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Newsline 1 February 2013

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NSS question Catholic Church's new restrictions on teachers

NSS question Catholic Church's new restrictions on teachers

News | Sat, 26 Jan 2013

The National Secular Society has condemned a new booklet issued by the Catholic Church in England and Wales warning teachers and governors at Catholic schools that they risk dismissal if they enter a relationship that is not approved by the Church.

Experts say “drop the religious opt-out” for pharmacists

Experts say “drop the religious opt-out” for pharmacists

News | Fri, 01 Feb 2013

"Conscience clauses" that permit religious pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception or the "morning after" pill are unsatisfactory and should be dropped, say experts.

Majority want secular state schooling – while RE declines

Majority want secular state schooling – while RE declines

News | Wed, 30 Jan 2013

The majority of British people want state-funded schools to be secular, a recent YouGov poll has revealed.

Constitution Unit says disestablishment will have to be achieved piecemeal

Constitution Unit says disestablishment will have to be achieved piecemeal

Opinion | Wed, 30 Jan 2013

By Terry Sanderson

The Constitution Unit's latest newsletter recounts several events over the past few months that have strengthened the argument for a change in the relationship between the church and the state in this country. The National Secular Society agrees with the Constitution Unit that disestablishment is unlikely to be achieved in a single measure, but will have to be brought about piecemeal, as opportunities for reform occur.

We, as an organisation, have been at this since our inception in 1866. From the entry of our founder, Charles Bradlaugh, into Parliament and his creation of the Oaths Act, the Church of England's overweening privilege has been gradually diluted. Now, nearly a century and a half later, there is a real prospect of progress in the disestablishment process.

This is what the Constitution Unit wrote:

On 21 November last year, the Church of England rejected proposals to create female bishops (see Constitution Unit blog). Subsequently, the Commons agonised about the situation on 12 December and could agree only that it had 'considered the matter of the Church of England vote on women bishops'.

This limp conclusion at least negatived parliamentary voices wishing to legislate for women bishops against the wishes of the Church's Synod.

The government's announcement of its gay marriage proposals in early December provoked some further Anglican dismay. For many— if they noticed—the Church's continued struggle with gender and human sexuality issues epitomised the doubtfulness of its continuing relevance to a much-changed society.

Unsurprisingly, calls for disestablishment resurfaced upon publication of the Succession to the Crown Bill on 13 December.

The government propose to abolish one, but one only, of the remaining constitutional disabilities imposed on Catholics: under the bill, while a person will be able to marry a Catholic and remain in line to the throne, the rule that the monarch may not themselves be Catholic will not change. Further, the bill provides no relief for all others not 'in communion with' Anglicanism. Other provisions in the bill include the scrapping of male primogeniture and limiting required sovereign approval for marriage to the next six people in line to the throne only.

The government is determined to rush through the succession bill. This may prevent immediate further parliamentary discussion but will not close off continuing concerns about the Church's role. It remains to be seen how the course of that discussion will run.

Establishment reform may be best seen as a matter of securing particular change when opportunity arises, rather than railing against the concept as a whole.

There is no prospect of any government, now or in the foreseeable future, having the inclination to tackle disestablishment head on. The way it will be achieved is to challenge each of the church's privileges as it abuses and misuses them. We have made a start by getting rid of blasphemy law and we have seen small constitutional changes to the Act of Succession (although these are not enough) and at least a questioning of the role of the bishops in the House of Lords (Lords reform may be in the long grass at the moment, but it will not go away).

The NSS will continue to monitor the behaviour of the Church of England and to point out its decreasing relevance to the life of this nation. If there are opportunities to challenge the privileges that the Church of England enjoys, we will take them. We will not stop until the Anglican Church is in its rightful place – which is not as part of the state.

Edward Leigh’s Bill to put religious conscience opt-out into Equality Act is doomed

Edward Leigh’s Bill to put religious conscience opt-out into Equality Act is doomed

Opinion | Fri, 01 Feb 2013

By Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society

A ten-minute rule Bill — the Equality (Marriage) (Amendment) Bill — was introduced in the House of Commons on 29 January 2013. Its aim is to amend the Equality Act to add "conscientious beliefs about the definition of marriage" as a protected characteristic alongside disability, sex, and sexual orientation etc.

Such an amendment is unnecessary and could even shield religious extremists from appropriate sanctions.

