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Newsline 2 February 2018


Yesterday we had two important bits of encouraging news. Firstly Ofsted's chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, made clear that she will support head teachers who resist the demands of religious fundamentalists. She explicitly backed the leaders at St Stephen's primary school in Newham, who faced abuse and threats after they brought in modest restrictions on the hijab and fasting. And she called out the Church of England for its opposition to more robust regulation of out-of-school educational settings – a move we've long supported on child welfare grounds.

Then the Home Office rejected outright a recommendation to regulate sharia councils. Such a move would have conferred de facto legitimacy on these 'courts' and effectively created a parallel legal system in the UK.

But we are still wary of what may come next. Fundamentalists are likely to be emboldened by their effective victory at St Stephen's. The Government has promised to consider several other troubling recommendations from the review of sharia councils. Whether it's in education, the law or elsewhere, we'll keep making the case for secularism and human rights over special accommodations for religious sensitivity.


News & Opinion


Ofsted head: school leaders should promote “muscular liberalism”

The NSS has welcomed a call from the head of education watchdog Ofsted for head teachers to confront religious extremists.


NSS welcomes Home Office decision not to regulate sharia ‘courts’

The NSS has welcomed the Home Office's rejection of proposals to regulate sharia 'courts', which were made in an official review today.


Peer: conscientious objection bill is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”

An NSS honorary associate has criticised a proposal to extend medical practitioners' rights not to do their duties on religious grounds.


Lewis cinema shows Star Wars on first Sunday opening

The Isle of Lewis's cinema has opened on a Sunday for the first time as it held a trial screening in the face of Sabbatarian opposition.


Schools and segregation: a lesson from France

The Government is preparing to extend religious selection in faith schools. Keith Sharpe contrasts its willingness to cause greater segregation with French efforts to encourage integration in the wake of terror attacks.


NSS launches scholarship to promote research on secularism

The NSS has launched a scholarship to support students who conduct research relevant to secularism and the promotion of human rights.


Islamic charity run by Cherie Blair’s sister mislaid over £90,000

An Islamic charity has failed to account for almost 50% of its total expenditure, according to the Charity Commission.


ECHR: Lithuania infringed free expression over religious icons

Lithuania violated the right to free expression by fining a fashion company for using religious imagery in adverts, the ECHR has ruled.


NSS writes elsewhere


We shouldn't allow children to be labelled with the same religious identity as their parents

By Chris Sloggett, NSS communications officer, for Tes

Children are not predestined to follow in their parents' religious footsteps. We should restrict religious clothing from schools until children are intellectually mature enough to decide for themselves.


Quotes of the week

"Rather than adopting a passive liberalism that says 'anything goes' for fear of causing offence, school leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism. That sort of liberalism holds no truck for ideologies that want to close minds or narrow opportunity. Occasionally, that will mean taking uncomfortable decisions or having tough conversations. It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone."
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted's chief inspector of schools, calls on school leaders to lead in the face of religious extremism

"What is certain now is that a 15-year-old girl who is raped, and who is in pain, cannot end her pregnancy in Ireland. And anyone that helps her could be sent to prison for 14 years. So is the certainty and uncertainty we have now something that we want to keep?"
Leo Varadkar, Ireland's prime minister, calls for liberalisation of the country's abortion laws


Essays of the week

The White House puts the bible before the Hippocratic Oath
Editorial, for the New York Times

The US Government has created a "Conscience and Religious Freedom Division" in the Department of Health and Human Services. This will double down on religious 'protections' and undermine access to healthcare.

Why are Israel's religious parties suddenly so influential?
By Michael Freedman, for the Washington Post

Israel's religious political parties have managed to pass new religious legislation restricting shopping hours on the 'sabbath'. Extreme factions have been empowered in those parties since the death of more moderate leaders, and the bill is a symptom of it.

How women's reproductive rights stalled under Trump
By Julia Belluz, for Vox

The Trump administration has made some remarkable moves to curtail hard-fought access to reproductive health care and family planning services. Observers say this is evidence of the religious right's growing influence at the highest levels of government and Trump's desire to fulfill campaign promises to expand 'religious freedom'.


NSS speaks out

Our president Keith Porteous Wood discussed public attitudes to faith schools in light of Amanda Spielman's speech on religious extremism in schools on Sky News.

Our communications officer Chris Sloggett discussed the case of a coroner who treats people equally regardless of religious sensitivity on BBC Asian Network (the relevant section begins after six minutes; Chris is introduced after 12 minutes).

Our CEO Stephen Evans was quoted in The Herald on Scottish Catholics' demand for laws to protect "conscience rights".

And our spokesperson in Scotland, Alistair McBay, criticised the lack of reaction to revelations that the Church of England had covered up sexual abuse in a letter to The Courier.


Secularist of the Year 2018

Tickets are now on sale and nominations are open for Secularist of the Year 2018. The awards ceremony and social reception will be held on Saturday 24 March in central London. Member tickets are £40. Join us to celebrate the outstanding groups and inspiring individuals advancing secularism and related human rights.

Find out more...


Conference on 21st Century RE for All

Thirty years after the introduction of a national curricular entitlement for all pupils, the religious education syllabus is still decided locally by committees of faith representatives, or worse, by religious bodies responsible for running faith schools.

This one day conference will explore the future of religion and belief education in schools, and how we can create a truly balanced and non-partisan approach.

Find out more...


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