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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 14 September 2018


Too often in public debate 'religious freedom' is cited to justify demands for special privileges which undermine others' rights and social cohesion. We think this needs to be challenged – and a strong counter-narrative launched.

So this week we announced Secularism 2019, a major one-day conference taking place on 18 May next year. This will be an opportunity to talk about what religious freedom actually means and how to ensure everyone can both benefit from it and abide by its limits. We've already secured several high-profile speakers, and this is shaping up to be an excellent opportunity to make the case for secularist principles in public life. We're encouraging our supporters to find out more and buy your tickets for the conference – and our other upcoming events.

Elsewhere it's been a busy week at the NSS, especially because the Commission on Religious Education published a major report on the future of teaching about religion and belief. A number of its recommendations reflect what we've been campaigning for over many years. Its proposal to replace RE with a new national entitlement to learning about a diverse range of religions and worldviews is particularly welcome.

We think all children should get a broad and balanced education which enables them to make their own minds up about religion. A thorough review of religion's role in education is necessary to achieve that. Thank you for supporting us as we make the case for it.


News & Opinion


NSS to host major conference on reclaiming religious freedom

The NSS will host a conference in May 2019 under the tagline 'reclaiming religious freedom', with prominent figures confirmed to speak.


Why we must reclaim religious freedom

There is an urgent case for resisting those who claim the mantle of 'religious freedom' without regard for others' rights... Read More »


Replace RE with ‘religion and worldviews’, says commission

The NSS has given a "qualified welcome" to recommendations to replace RE with a subject entitled 'Religion and Worldviews' and introduce a national entitlement to it.


NSS dismisses ‘regressive’ proposal to extend religious representation in Lords

The NSS has dismissed a call from the government's 'faith minister' for seats as of right in the House of Lords to extended to other 'faith leaders'.


NSS lecture highlights rise of Hindutva in India and Britain

Human rights activist Gita Sahgal has addressed the rise of Hindu nationalism in the NSS's second annual Bradlaugh Lecture.


NSS welcomes Lib Dem proposal to end faith schools in Scotland

The NSS has welcomed a proposal by the Scottish Liberal Democrats to pursue a "single secular model of state-funded education".


Council withdraws advert from toilet after Hindu complaints

The NSS has criticised a north London council for removing an advert featuring a temple from a toilet after a Hindu group complained.


NSS condemns Spain’s blasphemy laws after actor detained

The NSS has called for Spain to abolish its blasphemy laws following the detainment of an actor accused of offending religious sentiment.


Latest from the No More Faith Schools campaign


Report: Parents attending church services to improve school choice

Research by an educational equality charity shows that 31% of parents (including around 35% of middle class parents) report... Read More »


Academic ‘advantages’ of Christian faith schools almost non-existent

The academic advantages of attending Church of England and Catholic schools are almost non-existent, according to a study... Read More »


Events coming up


Secularism 2019: reclaiming religious freedom

What does "religious freedom" truly mean? While religious lobbyists commonly use terms like "religious freedom" to demand privileges, this conference will serve to highlight that true "religious freedom" means freedom of belief for people of all religions and none. The conference will also explore the limits of religious freedom when it impedes on other human rights, including bodily autonomy, equality and freedom of expression.


Healthcare & Secularism Conference

Featuring talks by academics and experts in the fields of medicine, law and ethics, the Healthcare & Secularism conference will give participants the opportunity to discuss the most pressing secular medical issues today. These will include conscientious objection, ritual circumcision, pastoral care and assisted dying.


Other events: find out more

See all Events >


Other news

The annual report of the Church Commissioners, the investment arm of the Church of England, shows that Amazon is among its 20 most valuable equity holdings. The revelation follows the archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of the company for not paying enough tax. Meanwhile it has emerged that the Church of England uses zero-hours contracts, which Welby also criticised during his speech.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Walmsley has called for legislation to make it mandatory to report child abuse to the statutory authorities following disclosures of abuse at two leading Catholic schools.

More than 3,600 children in Germany were assaulted by Roman Catholic priests between 1946 and 2014, a leaked report has revealed.

South Yorkshire Police has been roundly mocked, including by the NSS, for encouraging people to report "non-crime hate incidents", including "offensive or insulting comments".

The home secretary has rejected calls to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics around the country. Meanwhile doctors think Britain's "outdated" abortion law hampers their ability to provide the best care for women, according to research for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. And new plans may mean women from Northern Ireland who travel to Britain to terminate a pregnancy do not have access to abortion pills.

Chinese authorities have drafted sweeping new regulations that would severely restrict religious content online, including images or even descriptions of religious activities from praying and chanting to burning incense.

Romania's senate has overwhelmingly backed a citizens' initiative to change the definition of family in the constitution in a nationwide referendum. The move could make it impossible to legalise same-sex marriage. The initiative has backing from several religious groups.

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

"If the world offers any message at present, it is surely that God and the supernatural in all forms should be ruthlessly divorced from politics."
Simon Jenkins, Guardian columnist, responds to Justin Welby's much-vaunted comments on the economy


"I think when Scott Morrison says he wants religious 'freedom', he actually means religious privilege. Aussies already have freedom of (and from!) religion. Our PM seeks legal change designed to protect people who use their supernatural beliefs as an excuse for prejudice."
Tim Minchin, musician, responds to the new Australian prime minister's pronouncements on "religious freedom"


"He has a moral objection which is his personal objection and he is perfectly entitled to that. He should not try to enforce his moral objection on everyone else."
A spokeswoman for the Highland LGBTI forum responds to a home mission worker with the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). The mission worker has organised a petition against a parade to celebrate gay culture in Inverness

See our quotes of the week archive.


Essays of the week

Desperate parents are bribing priests with muffins – our faith school system must end
By Zoe Williams, for the Guardian

Parents pretend to be religious and clerics pretend to believe them. Getting into state-funded church schools encourages hypocrisy all round.


The shadowy extremist sect accused of plotting to kill intellectuals in India
By Annie Gowen, for the Washington Post

Sanatan Sanstha is has been accused of inciting its followers to kill those they consider enemies of Hinduism.


NSS speaks out

Our CEO Stephen Evans was quoted by the BBC on the Commission on RE's recommendations for reform of the subject. Our response also appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. Our president Keith Porteous Wood discussed the issue on LBC, while Stephen did so on BBC WM.

Stephen was also quoted in the Express, Telegraph and Premier Christian Radio on the decline in affiliation to the C of E, which we reported last week.


Scholarship funding open

The application process for the second round of NSS scholarship funding, which supports students who conduct research relevant to secularism and the promotion of human rights, is now open.

We're inviting requests for grants ranging from £500-£3,000. The scholarship is open to anyone publishing research in English. You can find out more on our research & scholarships page.


Support our work

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


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