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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 16 August 2019


As children in Scotland have returned to school this week, we've been advocating long-overdue change in religious influence over their education. The law currently requires local councils to appoint three religious representatives on their education committees – and our report Religious Reps: unrepresentative, unnecessary and unjustified has made the case for changing that.

We're sending the report to members of the Scottish parliament and councillors across Scotland. MSPs have the power to change the law and revoke religious representatives' right to sit on the committees, which would be by far the best and most democratic solution. But in the meantime councillors can limit the representatives' power by revoking their voting privileges. One council (Perth and Kinross) has already done this – and eight others have told us they're at least willing to consider it.

Meanwhile this week we've also convinced a public health body to stop encouraging parents to seek advice from "faith leaders" over vaccinations, and we're urging the government to rethink concerning stances on blasphemy laws and civil partnerships.

We'll keep making the case for a separation of religion and state, in all areas of policy and throughout the UK. If you think this sounds worthwhile, please consider supporting our work. Thank you.


News & Opinion


End religious appointees on Scottish education committees, NSS says

The NSS has urged MSPs to remove religious appointees from council education committees in a major report.


Public Health England changes vaccination advice after NSS lobbying

A health body has withdrawn guidance encouraging parents to seek faith leaders' advice over vaccinations after the NSS questioned it.


NSS urges government to review its language on blasphemy laws

The NSS has asked the government to review its stance on blasphemy laws amid concern that ministers only criticise their "misuse".


Teachers increasingly oppose faith schools and the discrimination they cause

Research shows a majority of teachers supporting an end to new faith schools and a huge majority favouring an end to religious selection, Alastair Lichten finds.


NSS: don’t let religious groups discriminate on civil partnerships

The NSS has warned against allowing religious groups to host opposite-sex civil partnerships while opting out of hosting same-sex ones.


From the archive: Peterloo anniversary


Peterloo’s heroes represented the finest traditions of secular democracy

On the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, read Bob Forder highlighting the close links between the campaign for church-state separation and the push for a democratic society in the 19th century and beyond.


Help us campaign: remove religious reps

Scottish law requires council education committees to include three religious appointees.

You can read more about why we're campaigning to change this and how you can help us make the case.


Other news

Children have been turned away from Catholic schools in Scotland this term because children from Catholic families get first preference, according to The Times. In response the NSS has said no child should be rejected from school because of their parents' religion.

A man plans to challenge a ruling that the evangelical Christian owners of a bakery had a right to refuse to bake a cake with pro-gay marriage message at the European Court of Human Rights.


Bradlaugh Lecture 2019: tickets on sale

There are now just three weeks to go until our 2019 Bradlaugh Lecture in Manchester.

Andrew Moffat will address the subject 'No Outsiders: reclaiming radical ideas in schools' on Saturday 7 September.

Tickets are on sale now.


NSS speaks out

We gained coverage in The Times three times this week.

Our report on religious representatives on council education committees in Scotland was given a substantial billing. Our education campaigner Alastair Lichten called on the Scottish government to remove the positions and on councillors to restrict the representatives' voting privileges.

Our work convincing Public Health England to change its vaccination advice was reported, with our CEO Stephen Evans welcoming the change.

And our spokesperson Chris Sloggett commented on the University of St Andrews's decision to accept a grant to teach a course entitled 'science-based theology'. He said universities should be wary of accepting money from groups who promote a pro-religious agenda.

Elsewhere our campaigns officer Megan Manson discussed restrictions on face veils on the radio station Voice of Islam. She criticised bans in public places, but added that public institutions should have the right to impose restrictions and said it was reasonable to have serious concerns over the link between face veils and female subjugation.

Lawyer Richard Scorer, who is also one of our vice-presidents, was quoted on child abuse in the Church of England in Church Times.


Latest NSS podcast


Ep 12: Circumcision | No Outsiders

Chris Sloggett spoke to NSS chief executive Stephen Evans and campaigns officer Megan Manson about the ethics of ritual infant male circumcision. Also in this episode our head of education Alastair Lichten spoke with Andrew Moffat, creator of the inclusive education resource 'No Outsiders' and speaker at the NSS's upcoming Bradlaugh Lecture.


RE: tell us your views

How should teaching about religion & belief be secularised? We're seeking the views of our supporters, RE professionals and the public to inform our campaigning on RE. You can let us know what you think until Monday at midday.


Essay of the week

Brace yourself for more lies about Prevent
By David Toube, for The Jewish Chronicle

A spectacular level of disinformation has been disseminated about the government's counter-terrorism programme.


Quotes of the week

"The evil of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy would have gone unexposed had it not been for secular agencies... This should have induced the church to show profound gratitude and humility towards the media."
Editorial in The Tablet on the archbishop of Westminster's attempts to silence criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of abuse


"Religion should be confined to the church, synagogue, mosque or temple. It has no place in running a modern school."
GP Taylor, best-selling author and a former parish priest, on faith schools


In your own words: end compulsory worship in schools

"As a former teacher who sometimes took school assembly, I avoided doing the act of worship because I did not want to indoctrinate anyone, least of all small children. Technically breaking the law? Yes. Any regrets? No."
Julie, Greater Manchester

Sign the petition and explain why collective worship in schools should end.

Or sign one of our other petitions to highlight a secularist cause you care about.


Read elsewhere


How can we stop FGM in the US?

By Suman Naishadham, for Vice

Some in the US are using 'religious freedom' arguments to claim that forms of FGM should be acceptable, and drawing on the perceived acceptability of male circumcision to back them up.


'Several lives lost': note reveals early details of Peterloo massacre

By Simon Murphy, for The Guardian

A magistrate's message released to mark the 200th anniversary of Peterloo may be the first account of the bloodshed.


Support our work

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


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