two moral crises due to my atheist religion. I have got over them. It has not caused any problems to my teaching.”

Mr McNab told how he had applied for promotion on numerous occasions. He said he was aware the guidance teacher post required Catholic accreditation, but, following reorganisation at the school, this post was replaced by the post of pastoral care teacher, which also covered learning support.

Mr McNab said he told Robert O’Donnell, the head, that he intended to apply when a principal pastoral care teaching post became available in September last year. He said the notice advertising the job did not mention Catholic accreditation. But he added: “Mr O’Donnell told me he would not interview me as I was non-Catholic.”

He said they discussed the other candidate, a colleague of Mr McNab, who was a Catholic, and had been promoted on a number of occasions. “He told me, and it rather insulted me, that it was a very important job and it had to be filled quickly. My feelings had been very badly hurt. I was made to feel like a second-class citizen.” Mr McNab said he considered only about 10 per cent of the school roll of more than 600 were from homes where Catholicism was practised. McNab would have received a pay rise of about £8,000 a year if promoted.

Under cross-examination by Ian Truscott, QC, for Glasgow City Council, Mr McNab disagreed that a non-Catholic pastoral care teacher could have difficulties promoting the school’s ethos in areas where the Church held a certain view, revealing he was pro-life and anti-abortionist, and “a very moral person”. He also denied telling Mr O’Donnell he was applying to “challenge the system”.

Later in the hearing, it emerged just how far the Catholic Church has gone in using its privileged position in publicly-funded schools to practise discrimination and prejudice.

Keir Bloomer, a former deputy director of education with Strathclyde Regional Council, told the tribunal that Catholic teachers seeking jobs at Catholic schools had to seek Church approval. They had to satisfy the Church as to their “religious belief and character”, but this did not apply to non-Catholics who were applying for “non-reserved” posts.

Asked why the Church might not approve of some Catholic teachers, Mr Bloomer replied. “Not sending their child to a Catholic school was quite a common one. Issues to do with marriage cropped up. Being divorced and remarried tended to be something the Church regarded as a just cause for withdrawing approval.”

George Gardner, the council’s deputy director of education, told the tribunal that ‘guidance teachers’ would be expected to follow the Catholic line when dealing with issues such as sexuality, pregnancy and contraception. The case continues.
See also: Where is the solidarity in this David versus Goliath fight? (The Scotsman)

In another case before an industrial tribunal, the woman head of a school run by The Exclusive Brethren sect had her pay slashed and was then replaced by a male member of the religious group because women are regarded as mere ‘helpmeets’. Read report: Ex head of 'sect' school in tribunal wrangle


The Times Educational Supplement reports today three areas in Britain that are having Christian-sponsored academies foisted on them despite clear local opposition. Yet again, this goes against the Government’s promise that these schools would only be created with the clear assent of the local community.

Parents on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent claim that the Church of England academy is being imposed on them without consultation. The Canterbury diocese has been having secret talks with the council, which says it will consult “when the Government gives the idea the go-ahead”. Theresa Longworthy, chair of the action group of 253 parents says “The Council should be more open and honest with us.”

In Barnsley, South Yorkshire, a poll of parents on a proposed £25 million Christian-run academy has been totally ignored after it revealed that most parents didn’t want the school. The United Learning Trust (which is, in fact, the Church of England using a name which is obviously intended to mislead people about its true purpose) is joint bidder for the school. An independent report showed 48 per cent of parents opposed the school while 39 per cent favoured it. The Anglican spokesman said the poll had been skewed by an anti-academy campaign by a local union (in other words, only its own propaganda counts).

In Leicester, the campaign continues to stop an Anglican academy which opponents say could be racially divisive. The Action for Community Schools group has complained to the parliamentary ombudsman about the way the £20m school has been forced on them. The Church of England, though, has thumbed its nose at the campaigners, saying the Government has already approved the project and it will go ahead, so all further protest is pointless. There have been accusations that the Government has put undue influence on the council to force these measures through.

