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Newsline 30 November 2012
NSS call on EU Presidents to protect women's right to life

NSS call on EU Presidents to protect women's right to life

News | Tue, 27 Nov 2012

The Presidents of the European Council and European Commission today heard a plea for greater protection for pregnant women's right to life following the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.

NSS questions new report on Religious Education

NSS questions new report on Religious Education

News | Mon, 26 Nov 2012

A new report from Oxford University, which says that teachers are afraid to teach religious education in case they are perceived as "evangelising", has been questioned today by the National Secular Society.

Cracks appearing in NHS, but chaplains sail on regardless

Cracks appearing in NHS, but chaplains sail on regardless

Opinion | Wed, 28 Nov 2012

Horror stories about the state of the National Health Service are an almost daily occurrence now. Latest is a report from the Kings Fund issued this week. The think tank warned that "cracks are beginning to appear" as waiting times creep up, and hospitals struggle with their finances. Hospitals need to cut all unnecessary spending.

Which brings us to an advertisement in this week's Church Times for a "Head of Spiritual and Pastoral Care" at Hillingdon Hospitals. A salary of £30,460 - £40,157 is offered to someone to manage the Trust's Spiritual and Pastoral Care services. He or she will "manage the chaplaincy team". Accommodation available if needed.

Maybe prayer will be the only "treatment" available in hospitals soon as they close and go bankrupt.

Muslim radio station fined £4,000 for saying homosexuals should be tortured and beaten up

Muslim radio station fined £4,000 for saying homosexuals should be tortured and beaten up

News | Tue, 27 Nov 2012

A Muslim radio station in Leeds has been fined £4,000 by the media regulator Ofcom after one of its presenters said that homosexuals should be tortured and beaten up.

Why won’t the Government get serious about caste discrimination?

Why won’t the Government get serious about caste discrimination?

Opinion | Wed, 28 Nov 2012

When the Equality Act was passed by parliament in 2010, it was hailed as a piece of landmark harmonising anti-discrimination legislation that embraced new discrimination strands and strengthened existing ones. One discrimination strand that didn't quite make the grade however, was caste.

Secular and anti-discrimination campaigners did however persuade the previous Labour Government to amend the Equality Bill, to include an enabling power to make caste a protected characteristic as a result of which discrimination and harassment on the grounds of caste would be outlawed.

This means that the power can be triggered by a Minister without further primary legislation if and when it was considered appropriate to do so. One reason for this "half way house" was that the (then Labour) Government was largely persuaded by the representations of anti-caste groups, peers and the National Secular Society, but wanted to make sure there was credible independent evidence of discrimination before legislating fully.

So at the same time as tabling the amendment, the Government commissioned a report into the prevalence of caste prejudice and discrimination in the UK which was undertaken by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR).

There was a change of Government shortly after the Act was passed and the report (pdf) was subsequently published. It found significant evidence of caste discrimination, harassment and bullying in employment, education and the provision of services, including care.

It estimated that the UK population includes somewhere between 50,000–200,000 of low caste communities, living in 22 localities. It said: "Alleged caste discrimination and harassment in the area of work were identified in respect of bullying and harassment, social exclusion, recruitment, promotion, task allocation and dismissal."

Journalist and NSS honorary associate Nick Cohen described the report as little more than "a list of pointless cruelties."

The new Government has nevertheless resolutely refused to trigger the power.

Thankfully, support is at hand from the United Nations. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council increased the pressure on the British Government by calling on it to "develop a national strategy to eliminate caste discrimination, including the immediate adoption of the clause in the Equality Act … in accordance with its international human rights obligations".

The recommendation was made following the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK, a process through which the human rights records of the United Nations' Member States are reviewed and assessed. A submission (pdf) to the UPR by the National Secular Society and International Humanist & Ethical Union advocated precisely this action.

In a formal response (pdf), the UK Government has said the recommendation "does not enjoy the support of the United Kingdom" and that it is "considering the evidence" available to it.

