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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 10 January 2020


The freedom to challenge and question religious power has been hard-earned and has enabled human progress for centuries. This week marked the fifth anniversary of a brutal assault on that freedom: the Islamist massacre of cartoonists at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo. And as Chris Sloggett argues in the blog below, free expression on religion still needs to be both defended and promoted.

Just last week, for example, we carried news of an academic being sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. And this week a judge in Brazil ordered Netflix to remove a show which depicts Jesus as gay – shortly after the offices of the comedy group behind it were firebombed (though the judge's ruling was, thankfully, rapidly overturned).

These have been shocking reminders that religion continues to pose a threat to free speech in the still-young third decade of the 21st century. If you'd like to support our work challenging that, please consider joining the NSS. Thank you.


News & Opinion


Five years after the Charlie Hebdo murders, free expression on religion still needs promoting

Half a decade after the Islamist attack on cartoonists in France, Chris Sloggett says we owe it to the victims and those left behind to reject blasphemy taboos.


Regulator reconsiders proselytising doctor case after NSS challenge

A medical regulator will review a decision not to investigate a GP who brings up religion during appointments after an NSS intervention.


Evangelical network requests state funding for school in NI

The No More Faith Schools campaign has objected to plans to make two schools in Northern Ireland which are run by an evangelical... Read More »


Islamic school segregates and treats girls unfavourably, says Ofsted

An independent Islamic school is segregating pupils by sex and giving boys more opportunities than girls, inspectors have found.


Other NSS campaigning

A motion proposed at the local council in Dundee could see unelected representatives, including religious representatives, lose the right to vote on education issues. The NSS, which campaigns to remove religious appointees from council education committees in Scotland, has urged councillors in Dundee to end religious representatives' voting privileges.

The campaign group Our Duty of Care is lobbying the British Medical Association to try to ensure it remains opposed to assisted dying. The NSS has written to the BMA to seek assurances that a survey it's holding on the subject is being developed in a fair and impartial manner.

NSS staff have met with Law Commission representatives to make the case for a separation between the legal institution of marriage and religion. The commission is currently considering the issue of marriage reform in England and Wales. This week the Ministry of Justice said the commission would recommend "simple, fair and consistent" reforms.


Other news

The Charity Commission will investigate a registered charity, the Islamic Centre of England, after it hosted an event commemorating Qasem Soleimani. One of the centre's charitable purposes is 'the advancement of Islam'. The NSS argues that advancing religion shouldn't be a reason to receive charitable status.

Keep up with all the latest news and views on secularism by subscribing to our daily media briefing.


Quotes of the week

"It was five years ago, it was a century ago, it was yesterday. We do not forget and we will always continue: to speak, to write, to draw."
Charlie Hebdo tweet on the anniversary of the attack on its staff


"Why would I do this to my child? He's a little baby."
US TV star Meghan King Edmonds speaks of her regret at giving in to pressure to circumcise her twin sons


BBC documentary on the C of E covering up child abuse

A BBC documentary, Exposed: The Church's Dark Secret, will look at the campaign to bring the abusive Anglican bishop Peter Ball to justice – and the cover-up that went to the highest levels of the Church of England.

It's due to air in two parts, next Monday and Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Two.


Essays of the week

No place for God in British politics
By Otto English, for Politico

Even in the death throes of relevance, the Anglican Church continues to wield outsized influence.


Celebrating the removal of Ireland's blasphemy law
By Michael Nugent & Jane Donnelly, in a letter to The Irish Times

Ireland starts the new decade with the good news that it's finally removed the medieval crime of blasphemy from its statute books.


Read elsewhere: Hindu nationalism & democracy in India


Is India still a democracy?

By Kapil Komireddi, for the New Statesman

Narendra Modi has bullied critics and suffocated the press into endorsing his Hindu nationalist version of modern India.


The death of Indian democracy

By Debarati Guha, for DW

India's Jawaharlal Nehru University is famous for its liberal environment and critical ethos. An attack by masked assailants on its students is an attempt to silence India's secular forces.


NSS events

Our upcoming events include a talk on the 1944 Education Act and its legacy in February and an event for educators on our Exploring Secularism resources in May.

Our No More Faith Schools campaign coordinator Alastair Lichten will also deliver a series of talks in several locations, starting in Oxford in April.

Find out more on our events page.


NSS speaks out

The General Medical Council's review of its decision not to investigate the GP Dr Richard Scott was reported in The Observer, noting concerns we highlighted and quoting our CEO Stephen Evans. Stephen was also quoted in coverage in the local press, including Kent Online, and the religious press, including the Catholic Herald.

The fact that an independent Islamic school in Blackburn was found to be unlawfully segregating children by sex – which we previously highlighted – was reported in the Mail Online, the Lancashire Telegraph and The London Economic. Our spokesperson Megan Manson was quoted.

Our call for the speaker of the House of Commons to support a review of parliamentary prayers, which we reported last week, was highlighted in the Hindustan Times. Stephen Evans was quoted.


In your own words: scrap the bishops’ bench

"This archaic, outdated and unfair practice should not be permitted to continue. More than 50% of the UK population have no religion and the Church of England should not be afforded this special privilege in our multi-cultural and multi-faith society."
John, Kent

The NSS is backing a bill which would end the automatic right of C of E bishops to sit in the House of Lords. The bill is due to be introduced in the Lords on 28 January.

If you want to let us know why you support a secularist cause, why not sign one of our petitions? We aim to feature the best comments in Newsline.


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