The TES also reports on plans to open a new Christian academy in Immingham, Lincolnshire, run by the evangelical organisation The Oasis Trust, where Tony Blair gave his speech before the election. Teachers and parents are already expressing apprehension about the religious element of the school. The TES quotes Sue Haynes, who has a son who will have to transfer to the new academy, as saying: “If children are not religious, why should they have a faith shoved down their throats?”
See also: Welsh academic claims there’s a growing call for creationist-style schools


The media regulator Ofcom has issued a new code that will govern broadcasting. The NSS contributed to the research and consultation that went into the formation of the code, and it is clear that Ofcom has tried hard to reduce the amount of regulation that broadcasters must observe, which is good news for defenders of free expression.

Ofcom says: “The Code provides for broadcasters to transmit challenging material, even that which may be considered offensive by some, provided it is editorially justified and the audience given appropriate warnings – and, of course, that it is within the law. The freedom to broadcast this material is limited at times when children may particularly be expected to be listening or viewing — in television terms, pre-watershed.”

It will be more difficult now for religious groups to make complaints about swearing as the code recognises that most people are tolerant of bad language in context, so long as it is broadcast at a time when children are unlikely to be watching or listening.

The religious element of the code, however, calls for broadcasters to “ensure that religious programmes do not involve any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination”. They must also ensure that “religious programmes do not involve any improper exploitation of any susceptibilities of the audience for such a programme”. Nor must religious TV programmes directly seek recruits, although radio shows can.

The code also says that “religious programmes must not exploit the susceptibilities of their audience” — although many of us think this is their entire purpose. And nor should claims be made by living persons, or groups of people, to have “special powers” such as miracle healing. The “living person” caveat handily exempts the followers of Jesus from having to curb or prove the incredible claims of their founder.

Demonstrations of exorcism, which were previously banned except in investigative programmes, are now permitted but must be “objective”. The new code says: “Demonstrations of exorcism, the occult, the paranormal, divination, or practices related to any of these that purport to be real (as opposed to entertainment) must be treated with due objectivity. If a demonstration of exorcism, the occult, the paranormal, divination, or practices related to any of these is for entertainment purposes, this must be made clear to viewers and listeners. Demonstrations of exorcism, the occult, the paranormal, divination, or practices related to any of these (whether such demonstrations purport to be real or are for entertainment purposes) must not contain life-changing advice directed at individuals.”

Terry Sanderson, NSS spokesperson on the media, said: “We are all for lighter regulation and we welcome Ofcom’s acceptance that broadcasters have a right — even a duty — to bring us challenging material. This is most important in the face of the attempt by fundamentalists to force their ‘values’ on to us by the use of undue pressure and attempted censorship. Broadcasters need not fear another Jerry Springer – the Opera debacle.”

Read the whole code (and the related research into attitudes to religious programmes)

Commenting on the ubiquity of religious programmes on television at the moment, the Independent’s TV critic, Thomas Sutcliffe, wrote on Wednesday: “There are born-again Christians in Pioneer House, murmuring about divine providence. There are Benedictine monks in The Monastery (scoring at least one tentative conversion to faith) and last night Compulsion featured a Christian therapeutic community attempting to wean a young man away from his destructive addictions. What’s common to all is that faith isn’t their ostensible subject, it’s just part of the climate in which they operate. And for a nervous atheist such as myself — grimly aware of the long withdrawing roar of reason in this increasingly superstitious age — it’s depressing… Impressionable viewers might be persuaded that it all makes sense, which I presume is what the makers of at least some of these programmes were after.”


Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who has made waves by denouncing Islam in her books, is to face trial for purportedly “insulting the Muslim faith” in her latest work, a court in Northern Italy ruled this week.

A judge refused a request by prosecutors to throw out the case, brought by the president of the Muslim Union of Italy, Adel Smith, and ordered magistrates to proceed in the matter.

The accusations stem from her last book called The Force of Reason. Mr. Smith says the book — not yet available in English — contains “words that are without doubt offensive toward Islam.”

