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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 11 January 2019


Next Wednesday the debate over religious freedom will turn to the US, which will mark its official annual 'Religious Freedom Day'. In previous years America's Christian right has used this day to reiterate its organised demands for religious privilege.

As Frederick Clarkson argues in one of our essays of the week, the Christian right's aims are, in reality, antithetical to genuine religious freedom. But the idea that it is defending this precious right is deeply ingrained in the public mindset.

This is another reminder of the need to reclaim religious freedom. We'll be discussing how to do that at our Secularism 2019 conference on Saturday 18 May at the Tower Hotel in Central London. Please join us – tickets are £50 or just £25 if you are (or become) an NSS member.

You can also now submit your nominations for the Secularist of the Year award, which will be presented during the conference. And if you value our work, please consider supporting it financially. Thank you.


News & Opinion


Weaponised unreasonableness: father claims school standards violate his rights

After a father threatens the government with legal action over a requirement to teach about LGBT people in independent schools, Alastair Lichten argues the focus should remain on protecting pupils' rights.


The pope's empty words and meaningless gestures won't tackle clerical abuse

One of the pope's Christmas messages urged clerical abusers to hand themselves in. Keith Porteous Wood asks how effective it will be in bringing perpetrators to the courts and assesses the pope's progress over abuse.


NSS calls on equality body to promote inclusive education

The NSS has called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to back a secular education system in response to a new strategic plan.


The NHS’s pastoral support shouldn’t be based on religiosity

Moves to introduce humanist chaplaincy services in some NHS hospitals paper over the cracks in a discriminatory service, Dr Antony Lempert argues.


NSS writes elsewhere


There should be no religious exemption to the law on non-stun slaughter

By Chris Sloggett, NSS communications officer, for Conatus News

Restrictions on non-stun slaughter have come into effect in Belgium, sparking accusations of bigotry. But the only sustainable way to beat reactionaries of all stripes is to maintain the principle of one law for all.


Write to your MP: end religious non-stun slaughter

We campaign for the repeal of the exemption to the animal welfare laws which allows animals to be slaughtered without stunning for religious reasons. Use our template letter to ask your MP to act on this issue.


Latest from the No More Faith Schools campaign


Northern Ireland's children and families are paying the price of faith schools’ failure

The inefficiency of Northern Ireland's sectarian school system means cuts bite harder. Efforts to educate children together... Read More »


Other news

A Saudi teenager who renounced Islam and fled the country fearing her family would kill her has been given refugee status by the UN. But she has also reportedly received "a lot of death threats" and closed the Twitter account she used to highlight her plight.

Amazon has pulled more than a dozen products off its website after receiving complaints from a US-based advocacy group that the items are offensive to Muslims. The NSS has criticised both Amazon's decision and press coverage which has failed to take account of free speech concerns.

A series of human rights groups have urged the Westminster parliament to legislate to allow same sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

A report for the local council in Essex has called for an investigation into the "nature and extent" of parental withdrawals from religious education lessons after finding that some parents were withdrawing their children from lessons on Islam.

The Catholic archbishop of Lyon has gone on trial charged with failing to act on historical allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts by a priest in his diocese. At the time of going to press some reports suggest the case is likely to end in acquittal for him and other senior Catholic officials.

Sales of Buckfast, a caffeine-infused tonic wine which is backed by a registered religious charity, have hit a record high. In 2017 the NSS urged the Charity Commission to investigate the charity, Buckfast Abbey Trust.

A baker in the US who brought a case to the country's Supreme Court over his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple's wedding for religious reasons has been given permission to proceed with a second lawsuit against the state of Colorado. This time the case relates to his refusal to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition.


Read elsewhere


Two women enter a temple. A country erupts

By Supriya Nair, for the New York Times

The debate over whether women of childbearing age can visit a shrine in southern India has become a battle involving caste, gender, party politics and history.


The cone of silence around China’s Muslim ‘gulags’

By Ishaan Tharoor, for the Washington Post

It's unclear how many people are living in detention in Xinjiang in China's far west, and the noose is continuing to tighten on the Uighurs.


Essays of the week

The battle for the meaning of the US's Religious Freedom Day
By Frederick Clarkson, for Rewire.News

A proposed resolution intended to commemorate perhaps one of the most radical, liberatory, and revolutionary pieces of legislation in the history of the world misses the point. And it's not a mistake.


Blasphemy laws do not have a place in the 21st century
By Ewelina Ochab, for Forbes

The right to freedom of religion or belief should be guaranteed for all.


In some cases, it's our duty to hurt sentiments
By Nayantara Sahgal, published by The Indian Express

Nayantara Sahgal, an Indian writer who defends human rights, had her invite to a literary event cancelled amid threats from Hindu nationalist mobs this week. Here is the speech she planned to deliver, in which she defends secularism and pluralism.


Quotes of the week

"One gets the impression that we have turned our backs to it, so in our opinion the antiquated attitudes are still there, even more so than four or five years ago. The hostility no longer only comes from religious extremists but now also from intellectuals."
Riss, editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, reflects on the legacy of the attacks on the magazine's offices four years on


"Ridiculously complicated."
Elizabeth Coatman, the Good School Guide's state education specialist, on the admissions guidelines at some faith schools


"When a mosque is allegedly cowed into dropping an exhibition on the history and heritage of Muslims who saved Jews in the Holocaust… [it] shows you how much progressive and forward thinking Muslims are held to ransom."
Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, on a mosque dropping a planned exhibition amid security threats


"This shows that there is considerable strength of feeling on the issue and that a ban would be possible within domestic law of EU member states. BVA would like to see all animals stunned before slaughter and this call has received widespread support from the veterinary profession and general public."
John Fishwick, senior vice president at the British Veterinary Association (BVA), responds to the ban on non-stun slaughter in northern Belgium

See our quotes of the week archive.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

Our Secularism 2019 conference will explore what 'religious freedom' truly means and how genuine religious freedom can be best defended for everyone. You can buy your tickets now.


Other events

Other events coming up which we recommend include a course on 19th-century radicals with our council member Bob Forder.

See all upcoming events.


Consultation on government counter-extremism policy

The government has launched a public call for evidence on its counter-extremism policy. We encourage supporters who have a particularly worthwhile insight into this subject to respond. The deadline is on 31 January.


Sign the petition – say No More Faith Schools

No More Faith Schools is our national campaign dedicated to bringing about an end to state funded faith schools. Tell us why you support it by signing our petition.


Sign the petition – End discriminatory school transport

Religious discrimination and privilege are widespread in school transport provision, as a recent decision by Wrexham Council has reminded us. Tell us why it should end by signing our petition.


NSS speaks out

Our CEO Stephen Evans discussed non-stun slaughter on Iain Dale's show on LBC. Our communications officer Chris Sloggett had an opinion piece on non-stun slaughter and one law for all published by Conatus News. Meanwhile Farming UK referred to our research on non-stun meat in schools.

Our council member Sadikur Rahman spoke to the BBC Asian Network about marriage law and the Islamic nikah 'marriage', in light of TV presenter Nadiya Hussain's decision to register her marriage legally.

Our criticism of Wrexham Council in north Wales for dropping a review into its discriminatory policy on transport to faith schools was reported in local newspaper The Leader.

Our approach to secularism was mentioned in an article on the LSE blog.


Support our work

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


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