Trouble reading this email? View newsletter online.

Newsline 8 January 2016

Happy New Year to all of our members and supporters! 2016 has only just begun but we have had a busy week speaking out for secularism and for secular values. We need your support to help our campaign work, so have a look at how you can get involved with the National Secular Society this year.

This week has marked the first anniversary of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a grim reminder of the struggles ahead, but there has also been some welcome news when a Northern Ireland court issued a much needed restatement of our collective right to freedom of expression, when it found Pastor James McConnell not guilty for a "grossly offensive" sermon he had delivered.

Damning details emerge about establishment cover-up of Anglican sex abuse

Damning details emerge about establishment cover-up of Anglican sex abuse

Opinion | Mon, 04 Jan 2016

New revelations about the extent of the letter-writing campaign to help disgraced bishop Peter Ball escape charges raise urgent questions about the extent of the establishment cover-up, writes Keith Porteous Wood.

Former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball was recently jailed for 32 months aged 83 for offences relating to sexual activity with almost twenty young males. The Crown Prosecution Service had investigated allegations twenty years earlier but they had told Ball in 1993 that despite "sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence" it was prepared to deal with the matter out of court. Ball was let off with a caution and resigned as bishop.

It is widely thought that Ball escaped more serious charges and a trial in 1993 because of a massive establishment cover-up; numerous letters were sent to justice authorities on Ball's behalf.

Freedom of Information requests, including by the Telegraph, Times and the BBC, have led to the release of a few of these letters and confirm that some were from key establishment figures. A former Home Office Secretary of State (now Rt Hon Lord Renton) wrote, seemingly accepting the accusations, that "the further shame of criminal action seems far too great a punishment". The Rt Hon Lord Justice Lloyd wrote to both the Detective Inspector and Chief Constable describing Ball as "the most … saintly man I have ever met", thanking the former for "being so understanding when we spoke on the telephone". Several senior masters from public schools also wrote.

That the letters were orchestrated is suggested by a phrase used in a letter from Radley College Abingdon: "I gather it may be helpful for you to hear from those who have known Bishop Peter Ball for a long period of time." Who suggested that "it may be helpful"?

A number of the letters released are, predictably, from senior figures in the Church including two (now former) Archbishops of Canterbury. Archbishop of Canterbury at the time Lord Carey wrote at least two of these letters, one to the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service and another to the relevant Chief Constable.

The letters contained passages like: "while being keenly conscious of the need to avoid any suggestion that I might be trying to influence the police enquiries", and, "… in no way whatsoever would I wish to influence you about the decision over Bishop Ball", and "'special pleading' would be entirely inappropriate; at the same time …". Similar phrases occurred in several of the letters from others.

But what other motive, other than the desire to influence any decision by the police and the CPS, could Lord Carey have had for writing the letters?

One victim of Bishop Ball, Phil Johnson, told the BBC in an interview screened on 1 January that if there was no intention to influence, why did Lord Carey write the letters at all?

The letters could not have been more manipulative. Lord Carey wrote of his "urgent concern" about Ball's health or to the police that he was "anxious", making representations of the "excruciating pain and spiritual torment which these allegations have brought upon [Ball]", and extolling at length on his achievements and ministry? Nor could they have been more effective. Why else would the CPS have withdrawn charges just days after receiving Lord Carey's pleas, as The Times reported on 5 January? The CPS have recently conceded that this was the wrong decision.

According to the Press Association in September, Lord Carey said: "I was worried that if any other allegations of past indecency were made it would reignite. I wanted some reassurance that this would not be the case. … I was so troubled, that evening after dinner I went to my study. … I was supplied with a number of a man at the CPS I believed to be a director. I do not recall his name. … I rang him and asked what might happen if allegations from the past were made. … I was told quite categorically that the other allegations would not be taken further as far as we are concerned."

The letters and above conversation do not seem entirely consistent with a report in the Church Times on 7 October 2015: "A spokesman for Lord Carey has denied that he attempted to intervene in the case. 'He discussed the matter with the CPS after the caution had been given to Peter Ball. If there was a cover-up, he was unaware. The allegations were investigated by police, and he believed this was a proper investigation.'"

Perhaps most concerning of all is that the evidence emerging is not inconsistent with Lord Carey acting despite acknowledging the validity of the accusations and that they may be multiple. And surely it could not because of them: He said, for example, "This seemed to me at first to be most improbable" [emphasis added] and he was at least aware of the possibility of further accusations: He said he was "worried" about "any other allegations of past indecency" that might be made. These concerns are strengthened by evidence that has now emerged in The Times that his Chief of Staff at the time, Bishop Ronald Gordon declined the prospect of further information that had become available about Ball's nefarious activities because he had "discussed the correspondence the archbishop had received referring to past events in PB's life" and there was "already enough evidence to suggest a picture of what has been happening".