Miss Fallaci, who is known for her provocative style of writing, got into trouble two weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, when she published the strongly pro-American and anti-Islam book The Rage and the Pride.

Miss Fallaci, 74, who lives in New York, writes in her latest book that Europe is turning into “an Islamic province, an Islamic colony” and that “to believe that a good Islam and a bad Islam exist goes against all reason.”

The attorney for the Muslim Union, Ugo Fanuzzi, said Miss Fallaci would have to answer first to the charge of insulting a religious faith, but he did not exclude that she could face charges of inciting hatred of religions.

Miss Fallaci was sued in 2002 over The Rage and the Pride in a French court and accused of violating anti-racist laws. The case was dismissed on a technicality. Speaking to a Washington audience in October 2002, Miss Fallaci said the Islamic world is engaged in a cultural war with the West. “The hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind,” she said. “The clash between us and them is not a military one. It is a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come.”

Tight security was in place for the speech at the American Enterprise Institute after death threats were issued against her and her attorney as a result of The Rage and the Pride.

In her prime, Miss Fallaci was famed as a belligerent journalist and argumentative interviewer, who had unprecedented access to the world’s most reclusive and wary leaders. A partisan in the Italian resistance in World War II and a lifelong leftist, she once became so disgusted while interviewing Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that she ripped off her head scarf and threw it in his face calling it a “mediaeval rag”. The act of defiance was considered an unpardonable sin in the ayatollah’s Iran.

The Rage and the Pride, originally published in an Italian newspaper and then as a book, has sold more than 1 million copies in Italy and has also been popular in Germany and France. All three nations have large Muslim immigrant populations.

Here are some of the passages that have led to the trial


The craze for providing “prayer rooms” at work and at school is creating religious conflict in the USA – and it is bound to be repeated here as these indulgent nuisances proliferate.

At the University of Michigan-Flint in the USA, Room 386 is called the Meditation Room and is supposed to be a centre of peace and tranquillity. But now it has become a centre of a religious dispute between some Muslim and non-Muslim students. Complaints started in November that some Muslim students were monopolising the space, about the size of a storage room, and filling it with religious paraphernalia and anti-Israel literature. Muslim students responded that they were being unfairly targeted, and appealed to the university for religious tolerance.

“I do think that the current political climate does contribute to Islamophobia,” Bishr Aldabagh, a former Student Government Council president and student commencement speaker, told The Flint Journal for a story Monday. “The room serves the needs of students from different religions, but I do think that the reaction would have been different if the room was used predominantly by Christians or Jews.”

Student Zea Miller, 22, of Flint, asked the university for a more balanced use of the room, urging it to “whitewash” the walls and remove all religious items. The walls of the room once held posters, Muslim Student Association awards and framed pictures. Prayer rugs and books also were stored there.

“There are people who feel offended and intimidated being in the Meditation Room or within the presence of artifacts representative of beliefs not their own,” Miller, who is not a member of any of the school’s four student religious organisations, said in his petition.

The Hillel Student Organization, a Jewish student group, wrote a letter supporting the petition. “The room is really important to us also, (and) we don’t feel comfortable using it the way it is right now,” said Katie Segal, 20, president of Hillel. “The inside and outside had a lot of anti-Zionist propaganda and pictures and paraphernalia.” Ms Segal said one of her organisation’s members had discussed the matter with members of MSA. “The MSA group had a lot of pro-Palestinian (literature) that I was not bothered by. It was the anti-Zionist stuff,” Segal said. “There were news articles, posters and pamphlets. It was a very unfriendly place, (so) we just walked away and went to a different room. I understand people who frequent the room need certain supplies to pray or meditate. I was in favour of the white washing.” Segal said the suggestion of “Islamophobia” was simply not true. “I think they’re going to use that as their cover,” she said.

Other groups see it differently. “We don’t have a problem sharing that room,” said Tom Coy, a member of Students Defending Christian Principles.