Campaigners have accused the Government of dragging its heels on the issue. The Dalit Solidarity Network has now launched a petition calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to activate the aforementioned clause in the Equality Act, and ensure that caste discrimination is outlawed in the UK.

Likewise, after years of inertia, the Equality & Human rights Commission has also come out in support of the introduction of legislation.

In the Indian sub-continent, over 250 million people are directly affected by caste based discrimination. Victims find themselves on the receiving end of brutal discrimination affecting their daily livelihood; access to jobs, education and employment, health and access to public services.

The increase in population of those who have arrived in the UK from the Indian Sub-continent means the communities that have settled here have also brought with them their own social habits, norms and religious customs – such as the institution of caste.

The National Secular Society has expressed concern that action to tackle caste discrimination is being impeded by vested interests from within the communities affected.

Both the Hindu Forum of Britain and Hindu Council UK oppose legislation to outlaw caste discrimination. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they claim that there is either no or very little caste discrimination in the UK. Anil Bhanot, General Secretary, Hindu Council UK has said that UK born Hindus are "hardly aware of the old hierarchies of the caste system". The heart-rending testimonies in the NIESR research paint a very different picture.

It can't be right that a modern democracy such as ours stands by while its citizens suffer on grounds of caste based discrimination. It's time the Government got off the fence, and instead, offered hope to the tens of thousands of British Asians whose lives are blighted by such prejudice.

See also:

Geeta Bandi-Phillips: Casting out Caste in Britain

BBC plan to ramp up the religion this Christmas

BBC plan to ramp up the religion this Christmas

News | Wed, 28 Nov 2012

BBC Religious programming will go into overdrive this Christmas with the national broadcaster announcing copious amounts of "carols, festive music, contemplation, conversation and live worship across BBC Television and Radio."

In the week before Christmas the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales Vincent Nicholls and the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, will all be given a platform to proselytize on BBC Radio Two's Pause for Thought.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury will also offer his Thought for the Day on Radio Four's flagship news programme on 22 December and give a special interview to BBC Two offering "an exclusive insight into his emotions after 10 years in one of the toughest jobs in Britain." On New Year's Day BBC One will also broadcast the Archbishop of Canterbury's annual New Year's Message.

In December, BBC Two presents a three-part series about Westminster Abbey featuring interviews with members of the 250 staff who oversee the Abbey's spiritual mission. Viewers will also be treated to four special editions of Songs of Praise and plenty of 'live worship' from churches up and down the country.

The full rundown of the BBC's religious programming can be found on the BBC's website.

Aaqil Ahmed, Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics, says: "As we prepare for Christmas, it is befitting that Westminster Abbey is at the heart of our celebrations given its unique stature at the centre of national worship in this country."

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said: "Even by BBC standards, our national broadcaster appears to have gone a bit over the top this year.

"The BBC's duty as a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster is to serve the whole community and ensure all voices are heard, and that would include religious voices, but the disproportionate emphasis on the importance of religion in the life of the country is becoming something of a joke. Over the past fifty years there has been a dramatic drop in interest in religion – both in its influence and its practice – but the BBC's output remains as deferential and sycophantic as ever."

Meanwhile, the National Secular Society has given evidence to the BBC's impartiality review of its breadth of opinion. In a formal submission prepared by its president, the NSS accuses the BBC of a lack of impartiality when it comes to non-religious voices and of according religion a kind of fawning respect that no other section of society is granted.

The Malala Effect

The Malala Effect

Opinion | Wed, 28 Nov 2012

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November).

"Ensuring women's and girls' rights, eliminating discrimination and achieving gender equality lie at the heart of the international human rights system, starting with article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states unequivocally: 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…'

On 9 October, 64 years after those famous words were written, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head and the neck on her way back from school in the town of Mingorain Pakistan. The shocking attack by the group commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban was followed by a public statement in which they threatened to kill anyone else, including women and children, holding views they disagree with.

