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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 10 August 2018


We have a series of exciting events around the country coming up this autumn. Next month we'll be hosting our annual Bradlaugh Lecture in Manchester, where Gita Sahgal will discuss the growing threat of Hindu nationalism. Tickets are just £10, or £5 for members.

The following day our historian Bob Forder will talk about our longest-serving president, Chapman Cohen, in Leicester. And in October we're hosting our Healthcare & Secularism conference in Birmingham, which will look at issues including circumcision, LGBT 'conversion therapy' and reproductive rights.

Our main content this week focuses on: a shocking ruling on a Jewish state school's policy on how its pupils' families should live; a devastating report on child abuse in Catholic schools; and an attempt to introduce prayers at a council in south Wales.

But we're acutely aware that supporters may be trying to navigate the very prominent media stories over both burkas and anti-semitism which have been in the press this week. We realise secularists will have varying political affiliations and a range of views on these particular rows.

In our view the response should always be guided by two important principles. Defending free expression means standing for the right to offend and to use imperfect language. We are acutely aware of, and must resist, religious groups' attempts to cry bigotry to shut people up. But with free expression comes the responsibility to challenge genuine bigotry. Criticism of religion, religious groups and religious practices is a vital part of a liberal society, but so is criticism of those who show an unhealthy interest in lambasting particular groups of people.

This tricky balance is best struck by standing for human rights and the common citizenship of everyone in our society. And that is what we plan to do. If you think that's worthwhile, please consider showing us your support. Thank you.


News & Opinion


NSS writes to Welsh town council over prayers just before meetings

The NSS has asked the mayor of a Welsh town to ensure prayers are "sufficiently separate" from council meetings and "entirely optional".


Jewish school may place requirements on families, adjudicator rules

A state school is not breaching the school admissions code by placing demands on families' dress and behaviour, an adjudicator has ruled.


Child protection must come before the reputation of institutions like Ampleforth and Downside

Richard Scorer says a damning report on two leading Catholic schools' approach to safeguarding is a reminder of the need... Read More »


NI women will be able to access abortions in Ireland, minister says

Women from Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion services in the Republic of Ireland, an Irish minister has said.


High Court rules Muslim ‘marriage’ void rather than non-marriage

A woman who had a Muslim 'marriage' ceremony but not a civil one is entitled to a decree of nullity which rules her marriage void.


Latest from the No More Faith Schools campaign


SNP MP questions future of Catholic state schools

The No More Faith Schools campaign has called on the Scottish government to "reconsider its position" on Catholic schools... Read More »


Discriminatory faith schools make it harder to find a school place

A parent from Harpenden in Hertfordshire on the difficulty facing non-religious families trying to find a school place.


In case you missed it: on the burka


Do burka bans do more harm than good?

As Denmark's ban on face coverings in public comes into force, Stephen Evans says standing up for fundamental rights and... Read More »


Events coming up: find out more

See all Events >


Other news

A nurse sacked from a hospital and then placed under restrictions for imposing her religious beliefs on patients has been told she is fully fit to practice after accepting she was wrong to proselytise. In 2016 our CEO Stephen Evans described her as "the next so-called victim of 'Christian persecution'".

Activists are vowing to continue campaigning for legal abortion in Argentina after the country's Senate narrowly rejected a bill to allow terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy under pressure from the Catholic Church.

A former vicar from east Yorkshire has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually assaulting vulnerable boys and young men between 1983 and 1996.

The Canadian prime minister has said his government will continue to speak out "clearly and firmly" on human rights issues around the globe after Saudi Arabia demanded that Canada stop criticising it.

Costa Rica's Supreme Court has ruled that the country's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory. The court ruling gives the country's legislators a time limit of 18 months to change the current law.

To get all the latest news and views on secularism from the media in your inbox every morning, you can sign up to receive your daily media briefing.


Quotes of the week

"In their narrow focus on issues such as 'Islamophobia' and foreign policy, they ignore the reality that many Muslims are more interested in the same issues as the wider population: jobs, education and the NHS."
Jawad Iqbal, freelance writer, on self-appointed Muslim leaders


"Don't shut down discussion; that way lies censorship and a narrowing of vision. The biggest mistake at the moment is to talk about offending the Muslim 'community'… It lumps people into one homogeneous group, depersonalises them and makes it easier to attack them en masse."
Janet Street-Porter says the best response to Boris Johnson's comments is to embrace the freedom to disagree

See our quotes of the week archive...


Essays of the week

Why those campaigning to categorise 'Sikh' as an ethnicity are wrong
By Hardeep Singh, for the Spectator

The Office for National Statistics should resist pressure from some Sikh groups to classify Sikhs as an ethnicity.


'What does "religious freedom" really mean for the Trump administration?'
By Rachel Mikva, for CNN

US attorney general Jeff Sessions has announced the creation of a 'religious liberty task force'. But the Trump administration has long sought to expand the role of religion in public life – and its interpretation of religious freedom actually compromises religious liberty.


Why Uighur Muslims across China are living in fear
By Gene Bunin, for the Guardian

Eighteen months' research on Uighur restaurant workers all over China reveals a minority fearing the daily threat of arrest, detention and 're-education'.


Read elsewhere


The Vatican has never co-operated with Irish inquiries into clerical child sex abuse

By Patsy McGarry, for the Irish Times

The Catholic Church has pattern of withholding relevant documents from Irish state abuse inquiries.


A slow decline of Catholicism in the classroom in Ireland

By Katherine Donnelly, for The Independent (Ireland)

The educational landscape in Ireland has changed since the last papal visit to the country in 1979.


A High Court judgement offers one way forward on Muslim marriage

Editorial, for the Guardian

A decision on Muslim marriage recognises, and to some extent nullifies, the influence of sharia law on some English lives without extending any recognition to the judgment of sharia tribunals.


NSS speaks out

Our chief executive Stephen Evans discussed the reinstatement of nurse Sarah Kuteh on BBC Radio Kent (listen from 1hr 24mins). Our spokesperson Chris Sloggett tackled the same subject on BBC South East Today.

Our letter to the mayor of Barry on council prayers was covered in Wales Online and Barry and District News.


Plaque to Holyoake: unveiling

Next Friday afternoon, 17th August, we'll be unveiling a commemorative blue plaque to British secularist, co-operator and newspaper editor George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the term 'secularism' in 1851. If you would like to join us for this special, historic occasion, at his former residence in Bloomsbury, please get in touch.


Note for Irish supporters

Do you remember the papal visit to Ireland in 1979? Have you since left the Catholic Church or religion in general? The Irish Times is looking for interviewees who fit this profile in the run-up to the upcoming papal visit.

If you can help please contact Mark Hilliard at [email protected].


Support our work

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


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