Trouble reading this email? View newsletter online.

Newsline 9 December 2016

We need your help with two urgent campaigns – both coming to a close next week.

The Government's consultation on plans to open a new batch of faith schools, free to discriminate on religious grounds in 100% of their admissions, is coming to a close on Monday. There is still time for you to have your say. After the Casey Review this week, which warned of shocking levels of religious and ethnic segregation in the UK, more faith schools, more division and more discrimination is deeply counterproductive. We can't let these plans pass unopposed.

The second campaign we need your help with is to help stop Sabbatarians blocking the opening of a popular sports centre swimming pool on Sundays because it is the Sabbath. The people of Lewis have faced religious dogmatism like this for a long time, and have had enough. They are fundraising to meet the council's supposed shortfall themselves, and any and all donations are urgently needed – the appeal expires in just five days. They are close to their target, and you can help them stand up to the religious fundamentalists on their council by donating here.

Early next year, on the 18th January, we'll be holding an event to mark the second anniversary of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Speakers confirmed so far include Nick Cohen, Caroline Fourest and Jim Fiztpatrick MP. We'll be discussing 'the future of free speech' and will release more details soon.

Once again we would like to thank those who were able to donate to the portrait bust of our founder Charles Bradlaugh MP, we're delighted to say that the wonderful piece has been selected as Parliament's 'Artwork of the Month.' Our congratulations to the sculptor, Suzie Zamit.

You can read more about all of the above in our news stories and blogs below. If you aren't a member but would like to show your support for secularism, free speech and an inclusive education system, join us today.

Sabbatarians have imposed their dogma on islanders for long enough, help them put a stop to it

Sabbatarians have imposed their dogma on islanders for long enough, help them put a stop to it

Opinion | Thu, 08 Dec 2016

The National Secular Society is helping campaigners on the Isle of Lewis open a sports centre on a Sunday, currently blocked by a council who won't allow it on the Sabbath. It's hardly the first time Sabbatarians on Lewis have played this game.

The attempt by religious fundamentalists on the Western Isles of Scotland to stop families using a swimming pool on the Sabbath is not the first time the local council, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has imposed its religious dogmatism on the whole community.

For many years public services on Lewis – no matter how much they are required or supported by local residents – have closed down on the Sabbath, all to enforce observance of an obscure and fundamentalist form of Calvinist Christianity.

As the Isle of Lewis' website notes, "The Western Isles culture remains very strong, particularly in its religious beliefs. Sundays remain a very special day, and many people observe strict compliance to the 'Free Church' traditional values." This is understating just how strict this 'compliance' is, and dramatically overstating how many people on Lewis actually observe the Sabbath in this way (or at all).

Historically, playpark swings were chained up on the Sabbath and no business opened, while more recently this century there have been battles in Stornoway over ferries arriving on Sundays and the start of flights to and from the mainland. These Sunday public transport services saw members of the Lord's Day Observance Society protesting vigorously on quayside and runway and prophesying doom and gloom for the islands. Reverend Alasdair Smith told the BBC two years ago that he could remember islanders used to be "horrified" if somebody was even riding a bicycle on a Sunday, and there are plentiful tales of people being scolded for performing simple household tasks such as hanging washing out to dry, or for wanting to play a leisurely round of golf.

One time journalist Peter May who as well as writing two prime time drama series for the BBC wrote the best-selling Hebrides, a trilogy of works set on the Western Isles of Scotland. In one of the books (Page 60) he describes an epiphany on his first Sunday on Lewis:

"My first Sunday in Stornoway was spent walking the streets in a fruitless search for lunch. Although, to our frustration, we would hear voices and laughter coming from behind the locked doors of several of the public houses in town. It was only later that we learned that the faithful would emerge from their church services at midday to slip straight into the pubs via the back door. You live and learn!"

But times have changed. A survey in 2015 by Families into Sport for Health (FiSH) found that 71% of respondents wanted the sports centre open on Sundays – as an earlier survey found in 2011.

FiSH say they have nine councillors who are supportive, but the rest of the council are putting up spurious concerns about the cost of Sunday opening. FiSH are now raising the funds themselves to donate to the Council, so if they reach their target the Council will have run out of excuses not to make this public facility available to all, regardless of some councillors' religious beliefs.

Behind the smokescreen of lack of funds lies the real objection from the remainder of the Council: religious belief. Sunday is their Sabbath and the staunch Presbyterians want to impose their fundamentalist interpretation of that Sabbath observance on the whole island. The same Council however permits similar facilities to be opened further south, on Barra and South Uist. As well as illustrating the difference between the more Catholic and less dogmatic south and the fiercely dogmatic Calvinist north of the Western Isles, this demonstrates the iron grip the Sabbatarians try to maintain in 'their' patch, in pursuit of their own sectarian interests.

In 2009 a small group of protestors demonstrated against the first Sunday ferry to the Scottish mainland with signs warning of the intrusion of "secular society" and admonishing "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy". But they were countered by "200 islanders who gathered to cheer the vessel out of port."

Professor Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College said having a ferry on Sundays would "have a domino effect on church attendance and will change the community from a Christian civilisation to a secular, humanist society."

Reverend Dr James Tallach of the Free Presbyterian Church said, "We will not be tried at the end of the day, when all of us stand before the judgment seat of Christ, on the basis of EU law."

Another reverend warned that the consequences would "terrify parents".