Richard Scorer, a senior lawyer specialising in such cases and author of a book on child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, stated in The Times: "Unless Archbishop Carey has a very good explanation, this has all the hallmarks of a cover-up. … It appears to the victims that he was more concerned with ensuring Ball was treated leniently than about them."

One of the alleged victims, Neil Todd, attempted suicide several times, depressed about not being believed. He even went to Australia to start a new life, but committed suicide in 2013 following the revival of police enquiries.

Mr Scorer is demanding that Lord Carey publicly explain his actions, adding "We cannot have a system where certain people receive more lenient treatment than others, because of who they happen to know."

It seems improbable in the extreme that these letters were sent to the Police and CPS without being orchestrated. The perpetrators of this perversion of the course of justice must be exposed. Hopefully it will emerge, perhaps from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, who was responsible for organising this high level campaign, of such magnitude that it apparently succeeded in perverting the course of justice.

Questions will be asked about a report in 1993 that according to the Sun: "church officials had pleaded with [alleged victim Neil Todd's] family not to go to the police."

Getting to the bottom of the shocking perversion of justice in the 1990s is important, but we should be even more concerned about the extent to which it pervaded the treatment of Ball in recent years. While the CPS belatedly admitted its wrong decision in 1993 there has been no explanation of why the CPS decided in 2015 against pressing charges against Ball on the most serious allegations concerning two teenage boys, albeit Ball pleaded not guilty to them. Ball has shamelessly maintained his innocence for decades, and on the other charges until the last moment, presumably only changing it to avoid a trial. Ball stopped at nothing – including deceiving the establishment and Royal Family – to perpetuate the lie of his innocence. His doing so has caused untold misery and may have cost Neil Todd his life. Was sparing him a trial a reward for changing his plea? If so was that an appropriate reward for him, having lied for decades with such devastating consequences?

Why was there no trial, one that would also have given his victims the opportunity to have their say in court? I am convinced that a trial would have revealed more of relevance about Ball's actions, but also of the Church's institutional bullying and intimidation of victims. The Rev Graham Sawyer claims he was denied ordination (he was eventually ordained in Australia) unless he was silent about being abused by Ball and that even in 2015 the Church's bishop in charge of safeguarding, the Bishop of Durham, refused to engage with victims, citing 'banking reform' as a greater priority.

Sawyer is adamant that there is a "fundamental bankruptcy" in the Church's handling of survivor responses and that people at the highest levels of the Church are more concerned with "saving face".

See also: "Carey knew of sex abuse when he defended Ball" in The Times (5/1/16)

NSS welcomes minister’s commitment to ensure same-sex weddings can take place in military chapels

NSS welcomes minister’s commitment to ensure same-sex weddings can take place in military chapels

News | Tue, 22 Dec 2015

The National Secular Society has welcomed an intervention from Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt to ensure that the rights of gay military personnel wishing to marry are respected.

2015: A year of terror for Bangladesh’s secularist writers

2015: A year of terror for Bangladesh’s secularist writers

Opinion | Tue, 05 Jan 2016

Arif Rahman, a Bangladeshi blogger, reflects on the targeted attacks on secularist bloggers that took place in Bangladesh throughout 2015, claiming many lives, and considers the road ahead for secularism in the face of terror and state-sanctioned persecution.

2015 was the darkest of times in Bangladesh's history. Like the 1975 murder of the founding president Sheikh Mujib, which wiped out all the secular achievements of the 1971 war for independence from Pakistan, 2015 will be remembered by the world as the year atheist bloggers, authors and publishers were killed.

Bloggers and publishers were assassinated one after another, attacked in the streets, at home or in their offices, and countless bloggers were persecuted by the infamous 'Section 57', a blasphemy law. This resulted in mass hysteria among the huge number of bloggers, activists, a lot of whom eventually fled the country, tarnishing the 'secular image' of Bangladesh.

In this one year, 2015, Bangladesh became a killing ground of not only bloggers, but for freedom of speech itself. Government officials, ministers and police repeatedly warned bloggers not to 'cross the line' immediately after every brutal murder by Islamists. Large sections of the country's traditional media chimed in with this sort of victim blaming.

The result was devastating for the psychological state of bloggers, writers, publishers and vocal activists in general. The fear of sudden attack coupled with the threat of jail or persecution at the hands of the law, supported by a vicious media, created such a toxic psychological atmosphere for the already afraid critical and creative minds that people were fleeing the country in flocks. This suffocating atmosphere created perfect conditions for ISIS to expand. Their magazine 'Dabiq' declared Bangladesh its next target.

