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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 1 March 2019


We've once again been defending children's rights in the face of religious pressure this week. We've given a qualified welcome to new government guidance which has avoided extending parents' right to opt children out of relationships and sex education in England.

We've highlighted the alarming religious privilege in the British Medical Association's latest guidance on non-therapeutic male circumcision. And after recent hearings at the IICSA inquiry and this week's conviction of George Pell – the Vatican's third-highest ranking official – we're continuing to expose the Catholic Church's appalling handling of child abuse.

Defending children's freedom of and from religion means defending their right to a decent education. It means defending their right to bodily integrity. And it means holding their abusers to account.

We'll have plenty more to say about the defence of children's rights in the face of religious impositions at our Secularism 2019 conference on 18 May. Tickets are on sale now. Alternatively, if you want to support our work, you could consider joining or donating to the NSS. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


NSS welcomes updated guidance on relationships & sex education

The government has resisted religious pressure to extend parents' right to withdraw their children from relationships and sex education.


The government should stand up to parents who want religious opt-outs

Giving ground to religious groups' individualistic demands for opt-outs from relationships & sex education undermines children's rights and teachers' ability to do their job, says Chris Sloggett.


Doctors’ body: consider parents’ religion on infant genital cutting

The NSS has criticised the British Medical Association for giving "vague" advice to doctors on the ethics of infant circumcision.


The BMA’s genital cutting guidance is a disturbing departure from evidence-based, patient-centred policy making

The body which represents doctors has missed the opportunity to take a stand against medically unnecessary child circumcision in its new guidance on the subject, says Dr Antony Lempert.


IICSA's Ealing hearings showed the Catholic Church can't be trusted to police itself

An inquiry has highlighted the Catholic Church's lamentable failings over child abuse at an abbey and school in west London. Keith Porteous Wood says the episode has shown the need for mandatory reporting of abuse.


21 steps the pope would take if he was committed to tackling child abuse

As the Catholic Church unveils another inadequate plan to tackle child abuse, this open letter from Keith Porteous Wood highlights some steps the pope could take if he was committed to taking effective action.


ECJ: non-stun slaughter breaches ‘highest welfare standards’

Meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning cannot be labelled organic because of animal welfare concerns, an EU court has found.


The latest NSS podcast


Annie Laurie Gaylor – Exploring religious freedom episode 04

Continuing our series of discussions exploring religious freedom, Alastair Lichten spoke with secularist activist Annie Laurie Gaylor. Annie Laurie is a co-founder of – and, current co-president of – the Freedom From Religion Foundation.


Read elsewhere


The Catholic church must pay a high price for its cover-up culture

By NSS honorary associate Geoffrey Robertson QC, for the Independent

The phenomenon of children's unflinching obedience to sexual requests from the priest is induced by 'reverential fear'. News of the conviction and imprisonment of cardinal George Pell, number three in the Vatican, for the rape of small boys in a sacristy came as a fitting end to a papal summit on child abuse which achieved nothing.


Women who fought for Salman Rushdie

By Salil Tripathi, for LiveMint

The 30th anniversary of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie is also a milestone of women protesting against fundamentalism.


NSS scholarship

The fourth round of the NSS scholarship is now open.

We're inviting requests for grants ranging from £500-£3,000. The scholarship is open to anyone publishing research in English.

Applicants will be expected to demonstrate why the NSS should fund their work, ideally with reference to our Secular Charter. Award recipients will write at least one opinion piece for the NSS to share details of their findings with the Society's members and wider audience.

The deadline for applications is Saturday 1 June.

Find out more>>>


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

Izzy Posen is the latest confirmed speaker at our Secularism 2019 conference at the Tower Hotel in central London on 18 May. You can buy your tickets now.


Other events coming up include a talk by our head of education Alastair Lichten at Brighton Humanists and a conference on bodily integrity in Leeds featuring Dr Antony Lempert of our Secular Medical Forum.

See all upcoming events.


Essays of the week

The vocal minority turns up the volume on protesting sex education
By Leah Jewett, for Medium

A petition calling for a parental opt-out from relationships and sex education appears to be an outcry from a vocal minority that opposes sex education.


Quotes of the week

"It doesn't wash because what is happening is not a personal moral lapse, to be treated as a sin to address through penitence and prayer, but a crime in which the church has been an accomplice."

The New York Times editorial board on the pope's approach to child abuse

"Earlier, Pope Francis had urged the 200 religious leaders to "listen to the cry of the little ones who are seeking justice". Then he shut his ears, opened his mouth and delivered hogwash, heavy on religious metaphor, light on specifics."

Annie Brown

"The pope has undone the tiny bit of progress that possibly was achieved this week. He was defensive, rationalising that abuse happens in all sectors of society. Ironically and sadly, he exhibited no responsibility, no accountability and no transparency."

Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-founder of Bishop Accountability

"I have had death threats and very nasty emails and phone calls. Many of the protesters are not parents. Some come from as far away as Wales. In the last protest there were 250 people; about 80 were from the school. It is unpleasant — not something I want any teacher to have to go through."

Andrew Moffat, assistant head teacher of a primary school in Birmingham who has faced threats for LGBT inclusive education


Petition comments of the week: non-consensual infant circumcision

"Doctors are supposed to act in the best interests of their patient not inflict an unnecessary ,painful and risky procedure at the request of parents/ grandparents/religious leaders!"

Lynette, Shetland Islands

Add your name to the petition.


NSS speaks out

Our president Keith Porteous Wood was quoted in The Sunday Times and spoke to TRT World about the Vatican hiding evidence of child abuse and George Pell's conviction.

Our vice-president Richard Scorer was quoted in The Observer about St Benedict's Catholic school in Ealing failing to tell the police about sexual abuse. Our report on disestablishment and the coronation was mentioned in The Express.

Our communications officer, Chris Sloggett, was on Voice of Islam radio about secularism's role in addressing anti-Muslim prejudice. Our CEO, Stephen Evans, was on BBC Radio Kent to discuss the new relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance.

Last week our head of education, Alastair Lichten, spoke to ITV Wales about RSE reform and faith schools' discriminatory teaching.


Support our work

Please support our work so we can make the case for a fairer secular democracy for all.


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