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Newsline 5 December 2014

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New BBC consultation ‘an opportunity to challenge Thought For The Day’

New BBC consultation ‘an opportunity to challenge Thought For The Day’

News | Fri, 05 Dec 2014

The BBC has launched a new consultation asking listeners what they like and dislike about its speech radio output. The NSS is calling on its supporters to use the opportunity to again raise the contentious issue of Thought For The Day. The consultation can be completed online here.

Although the BBC is considering editorial standards and impartiality "out of the scope of the review", its Consultation asks listeners for their views on the corporation's "news and current affairs and its documentaries and factual programming".

The National Secular Society is calling on the listening public to use the consultation to challenge the appropriateness of Radio 4's Thought For The Day – a daily slot for religious-only views, broadcast each Monday to Saturday morning during the station's flagship news and current affairs Today programme.

NSS campaigns manager, Stephen Evans, said: "It's important that as many people as possible take this opportunity to tell the BBC that discriminating against the non-religious, and thus giving the impression of promoting religion as the only source of ethics is simply not acceptable in this day in age.

"Offering a privileged platform during its news and current affairs output for religious-only views to be aired without any analysis, criticism or comeback is completely against the founding principles of the BBC. Fairness, balance and impartiality are impossible if only one side of the debate is aired.

"The slot should either be opened up to secular perspectives or scrapped."

The National Secular Society has campaigned against the discriminatory nature of Thought For The Day since the programme started. The Society first lodged a complaint against the programme's predecessor, Lift up your Hearts, in 1962.

In 2009 the BBC Trust rejected a complaint from the National Secular Society, when the society had argued that the programme was "exclusive and discriminatory."

In 2013 the BBC Executive said that "it did not propose to revisit the issue of atheists or humanists" taking part in Thought For The Day, after opting to leave it out of the scope of an "impartiality review of the breadth of opinion".

*Please note that the consultation has now closed.*

The Christmas nativity: Let it go! Let it go!

The Christmas nativity: Let it go! Let it go!

Opinion | Tue, 02 Dec 2014

After it this week emerged that some school nativity plays are losing their religion, Stephen Evans argues that schools should be free to innovate and have a bit of fun with their festive plays without po-faced nativity police telling them they can't.

Predictable grievances were aired this week when a Netmums poll revealed that a small of number schools have opted to replace the traditional nativity with Christmas plays that make little or no reference to Jesus. The online survey found that other schools are sticking with the nativity, but with a twist, starring modern characters and featuring less traditional songs, such as 'Let it go' from the insanely popular Disney film, Frozen.

According to Netmums co-founder, Siobhan Freegard, parents are concerned Christmas traditions are being "pushed aside" and claim schools are "under pressure to modernise the story and remove religious figures". Where that pressure is being applied from wasn't articulated.

However, it didn't take long for one caller to a local BBC radio station to blame "political correctness" and "Muslims" for the decline of the nativity – others will no doubt blame the fabled "militant secularists".

But in reality, there is no pressure on schools to abandon the nativity. Some are simply deciding for themselves to do something else to celebrate the midwinter festivities.

Pagan winter solstice celebrations of the longer days to come long predate its adoption by Christians. It was the Romans who first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of merriment celebrated from the 17 December. To this day many Christmas traditions revolve around its pagan origins. It took Christian leaders four centuries to decide December 25 might be a good time to mark Jesus' birthday – so let's not have any more talk about Christmas being hijacked.

But the Christmas nativity, complete with shepherds with tea towels on heads (and hopefully a 'You've been Framed' moment or two) is very much part of our cultural heritage, and if schools want to do a nativity then that should be fine. But pantomime is also an ancient British tradition, so if schools want to do something less religion-focussed, then that should be fine too.

Part of the curriculum is already set aside for religious education. The story of Jesus and his birth is the foundation stone for learning about Christian beliefs, and you're unlikely to find a school that doesn't teach that. So if schools want to use their Christmas plays to do something a little different – a little more inclusive, relevant and even fun (it is Christmas after all) – then they should be free to so without being guilt tripped by those who think Christianity should be pushed in schools at every possible opportunity.

The narratives may evolve, but stories, legends, and myths will endure as an important and valuable way of transmitting values from one generation to the next – and the vast majority of schools will no doubt use their secularised Christmas plays to promote their pupil's spiritual, moral, social, cultural development – but the religious element should always be optional.

Christmas means different things to different people, and if schools want to innovate and have a bit of fun with their festive plays they should be free to do so without the po-faced nativity police telling them otherwise.

NSS Speaks Out

Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood and Campaigns Manager Stephen Evans spoke on BBC local radio up and down the country about this week's news reports on religious nativity plays falling out of favour in schools. Keith also spoke about this on LBC.

Keith discussed the Law Society's withdrawal of its sharia wills guidance on Radio WM, and was quoted in Parliament Magazine about the Pope's recent address to the European Parliament, telling the Magazine that "it's inappropriate for any unelected religious leader to be invited into a democratically elected parliament to lecture parliamentarians on policy."

Additionally, Stephen spoke to BBC Leeds about the need to reform religious education in schools.

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