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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 15 November 2019


This week a report from Humanists International has highlighted the reach of blasphemy and apostasy laws around the world. Sixty-nine countries have blasphemy laws on the books and blasphemy is punishable by death in six countries. Eighteen countries outlaw 'apostasy', and in 12 of them it's punishable by death.

Elsewhere our communications officer Chris Sloggett warns that religious identity is being politicised during the general election campaign. And our head of education Alastair Lichten explains why we're opposing proposals to revoke the right to withdraw from RE in Wales – at least for now.

If you value Newsline and the work we do, please consider getting involved in our campaigning or joining or donating to the NSS. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


Blasphemy laws exist in 69 countries, report finds

Sixty-nine countries have blasphemy laws and penalties have hardened in parts of the world in recent years, a report has found.


Don’t let religious sectarianism tear our democracy apart

Chris Sloggett says the major parties in the current election campaign are indulging Britain's division into religious tribes – and we should urgently ask how we can move past this.


This isn’t the time to end the right to withdraw from RE in Wales

The Welsh government is considering removing the parental right to withdraw from religious education. Alastair Lichten argues that despite potential benefits, reforms don't go far enough to justify ending this longstanding right.


Taxpayers fund vast majority of discriminatory faith schools’ costs

Taxpayers are funding a larger proportion of discriminatory voluntary aided faith schools' building costs than they were a decade ago.


Government warns Islamic school with pro-Taliban book in library

The Department for Education has warned nine independent faith schools over failings in a set of newly-published notices.


Other news: UK

Ministers have challenged a ruling that a couple's Islamic marriage came within the scope of English law. Last year a High Court judge ruled that a woman was entitled to a decree of nullity after the breakup of her 18-year marriage. She married a man in a religious ceremony but they never had a civil ceremony.

Lawyers acting for dozens of victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests have called for Vincent Nichols, the most senior Catholic cleric in England and Wales, to resign. NSS vice-president Richard Scorer was one of the two lawyers to make the call, acting in his professional capacity.

The NSS's No More Faith Schools campaign has criticised a decision to open a new Church of England primary school in Keynsham in Somerset next September.


Other news: international

Saudi Arabia's state security agency has declared feminism, atheism and homosexuality as forms of 'extremism' in an official video. It has since issued a statement which seemed to row back, but only slightly. Atheism and homosexuality are punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

New Zealand is to become the first country in the world to put euthanasia to a binding public vote after its lawmakers passed a bill laying out what the country's assisted dying regime would be.


Latest NSS podcast


Ep 18: Remembrance Day | Clerical Abuse

In this week's episode, Emma Park is joined by the NSS's Megan Manson and Chris Sloggett (a former history teacher) to discuss the Church of England's privileged role in Remembrance Sunday. Emma then speaks to Keith Porteous Wood, president of the NSS, about the society's campaign to expose institutional abuse in the Catholic Church.


Election 2019: pledges that should be in the parties’ manifestos

Visit our Election 2019 page to see how to share the pledges we're encouraging parties to make in their manifestos.


NSS speaks out

Our head of education Alastair Lichten commented on school consultations with parents over relationships and sex education in Schools Week. He said any consultation mustn't undermine comprehensive, non-discriminatory, rights-based RSE by giving ground to religious groups' unreasonable demands.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans discussed collective worship on local BBC radio.


NSS out and about

Our vice-president Richard Scorer appeared on a panel at an event discussing the relationship between religious freedom and other human rights, hosted by the Human Rights Lawyers Association.

And our former president Terry Sanderson discussed secularism in an address to Bromley Humanists.


Upcoming events

Later this month our events will explore topics including our No More Faith Schools campaign and the legacy of the 19th century radical Richard Carlile.

We also have events on the 1944 Education Act and its legacy and our Exploring Secularism resources coming up in 2020.

Find out more on our events page.


Essays of the week

The unbearable wrongness of William Barr: Secularism doesn't destroy society or moral order
By Phil Zuckerman, for Salon

If secularism truly resulted in moral deterioration, then highly secular societies would be decaying. They're not.


The anti-Labour plot to polarise Hindus over Kashmir
By Sunny Hundal, for openDemocracy

A campaign for the hearts and minds of British Hindus is pushing them to the Tories – and it's dividing British Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.


Quote of the week

"As an outside monitor of safeguarding practices in the Catholic Church, the Vatican has fallen short. Refusing to cooperate with IICSA, as it did, was a scandalous violation of the paramountcy principle – the absolute moral obligation to put the welfare of children before everything else."
Editorial in The Tablet, a Catholic magazine, criticises the Catholic Church's response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


Sign our petitions

Sign one of our petitions to let us know why you support our campaigning. We aim to feature some of the best comments in Newsline.


Annual report 2019

Our annual report for 2019 has now been published. Featuring:

- A lawyer who defended a woman on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan stars at our Secularism 2019 conference

- We highlight the restrictions which faith schools place on school choice

- We make the case for removing 'the advancement of religion' as a charitable purpose

- We stand up for free speech, children's rights and more.

You can read the report on our website.


Read elsewhere


In China, every day is Kristallnacht

By Fred Hiatt, for The Washington Post

In western China, the demolition of mosques and bulldozing of cemeteries is a continuing, relentless process.


What has happened with Cardinal George Pell's appeal against child sex abuse conviction?

By Paul Karp, for The Guardian

One of the Vatican's most senior officials will be allowed to argue against his conviction on historical child sexual abuse offences in Australia. This will look and feel like an appeal, but technically special leave to appeal hasn't been granted.


Support our work

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