To quell the tension, the school posted new rules outside the room. “Anyone can go there to pray or (do) what they want,” university spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan said. “It’s not set up for one religion in particular.”

But how long before the Muslims insist that they won’t share? After all – they’re worshipping the true God. Everyone else is an infidel, and who wants to pray in a room polluted by non-believers?


This year marks the centenary of the 1905 French Law of Separation of Church and State. Our French counterpart Libre Pensée Française played a crucial role in achieving this landmark legislation. Now a major conference to mark this anniversary has been organised in conjunction with International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). NSS members and other Newsline readers are cordially invited to attend. Separation of Religion and State is to be held on the week commencing 4th July in the glorious (and very accessible) city of Paris.

Special sessions on Science and Secularism, on the European Union and on Women’s issues will be held. Compare notes, interact and exchange ideas with secularists, humanist and human rights activists and leaders and opinion makers from around the world. The prestigious venues for the Congress include UNESCO headquarters, the Conseil Economique et Social, and the University of Sorbonne. Simultaneous interpretation in French and English for all plenary and other selected sessions. NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood and Vice President Terry Sanderson will be leading sessions.

Full Registration fees of 250 Euros include attendance at all Congress sessions, lunch and coffee at UNESCO, Paris tourist boat ride on the Seine on 5 July and gala dinner on 6 July. All registered delegates will also receive free of charge a Brochure on ‘Rationalist Paris’, and a booklet in English on the 1905 Law on Separation of Church and State in France. Day Registrations or half day registrations are also possible. Or if you can make it to only one particular session and not to the tourist part of the Congress, that is possible too. Register for the congress by 20th June at www.iheu.org or at www.librepenseefrance.org. Information from Babu Gogineni or call the IHEU office at + 44 20 76313170

NSS Speaks Out

NSS honorary associate Dr Evan Harris MP, spoke for the Society on Sky News last week on the topic of new developments in embryo technology and stem cell cloning. Dr Harris spoke up for the protection of scientific research from the irrationality of religious objections.

Vice President Terry Sanderson had a letter in the Sunday Herald, which you can read here.

Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood had a letter in The Scotsman which you can read here.


Next time you are engaged in an argument with a doorstep evangelist, you will be able to discern if they are using Christian Debating Technique No 101 by reading about it here.


The NSS is organising a day for those who are — or want to be — activists for secularism. It will be a day of practical suggestions and inspiration, as well as an opportunity to share skills and experiences. We hope that people around the country who want to make a difference in their local area will come along and get involved. We all have different skills that we can bring to the battlefront, and we need to get together to organise and communicate more effectively. Saturday 10 September at Conway Hall, London WC1, 11am–4pm. For more information write to tas@secularism.org.uk.


Please write to tas@secularism.org.uk.

From Ken Partington:

Re: Suggestions for an atheist logo (Newsline last week) – a lightbulb! What a splendid idea! Get somebody to make them and quickly, and put me down for three.

From Steve Denton:
How about a cartoon of a hand extending downwards out of a cloud, with a pointing finger — as if about to unleash of lightning bolt of Holy Wrath (perhaps the lightning bolt could even be included...) — surrounded by a red circle and bisected by a red diagonal? The message would be a very clear ‘No Gods Allowed!’. It has an advantage over logos that might bear a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David or an Islamic crescent in that it is faith-neutral, and so could not be construed as targeting particular religions (something we will have to watch if Blair’s religious hatred legislation gets passed...). It is also humorous, and a sense of humour should be central to any secular campaign, partly in order to draw attention to its complete absence in the religious camp!

From Mark Savage:
Further to my suggestion a couple of weeks ago that we should (?) have an emblem that could be used as a lapel pin or car bumper sticker, there seems to be an acceptance of this idea. Are you chaps in London able to set up some sort of sub-committee to come up with a number of ideas that we could “vote” on, perhaps via the web-site?

