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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Lord Avebury

A Liberal MP from 1962-70 and now a Liberal Democrat peer. He also founded and chaired the Parliamentary Human Rights Group for 21 years. For more than ten years, he has worked on many successful NSS campaigns – most notably the abolition of the blasphemy laws, for which he jointly won our Secularist of the Year award in 2009 – and continues to work closely with Keith in parliament.

In September 2011 during the debate on the Education Bill, Lord Avebury made clear that the elements of the School Standards and Framework legislation incompatible with European Law came about as the direct result of demands from the churches, especially the CofE.

Lord Deben, willfully misrepresenting the amendments, described them as "discriminatory". He told the Chamber: "there is a new kind of illiberalism, which is very determined to remove from parents what for many of us is the most important element in education: we want our children brought up in the fear and love of our Lord."

Responding to Lord Deben, Lord Avebury said "I have seldom heard a more hysterical and inaccurate speech than the one that we have just listened to".

In November 2011, during a debate on amendments to the Education Bill, Lord Avebury said in support of the amendments; "If I were to go through the whole list of alleged violations and potential violations of the European [employment] Directive, which were identified by counsel, we should be here all night."

The Bishop of Hereford argued that the most important thing was that faith schools were able to sustain their 'religious character'. He said "Governance, employment, admissions, denominational worship and denominational religious education are the mechanisms by which the trustees, via the governing body and the religious authority, are able to ensure that the terms of their trust are being carried out."

In reply to the Bishop, Lord Avebury said "He was suggesting that because I was an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, I was in some way trying to undermine the dual system [state funded faith schools], when all I am trying to do is to ensure that the trusts which administer faith schools do so in conformity with both European directives and with the European Human Rights Act'.