This is what local people have had to put up with, believers or not. They have long since had enough and won't be bullied by other members of the Lewis community to observe their religious rules.

The battle over the public sports centre has been going on for many years, despite some private businesses now opening on Sunday. The Council, through the beliefs of many of its councillors, has no business imposing religious views on the whole island, and people across the UK can help the FiSH campaign to stand up to this religious bullying and intolerance.

Please join the crowdfunding effort to make sure families on Lewis can go swimming on Sundays.

The Casey Review lays bare the failure to integrate Muslim minorities

The Casey Review lays bare the failure to integrate Muslim minorities

Opinion | Mon, 05 Dec 2016

Dame Louise Casey offers a damning critique of mass immigration undertaken without serious efforts to integrate new arrivals, but she shies away from properly tackling faith schools, and the problems she identifies may be intractable.

The Casey Review is a profound and thorough demolition of decades of laissez-faire immigration policies, and an official culture which demonised as racist those who spoke out about the problems that exist in many Muslim communities.

Britain's cultural relativism and moral blindness reached its apogee with the appalling revelations about the Rotherham rape gangs. Casey writes that it was "a catastrophic example of authorities turning a blind eye to harm in order to avoid the need to confront a particular community." More than 1,400 children paid the price.

Progress integrating Britain's myriad Muslim communities has been slow, complicated by the arrival of new "first generation in every generation" foreign wives who often don't speak English, and a growing "sense of identification" among UK Muslims "with the plight of the 'Ummah', or global Muslim community."

Every few months we have a new poll, survey or official report warning that the blind pursuit of multi-culturalism is leading us to catastrophe and urging the Government to take action.

Back in January Trevor Phillips warned that it was delusional to pretend "a group is somehow eventually going to become like the rest of us" "simply because we are constantly telling them that basically they should be like us".

Casey is right to emphasise (again) the need to promote British values, history and law in schools, but Trevor Phillips posed a more fundamental challenge; what if Muslims just "see the world differently from the rest of us"?

Promoting our values is necessary, of course, but it may not be sufficient.

As with other official reports and documents, the Casey Review rests on the assumption that something can be done and that the experiment in multi-faith (and multi-civilisational) societies will end in success given enough tinkering and state action. I do not see any reason to make such a presumption.

Self-segregation of communities now seems endemic, and this is particularly true of certain Muslim communities: "Compared to other minority faith groups, Muslims tend to live in higher residential concentrations at ward level," Casey notes.

There are now wards, in Blackburn, Birmingham, Burnley and Bradford with between 70% and 85% Muslim populations. At one school the review team visited, pupils estimated that 50 to 90 per cent of the UK's population was Asian, such was the segregation of their area.

Higher density Muslim populations create more social problems, and obviously reduces contacts between people from different backgrounds, adversely effecting wider society. A Policy Exchange survey published just last week found that those who lived in areas of more highly concentrated Muslim populations were more likely to oppose the teaching of art and music in schools than those who live in more diverse (or less Muslim-dominated) areas.

The review is hard-hitting in terms of the problems it finds, but the increasingly untenable faith schools project seems to be off-limits, even for a report that is unafraid of speaking in refreshingly frank language about everything else.

"Segregation appears to be at its most acute in minority ethnic and minority faith communities and schools, so ending state support for all faith schools would be disproportionate," the report says, yet surely in this age of equality for all it is absolutely impossible for the Government to grant faith schools to some and not to others.

And so rather than call for all faith schools to be phased out, Casey chooses to accept the segregation minority faith schools cause as the price for keeping 'popular' faith schools provided "integration tests" are imposed on them. It is a shame that even in this formidable report that faith schools are insulated from calls for serious reform.

The problems Casey describes, sharia 'courts', forced marriage, FGM, child rape gangs operating with impunity, would have been unimaginable to previous generations. But parallel lives are now turning into parallel civilisations, living in each other's shadows, with entirely separate social, educational, religious, moral and political mores.

Government action is desperately needed – a moratorium on faith schools would be a good start, and reducing the rate of migration from populations that are less likely to integrate would be another entirely reasonable step.

But it is worth contemplating that this project may end in failure, and that Government cannot make people befriend others from different ethnic and religious groups, that state action cannot overcome human nature and the impulse to live with others who are like you. The state can stop doing certain unhelpful things (like promoting faith schools), but it cannot compel changes in social life.

Efforts to 'reform' and 'reinterpret' Islam are welcome, but they are surely received more warmly among secularists than among Muslims. And the hope that younger Muslims will become more secularised, liberal and tolerant is only realistic if they are exposed to wider society. As long as self-segregation is an option, and as long as Muslims can live in wards which are almost entirely Islamic, there will be a great number, a significant minority at least, who will hold regressive, separatist views.

Last week's Policy Exchange survey had some hopeful signs, Muslims do overwhelmingly identify with Britain. But given how segregated the country and some Muslim communities are, how can we be sure which 'Britain' they identify with?

Despite decades of failures, it is worth noting that problems integrating Muslim minorities are hardly rare around the world, and this is not a problem unique to the United Kingdom. That brings us to the final unsayable thing – well known to most British people but unmentionable to officials and politicians: Islam is a special case.

Casey said on the BBC's Daily Politics that Islam "is a peaceful religion" (to furious agreement from the politicians present), and the report says that sharia law is being "abused". The review does a very good job of exposing government complacency and official ineptitude, but there are clearly some subjects that are still off limits.

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.