From Des Langford:
I like the idea of an atheist’s badge. I have been following the Newsline debate and in order of preference I like: 1 religious symbol crossed out; 2 the light bulb; 3 the Darwinian fish; 4 the atom. I do hope the NSS will get around to producing a badge. I’m not really that fussed about the design, and I think we’ve debated it long enough!

From Terry Thomas:
I attended today (20/05/05) to a very interesting talk by the leader of one of the South Wales Mountain Rescue Teams. He told of an incident when he was contacted by the police at 3 a.m. to help in leading what he thought were 18 children between the ages of eleven and fourteen down from one of the highest mountains in South Wales who had got lost in the dark. The police contact confirmed that he wasn’t talking about eighteen children but eighty — 8–0. The leader called out his team and set out, found the children and led them down to their destination, a barn where they were to stay the night. All the children were foreign and when they reached their destination safely the team leader asked the leader of the organisation that had sent them over the mountain why had they sent the children off, total strangers to the area, without any adult leader or any adult support. It turned out that the children were in the care of an evangelical Christian organisation. When challenged about the irresponsibility in endangering the lives of the children the answer came back: ‘If any child had died it would have been the will of God, as it is God willed that they should all live.’
What a nice man!!

From Chris Newell:
For those that missed the News Quiz on Radio 4 last week, here's a gem from Jeremy Hardy: “They (the government) want more faith schools — ‘faith’ is the new euphemism for religion. Call me old fashioned but I think religion should come about as a result of a blinding light, a nervous breakdown or a prison sentence — it doesn’t belong on the blackboard”. From the enthusiastic applause that followed it would appear that most of the audience agreed with him.

From Shaun Joynson:
David Holohan suggests (somewhat light heartedly I suspect) that the Jilbab or Burka could be used to conceal not only the identity of the wearer but also their sex — and in fact he is right! Instead of being intimidated by groups of ‘women’ in black dresses with only eye slits, I suggest he looks a little more closely at them next time — because (as I learned recently) some are in fact men!

I am told, by a pal who works in a large muslim area of one of our cities that this is one of the ways in which Islam hides its homosexuals. The men under burkas will usually be the partners of reasonably well off boyfriends who are too well known in their communities to be able to be openly gay. And, my source also says, the principal reason why David sees a ‘pack’ of human figures looming towards me, dressed entirely in black with the smallest slit for the eyes is because they go about like that to prevent the game being given away.

The male in the group will usually be accompanied by the sisters and other female relatives of the boyfriend to prevent anyone speaking to the male and discovering the truth. It is also to prevent the male from escaping, not that he is easily able to do so, because his boyfriend will have ensured he has no money or property of his own, nor for that matter any identity, because in all official documents he will be listed as his ‘wife’. And of course, if he has been brought into this country as the boyfriend’s ‘wife’ he will feel less inclined to escape because of the trouble he is likely to have with immigration.

When I first heard of this phenomenon, I refused to believe it, but then my pal confirmed it. Quite how many men there are under those burkas is anyone’s guess, but even if there is only one it yet again shows the total contempt religions have for homosexuals and demonstrates why the only sensible thing a lesbian or gay can be is a secularist.

From Paul Gibbs:
I thoroughly enjoyed Joe Rabbaiotti’s suggestions here inspired by Dave Purnell’s earlier “Secular Parliamentary Council of Great Britain”. We could totally turn this situation around by introducing terms like “Reason Based Welfare” at every opportunity, a great slogan for bumper sticker campaigns etc. it so completely undermines the notion of “Faith Based Welfare”.

A ban on the “Incitement to Non-Religious Hatred” would be legislation really worth fighting for as non-theists have little protection from hate-filled religious persons presently. Heterosexuals undermining the secular ethos? We are no more all gay than religious folk are all straight ... and who do they think they are kidding? More evidence of their strong homophobic capacity for suspension of disbelief.

“Secular School” doesn’t seem to counter “Faith School” which is still managing to command a higher moral value however dubious by implying an added extra dimension, whereas “Rational School” would be more positive or “Reason School”? Any ideas?

