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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 15 March 2019


It seems reasonable to assume that Parkfield Community School in Birmingham had no desire to be dragged into a culture war when it began teaching lessons about diversity. And the lessons had been running without a problem for several years when a group of mainly Muslim parents began a vocal campaign to end them.

But since then the bullying of the school has been relentless - and this week it's paid off. The school has suspended the lessons "until a resolution has been reached" with parents who object to the lessons. Perhaps understandably, it seems to want to put an end to the saga. But this very alarming decision sets a damaging precedent and raises uncomfortable questions for the Department for Education.

This is about more than one school. When our society gives ground to some unreasonable demands in the name of religion, it emboldens religious reactionaries of all stripes. That's why we will continue to stand consistently for freedom of and from religion. If you support that principle, please consider joining or donating to the NSS. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


Birmingham school suspends diversity lessons despite Ofsted backing

A school has suspended lessons about diversity amid objections from predominantly Muslim parents.


Let’s face facts: FGM has something to do with religion

Politicians who insist female genital cutting has nothing to do with religion set a dangerous precedent that undermines campaigns to combat it and other religious harms, says Megan Manson.


NSS queries faith requirement for government fertility regulator job

The NSS has questioned a government advert which sought a board member for a fertility regulator "from a faith background".


Former ‘pope in waiting’ jailed for child sexual abuse

The Vatican's ex-treasurer George Pell has been sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for sexual activity with children in Australia.


Nick Cohen & Pragna Patel to address free speech at Secularism 2019

Nick Cohen and Pragna Patel will address the subject of freedom of expression at the NSS's Secularism 2019 conference.


Catholic school chaplain urges drive to recruit pupils into faith

The chaplain of one of Scotland's largest Catholic schools has said it is the school's "duty" to expose children to "everything... Read More »


Other news

The longest-serving bishop in the Church of England knew about a paedophile priest in his diocese and did nothing, it has emerged. The NSS has responded by reiterating its call for a law mandating the reporting of known child abuse, without exceptions for religious institutions.

A woman convicted of FGM has been jailed for 11 years.

A prominent Iranian lawyer known for defending women who protest against the country's mandatory headscarf law has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, according to her husband.

A United Nations report has said the British government should end Northern Ireland's ban on abortion because it violates the UK's obligations on human rights.

Catholic officials are demanding an apology from US sketch show Saturday Night Live after a comedian compared the church's sex abuse scandals to the allegations against the singer R. Kelly.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised by the head of state after saying that Israel is "not a country of all its citizens," but rather "the nation-state of the Jewish people".

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused a women's march in central Istanbul of disrespecting Islam by booing the Islamic call to prayer.

To stay up to date with all the latest news and views on secularism, sign up to receive your daily media briefing from the NSS.


Barbara Smoker classroom in Uganda

A school in Uganda has named one of its classrooms after the former NSS president Barbara Smoker. A fundraising effort has been launched to develop the classroom – you can contribute here.


Read elsewhere


The backlash to George Pell's sexual abuse conviction

By Sharon Verghis, for the BBC

Some of George Pell's most prominent supporters have reacted to his conviction by criticising Australia's legal system. Critics of the backlash have raised concerns about its broader impact on abuse victims.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

Nick Cohen and Pragna Patel are the latest confirmed speakers for our Secularism 2019 conference at The Tower Hotel in London on Saturday 18 May. You can buy your tickets now.


Our upcoming events include a discussion of free speech at universities at Nottingham Secular Society and a conference on children's bodily integrity, featuring the chair of or Secular Medical Forum Dr Antony Lempert, at the University of Leeds.

See all upcoming events.


Essays of the week

The shame of the Parkfield school protesters
By Iram Ramzan, for The Spectator

Muslim parents' response to teaching about inclusion in Birmingham suggests we have learnt nothing from the 'Trojan Horse' affair five years ago.


George Pell's jailing defies the might of Rome but his fall is too appalling for celebration
By David Marr, for The Guardian

The sentencing of the former Vatican number three showed he was accountable to the law, and the bravery of his accuser must be acknowledged.


Quotes of the week

"In subjects such as history or citizenship, we do not ask political parties to write the syllabus. Nor should religious representatives have a hand in controlling the religious one."
George Casley, academic director of CATS colleges, on the need to end local determination of RE syllabuses


"Bigotry is bigotry, whoever expresses it."
Kenan Malik, Observer writer, on the row over teaching about diversity in Birmingham


Petition comments of the week: faith-free sex education

"Learning about non-heterosexual relationships is not a matter of personal preference or choice. It's about seeing the world as it is, and not as you want it to be."
Jessica, East Yorkshire

"Society is better if children are properly educated in all matters relating to the functioning of human minds and bodies, their own and in others. No one should be left in the dark."
Brian, Buckinghamshire

Sign the petition and explain why you think education about sex and relationships should not be influenced by religion.


Petition comment of the week: end faith-based discrimination in school admissions

"Segregation leading to exclusion of any person, let alone children, has no place in today's society. It is giving the wrong message to our children, and only serves to fuel victimisation and unrest in the future."
Richard, London

Sign the petition and explain why we should roll back faith-based discrimination in school admissions.


Petition comments of the week: non-therapeutic infant circumcision

"I'm signing on behalf of 3 people I know personally whose lives have been blighted by circumcision when they were children and could not consent. Genital mutilation is genital mutilation regardless of gender."
Barry, Hampshire

"Body modifications such as ear piercing, tattoos and cutting the genitals are for adults to choose for themselves. They should never be imposed on someone who cannot consent to it."
David, Fife

Add your name to the petition and explain why infant boys should be legally protected from unnecessary forced genital cutting.


NSS speaks out

Our president Keith Porteous Wood discussed the backlash against Parkfield Community School's diversity lessons on BBC Three Counties Radio. Our communications officer Chris Sloggett discussed the decision to suspend the lessons on BBC WM.


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