The backer of the Bill is Edward Leigh, the socially (very) conservative MP who is a frequent promoter of religious causes. He has become exercised about the case of Adrian Smith of Manchester's Trafford Housing Trust. Mr Smith was demoted, and his salary reduced by 40%, after he had asserted on his personal Facebook page that gay couples marrying in church was a "an equality too far".

The National Secular Society supported Mr Smith's right to freedom of expression and the High Court ruled against the Trust and in favour of Mr Smith. For practical reasons he could not be reinstated in his old job, and I admit that the damages awarded to him by the Court were — for whatever reason — token.

The legal change Mr Leigh's Bill proposes, however, is totally over the top and unnecessary. There are plenty of areas of contention in the workplace already, such as politics, religion and views on sexual matters, but only a minuscule number end up in legal wrangles such as that experienced by Adrian Smith.

I assume Mr Leigh's amendment is intended to be biased in one direction: "conscientious" seems to be code for "objection on grounds of religious conscience". Were the amendment to succeed, and it be interpreted in that way, it would privilege religious conscience in law on this topic but not any conviction felt by the non-religious.

Mr Leigh seemed to suggest non-believers need no more protection: "For over a century, atheist teachers have been allowed to express their opinions and no one can force them to teach religion," he asserted.

As to forcing atheists "to teach religion" Mr Leigh is only partially correct. In community schools, the the law protects teachers from being forced to teach religion/RE. But the number of such schools is shrinking. In the rapidly growing number of academies, however, statutory protection is not afforded – despite NSS protestations.

And the extent to which atheist teachers are allowed to express their opinions is, I suspect, severely limited in the many publicly-funded religious schools in the country, often the only ones within easy reach in rural areas.

For example, in 2003, the Vatican (through its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) issued guidelines stating that "respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions", and presumably that applies to (publicly funded) Catholic schools, many of whose teachers are non-practising or non-Catholics.

If there were to be a provision about protection of those expressing biased views on marriage — which I oppose — there would be more justification for it to be in the opposite direction – to give protection to those opposing the limiting of marriage to opposite sex couples.

Do we really want employees to be able to tell their colleagues, or indeed teachers tell pupils, that homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, that homosexuals are intrinsically disordered and that all those giving physical expression to their orientation will rot in hell? I fear that if Mr Leigh's amendment were to succeed, there is a danger the law would become a carte blanche for those teachers expressing such extremist views.

The motion to bring in the Bill was passed by 86 votes to 31, and the second reading will be on 1 March. Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth), who put on record his Christian credentials, spoke in opposition and said the Bill would never make the statute book – and this seems to be the common view.

Muslim patrols are a sign of things to come

Muslim patrols are a sign of things to come

Opinion | Thu, 31 Jan 2013

By Maajid Nawaz

On the streets of Greece supporters of the far-Right Golden Dawn party patrol neighbourhoods, attacking anyone who looks like an immigrant. In Denmark a group calling itself Call to Islam has declared parts of the country to be "sharia-controlled zones" and its "morality police" confront drinkers and partygoers. In France right-wing vigilantes ran Roma families out of a Marseilles estate and burnt down their camp. In Spain nine Islamist extremists recently kidnapped a woman, tried her for adultery under sharia and attempted to execute her before she managed to escape. And here English Defence League thugs march in towns and cities "reclaiming" the streets from Muslims.

Something very worrying is spreading across Europe. Fascists and Islamist extremists alike are copying what Hitler's Brownshirts excelled at – enforcing with threats and violence their version of the law in neighbourhoods. And the moderate middle is left gawping.

In Britain "Muslims Against the Crusaders" have recently declared an Islamic Emirates Project. They are seeking to enforce their brand of sharia in 12 British cities, naming the two London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets among their targets. Little surprise then that in these two boroughs "Muslim patrols" have taken to the streets and begun enforcing a narrow view of sharia over unsuspecting locals.

Petrified Saturday-night revellers have been stopped by hooded thugs in these so-called Muslim areas, who warn them that alcohol, "immodest" dress or homosexuality are now banned. To add to the humiliation of being threatened, all this is filmed and uploaded on to the internet. Now some shops in East London no longer feel free to employ uncovered women or sell alcohol without fear of violent reprisals.

While this street-level problem festers across Europe, al-Qaeda and its affiliates are busy capitalising on the chaos of the post-Arab Spring world. Syria, Libya, Mali and Somalia are being ravaged by jihadist outfits, and all of them are attracting European-born Islamists seeking the thrill of real combat.