As a logo, perhaps a simple diagram along the lines of the divided circle “VECTOR / HOST” of “The Meme Cycle”. It reminds us how the “transmission/infection” and the “coding/decoding” of dogma etc. occurs, it would be highly appropriate and provide an opportunity to explain the idea behind the symbol to others.

From Alan Rogers:
I have to put on record an apology for my cynicism (Newsline 13th May) when I doubted that Denise Tattersall of the BBC would make a second response to my complaint (copied to Newsline 6th May). Ms Tattersall did indeed make a second reply and although still rather formulaic at least it suggests that we might be able to affect the attitudes of BBC editors if we nag enough. Second reply from Denise Tattersall:

Thank you for your e-mail and I apologise that you did not feel I addressed the concerns outlined in your previous e-mail. In response to your specific point about the lack of an opposing viewpoint, it is not always possible or practical to have an equal representation of views within individual reports or programmes. This film from the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool was clearly indicated as a personal account and our guidelines make specific reference to personal viewpoint reports and programmes as follows:

Personal view programmes
The BBC has a long tradition of series which allow open access to the airwaves for a wide range of individuals or groups to offer a personal view or advance a contentious argument. These can add significantly to public understanding, especially when they bring forward unusual and rarely heard perspectives on topics that are well-known from orthodox viewpoints. They have a valuable position in the schedules. However, personal view programmes which deal with matters of public policy, or of political or industrial controversy entail special obligations:

The nature of a personal view programme should be signalled clearly to audiences in advance. Editors should ensure that these programmes do not seriously misrepresent opposing viewpoints. There should be proper respect for factual accuracy. It may be appropriate to provide an opportunity to respond to a programme, for example in a right to reply programme or in a pre-arranged discussion programme. We believe that each of the films in this series for the Ten O’Clock News were clearly signposted as being personal accounts and did not seek to seriously misrepresent opposing viewpoints.

I should also point out that if you would like to pursue your concerns further, it is open to you to approach the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit which investigates complaints independently of programme-makers. Their contact details can be found on the BBC’s new complaints website.

My final word: “Thank you for the courtesy of a second reply. Your explanation of the rules by which you operate are welcome but you still have not understood what lies at the heart of this matter. The problem seems to be that the BBC is not aware of the disquiet felt by many concerning the interference in government and education by religious organisations.

Observation of the American Presidential election and the policies and appointments in Education by the Blair government give grounds for extreme concern. This is heightened by the presence of Islamic culture in multi-cultural Britain. In Islam there is still a strong tradition of governance, law and education being religious matters. At the extreme, Islamists say that voting for a government is irreligious because ideally all people should be governed by Sharia Law as revealed in the Koran and interpreted by religious scholars. (Something the Bush-Blair axis seems not to understand in its dealings with the Middle East). Education in madrassas focuses on learning the Koran by heart (hifiz) since this is supposed to be the source of all wisdom.

The Christian tradition involved setting up schools with a ‘Christian ethos’ and giving bishops, by right, a place in the governing chambers. It has taken a century of struggle to limit Church involvement in the education and the government of this country and this hard-won ground will not be yielded without a (mental) fight.

Both the Islamic and Christian traditions are un-democratic and place restrictions on education which are unacceptable in a modern, democratic, secular state. Teaching must not be guided or restricted by religious prejudice but by objective scholarship, representation of the people must be according to due democratic process and not according to religious privilege. By giving a Bishop and an Imam a privileged platform in a pre-election broadcast the BBC seems to be yielding to this presumption of religious authority which I and millions of other citizens do not acknowledge.

You will be pleased to hear that this is my final word on this matter and I do not require a response.”


The British premiere of the much-anticipated film Heart of the Beholder will be held in on 8 & 9 July at the Screening Room, Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth Street, London W1. This is a small venue, and we strongly recommend advance bookings for those who want to see this film, which has been subject to a great deal of harassment from the religious right in the USA. For full information and booking details see here (click on events). For information about the film and to see a trailer see here.

Published Fri, 27 May 2005