"Malala was targeted for her prominent role in promoting the fundamental right of education for girls and for criticizing the Taliban for actions such as destroying girls' schools and threatening to kill girls who attend them. The fact that they tried to do just that to her brought into sharp focus the extreme intolerance and physical danger facing many girls who try to exercise their basic human right to education in many other countries.

"The sad truth is that Malala's case is not an exceptional one and, had she been less prominent, her attempted murder might have passed more or less unnoticed. Despite all the advances in women's rights around the world, violence against girls and women remains one of the most common human rights abuses – and the assault on their fundamental right to education continues in many countries. Often, as in Malala's case, the two phenomena are closely related.

"In Pakistan's neighbour, Afghanistan, for example, the situation has been chronic for much of the past three decades. During the country's various evolving and overlapping conflicts, girls' education ground to an almost complete halt. Since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, they have reverted to guerrilla tactics which have included – as a matter of policy -- attacks on girls and women, especially in relation to their attempts to receive education.

"In the first six months of 2012 alone, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) verified 34 attacks against schools, including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures of girls' schools in particular. Incredibly, there have even been at least three separate attempts this year to poison girls attending schools inAfghanistan, with over 100 girls affected on each occasion.

"The risk of violence against girls travelling to and from school also deters many from attending at all – and not just inAfghanistanandPakistan. Household surveys in many countries identify distance as a major factor in parents deciding not to send their daughters to school, with security concerns one of the main reasons.

"It is estimated that education – especially, although not exclusively, girls' education -- has been subjected to deliberate attacks in more than 30 countries because of religious, sectarian, political or other ideological reasons.

"No continent is free from these practices. Such attacks on education unfortunately take place all over the world, including in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America, and girls are often disproportionately affected, either directly, or because their parents fear for their safety, worry about sexual violence or simply -- because of traditional values or lack of education themselves -- value their daughters' education less than that of their sons.

"Malala's bravery in confronting such practices touched a chord internationally. The attack led to an unprecedented outpouring of popular anger and major protests in favour of girls' education inPakistanitself and in a number of other countries in the region. Presidents, politicians, celebrities and other opinion-makers, as well as many, many ordinary people across the world were stirred by this grotesque attack, and the spectre of a brave little girl fighting for her life in hospital. Important Pakistani and international educational initiatives have been launched in her name.

"But, to do real justice to Malala and the cause she serves, we should do more than this. Her sacrifice should not be a six-week or six-month wonder. We must sustain and increase the momentum she has created, and stand up for every girl's fundamental right to education.

"Malala was attacked because she was a girl, and she was attacked not just because she wanted an education herself, but because she was campaigning for all girls to be able to fulfil their right to receive an education, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She, and all other girls deserve a life free of violence, and I wish her a full and speedy recovery."

Human Rights Day is on 10 December, the date on which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. The 2012 Human Rights Day theme is 'Inclusion and the right to participate in public life.'

Poll shows Turks want secularism

Poll shows Turks want secularism

News | Wed, 28 Nov 2012

An overwhelming majority of Turkish people want secularism to be included in the country's new charter, a recent survey conducted by KONDA for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) has revealed.

NSS speaks out

Terry Sanderson was on LBC radio talking about religious education and the new Oxford University report.

From the web

The atheist Ricky Gervais is more Christ-like than Rev Pat Robertson, according to this commentator.

New Jesus & Mo book – the perfect seasonal gift for the atheist in your life!

Looking for Christmas gift for the atheist in your life? The latest collection of Jesus & Mo comics, Folie à Dieu, is available to order. It contains 170 strips, and has a foreword by Richard Dawkins.

The Jesus & Mo cartoons have garnered a world-wide reputation for making concise and cutting satirical points in the four boxes the strip allows. Often hilarious, frequently wry, these cartoons do what all the best cartoons do: they tell the truth through humour.

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