Bloggers running for their lives could not go to the police, and were told that the authorities couldn't give them protection, and that their best bet was to flee the country. The son of Sheikh Hasina, Sajib Wazed Joy, an adviser of the Prime Minister, told Reuters that the Awami League, the party running the country right now cannot aggravate Islamists in fear of losing votes. His mother expressed her condolence to the father of the slain science writer Avijit Roy in secret, over the phone. She was afraid if news of this phone call leaked to the press, her 'approval rating' would diminish. It seems to that Islamists are already in power.

We know very well that the Islamists are funded and supported from abroad, not least in donations and assistance from Saudi Arabia, the 'ally' Britain desperately appeases. Bangladesh does not want to be seen as aggravating either Saudi Arabia, or Britain. But Bangladeshi secularists will not forget that Britain and Bangladesh both flew their national flag at half-mast after the death of the Saudi King. Secular bloggers, authors and activists may only be a thorn in side for Islamists, but we are a very painful one.

Aside from the horrendous levels of violence, the law, in the form of Section 57 of the Information Communication Act, was also weaponized against secularists back in 2013. This gave yet more fuel for the Bangladeshi intellectual diaspora. In this vague and blunt law, God, prophets, and political personalities are protected from criticism or satire.

The law puts fear into the minds of bloggers: writers can be arrested without warrant, detained indefinitely, fined an unbelievable sum or worse, and face a jail sentence of 14 years. That fear is enough for the rest of the critical blogger community to fold inwards, hide and eventually give up writing altogether. The effect is a victory for Islamism and the would-be dictator, Sheikh Hasina.

A translation of Ali Dashti's "23 Years, a Study of the Prophetic Career of Muhammad" was seized by Islamist thugs. No one even dared to protest. Recently the same Islamist mob vandalized the traditional Baul festival, just because the Bauls, the mystical singers of rural Bangladesh, do not conform to imported Wahhabism. No one dared to stop the Islamist mob. That is the price Bangladesh is paying for criminalising atheist blogging. Attacks on other religious sects continue year-long. No newspaper dares to publish a humanist or atheist article in fear of retaliation. The publishing of cartoons has already become a taboo after Islamists threatened to burn down a major daily newspaper. The Bangladesh DGFI 'ordered' businesses not to advertise in the same newspaper, exerting another level of government control.

2015 also saw the proliferation of 'hit lists' and further threats to newspapers, dictating conditions such as women journalists to be sacked, no reporting on the killing of atheist bloggers, no negative coverage of Islamist thugs. We know Islamists are operating widely, but in Bangladesh, they get a seal of approval from the government.

Bangladesh is known as a 'secular' state to the rest of world, however, the meaning of secularism inside the country is skewed to the degree that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, recently had to comment on the 'misperceptions' around secularism within Bangladesh.

This struggle between real secularism and overt Islamism took a turn for the worse in 2015 with the blood of so many bloggers being spilled on the streets.

The Islamist bubble seems to have engulfed the secular narrative practised by a dwindling number of civil society organisations. The 1991 transition from military rule to democracy gave us hope but even after 24 years in 'democracy' we seem to have failed to fulfil the basic requirements of a proper democracy. This is sad and no signs of recovery can be seen in the horizon.

This is an amended version of a blog post originally posted here. Arif Rahman is a secularist Bangladeshi blogger, based in the UK. The views expressed in our blogs are those of the author, and may not represent the views of the NSS.

Safe space hand wringers are attacking academic freedom – we must fight back

Safe space hand wringers are attacking academic freedom – we must fight back

In order for academic freedom to be better protected in the future, intellectual diversity must become as important to universities as equality and inclusivity are today, writes Joanna Williams of the University of Kent.

NSS Speaks Out

Our executive director Keith Porteous Wood was quoted in the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Week and Il Messagero on reports this week about the exam period being adjusted to accommodate Ramadan. Communications officer Benjamin Jones was also featured on Channel 5 News discussing this story.

Our commentary on the case of Pastor James McConnell – a vital test case for free speech – was picked up in the Irish Times, the Guardian, the Northern Ireland News Letter, Belfast Telegraph, the Christian Institute and the Catholic Herald.

Shortly before Christmas, the NSS was featured in many newspapers responding to David Cameron's claim (once again) that the UK is a Christian country. Campaigns manager Stephen Evans was quoted in the Mirror, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Independent, Christian Today and by ITV.

This email has been sent to you by National Secular Society in accordance with our Privacy Policy.
Address: 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL, United Kingdom.
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7404 3126

Please Note: Newsline provides links to external websites for information and in the interests of free exchange. We do not accept any responsibility for the content of those sites, nor does a link indicate approval or imply endorsement of those sites.

Please feel free to use the material in this Newsline with appropriate acknowledgement of source. Neither Newsline nor the NSS is responsible for the content of websites to which it provides links. Nor does the NSS or Newsline necessarily endorse quotes and comments by contributors, they are brought to you in the interests of the free exchange of information and open debate.