British jihadists with South London accents have already been documented as shooting the British journalist John Cantlie in Syria. Scores of young European-born Arabs and Somalis are following in the footsteps of British Pakistanis in travelling to lawless conflict zones. What happens when these men, schooled in the use of political violence in far-flung places, return to Britain?

Five men have been arrested for assault, but the Muslim patrols could become a lot more dangerous and, perhaps willing to maim or kill if they are joined by battle-hardened jihadis.

The killing last year of Osama bin Laden was hailed as a milestone in defeating al-Qaeda. President Obama was keen to portray himself as having severed the head of the snake. But no one man ever controlled this loose movement. And while it may lie dormant for a few years in different parts of the world, there are plenty of committed grassroots ideologues to ensure that it will rise again. And worryingly, the Islamist world view is a entrenched default position even among many non-devout British Muslims.

I fear that the Muslim patrols are a sign of things to come. As Syria becomes the new Afghanistan, we should prepare for the blowback from a new wave of extremists.

The Government has a sensible policy to challenge extremism at home and abroad. It has committees, partnerships and policy papers all in place that understand the need to build cohesion at the national level and root out extremism in local communities. But very little has actually happened at the grassroots. I struggle to see initiatives that inoculate young Britons against extremist messaging.

The longer we stand by and watch the far Right and Islamists impose their dogma on our streets, the more the extremes will become mainstream for a rising new generation.

Maajid Nawaz is Chairman of the Quilliam Foundation and author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening. This article was originally published in The Times and is reproduced with permission.

European Commission failed to implement properly Article 17 in EHF case says EU Ombudsman

European Commission failed to implement properly Article 17 in EHF case says EU Ombudsman

News | Tue, 29 Jan 2013

The EU ombudsman has upheld complaint by the European Humanist Federation that the European Commission has failed to comply with an EU Treaty which requires the EU to conduct a "regular, open and transparent dialogue with churches, religious communities as well as philosophical and non-confessional organisations."

Icelandic Parliament passes life stance equality law

Icelandic Parliament passes life stance equality law

Opinion | Thu, 31 Jan 2013

By Hope Knutsson, President of Sidmennt

The Icelandic Parliament (Althing) this week passed a law which gives secular life stance organisations the right to apply for equal legal status with religions. The new law amends the current law about registered religious organisations. Thus, for the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances!

Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, has been lobbying for such a change for more than ten years and celebrates this historic turning point. As soon as the law takes effect, Sidmennt will apply to the Ministry of the Interior for registration which will guarantee equal rights and freedom of conscience to its 300 members. Sidmennt is grateful to the Minister of the Interior, Ogmundur Jonasson, who introduced and championed this human rights bill and to all those members of Parliament who voted in favour of it.

An additional improvement provided by this law is that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match. Sidmennt members and many other people inIcelandincluding many legislators feel that this does not go far enough and that it is a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people's religious affiliation and is especially abnormal to register newborn babies in a religion. The sponsors of the new law say they want to work towards abolishing this anachronism but think it can only be done in stages.

Although this law is an important step towards equality, the government is not changing the privileged status of theEvangelicalLutheranStateChurch, which enjoys both legal and financial privileges over all other life stance organisations.

Have you got your ticket for Secularist of the Year? Book now and avoid disappointment

Have you got your ticket for Secularist of the Year? Book now and avoid disappointment

News | Fri, 01 Feb 2013

This year's Secularist of the Year lunch is approaching (Saturday 23 March) and it promises to be a very special occasion. We hope that you'll join us for the NSS's premier social event.

NSS Speaks Out

Keith Porteous Wood spent almost an hour on Radio Scotland on the popular Call Kaye programme fielding calls (many of them hostile) about the complaint to the Scottish Charity Regulator regarding St Margaret's Catholic adoption agency. Scottish spokesman Alistair McBay had this letter on the same topic in the Scottish Herald and this in the Scotsman; Keith Porteous Wood had this one in the Scotsman. Keith was also quoted in The Sunday Times (subscription required) in relation to the Church's exemption from the gay marriage legislation and in the same paper over the Catholic school edict on "non-chaste" relationships reported above (subscription). This was picked up by Pink News.

Terry Sanderson gave an interview to Premier Christian Radio about their obsession with Christians supposedly being "marginalised" inBritain. Keith was interviewed on BBC Radio Lincoln about Edward Leigh's parliamentary motion to get an exemption from the Equality Act for those religious teachers that want to broadcast their disapprove of gay marriage in class.

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