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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 17 May 2019


We're looking forward to seeing plenty of our supporters tomorrow at our Secularism 2019 conference. We'll be opening the doors from 9am, and we'll have tea, coffee and pastries before the first presentations get underway at 10.

In recent months there has been a hasty rush among political parties, public bodies and councils to adopt a definition of 'Islamophobia' proposed by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. We've grown increasingly concerned at the groupthink of those adopting this vague and flawed definition – and their apparent failure to consider the potential consequences, particularly for free speech, carefully.

We've pushed back since this definition was proposed in November. This week we've played a significant role as the campaign against the definition has finally gained national attention. And we're pleased to say that the government now appears set to reject the definition.

Prejudice and hatred against people based on their faith must be challenged, defeated and rejected. But free speech on religion must be protected. And crucially we need a robust public debate on the influence of religion, including Islam, on our society. Adopting the proposed definition would help to shut that debate down, undermining social cohesion.

We work to protect free expression and normalise necessary criticism of religion. If you think this is worthwhile, please consider supporting us. Thank you.


News & Opinion


Islamophobia definition “unfit for purpose”, say campaigners

The NSS has signed an open letter criticising the "uncritical and hasty adoption" of a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia'.


NSS welcomes Home Office review of asylum decision-making process

The government has said it is reviewing its "decision making" amid concerns about its use of theological justifications in asylum policy.


Faith schools’ normalisation of discrimination must be challenged

As a Catholic school in Scotland says it would refuse to call a non-Catholic its 'headteacher', Alastair Lichten says organising... Read More »


Ofsted’s new inspection framework returns focus to inclusion

The NSS has welcomed a commitment to inclusion in an updated school inspection framework for 2019 from the education watchdog Ofsted.


Flintshire community primary school to become a faith school

The No More Faith Schools campaign is opposing plans by Flintshire County Council to convert a community primary school into... Read More »


NSS writes elsewhere


Silencing criticism of Islam isn’t the way to tackle anti-Muslim hate

By Stephen Evans, NSS CEO, for Premier Christianity

The government and civil society have a role to play in challenging hatred directed at Muslims and others because of their faith. But efforts to silence criticism of Islam will only be counterproductive.


Other news

Four cathedrals have received cash injections worth a total of £8m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, has been suspended in relation to an inquiry over safeguarding children.

The Family Court has ordered a man to continue to pay his wife maintenance payments until he grants her a 'get' – a document that officially ends a marriage under Jewish 'law' and which says: "You are hereby permitted to all men". The NSS has responded by saying the law should treat marriage and divorce as entirely secular processes.

The US envoy against antisemitism has claimed legislation in some European countries limiting the ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision of boys represents a "disgraceful forced expulsion" of Jews.

Five US men who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests plan to sue the Vatican in an effort to get it to release the names of thousands of priests involved in abuse cases.

A retired academic is facing a huge legal bill after attempting to publicise the membership, activities and rules of the Exclusive Brethren, a Christian sect.

Bangladesh police have charged eight members of an Islamist group with the brutal murders of two LGBT activists. The eight men were reportedly members of banned extremist group Ansar al Islam.

Stay in touch with the latest news and views on secularism in the UK and around the world by signing up to receive your daily media briefing from the NSS.


Read elsewhere


The parents who say their kids are being 'indoctrinated' by UK schools

By Becky Johnson, for Sky News

Parents have been demonstrating for weeks outside their children's primary schools in Birmingham because they're unhappy that children are being taught that it is OK to be gay.


Plan to boost religious lobby in Brussels revealed

By Sian Norris, for openDemocracy

A leaked report has revealed a plan to boost the religious lobby in the European Parliament.


Extreme abortion laws shine light on Trump's courting of religious right

By David Smith, for The Guardian

On abortion, the supreme court and more, the US president keeps delivering what evangelicals want.


Asia Bibi's escape to Canada shines light on Pakistan's blasphemy laws

By Habiba Nosheen and Anita Elash, for CBC News

Last week, as Asia Bibi began to settle into her new life in Canada, her lawyer turned his focus to his next court battle against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.


Essays of the week

Churches are open to all. Why aren't faith schools?
By Irena Barker, for Tes

The proliferation of exclusive faith schools undermines parental choice.


Alabama's near-complete abortion ban is all about pushing a Christian theocracy
By Hemant Mehta, for The Friendly Atheist (Patheos)

The US's anti-choice advocates are drunk on God.


Quotes of the week

"Firstly, there's no such thing as the Muslim 'community'. Secondly, plenty of Muslims are opposed to this definition of Islamophobia."
Iram Ramzan, founder of Sedaa – Our Voices, responds to Labour MP Naz Shah's claim that a refusal to adopt the 'Islamophobia' definition would send a "message" to "the Muslim community"


"What links vaccinations and abortion is a toxic blend of misplaced religious faith and rejection of modern science and medicine. This is the fertile new ground being exploited by fraudsters and ideologues."
David Aaronovitch, Times columnist, on the anti-vaxx movement and the anti-abortion campaign in the US


"I think we really have to address education, segregated education, and I think that as a society we kind of have to start calling out that casual sectarianism."
TV star Patrick Kielty calls for action to end religiously segregated education in Northern Ireland


"All that nonsense about freedom and 'tolerance' does not give ANYONE the right to insult the feelings of the faithful."
Poland's interior minister Joachim Brudzinski vocalises religious privilege as he praises the police for arresting a civil rights activist who put up images of the Christian virgin Mary with a rainbow halo


Petition comments of the week: No More Faith Schools

"Faith schools are divisive and outdated and have no bearing on a well-rounded education. An integrated, respectful society is impossible if children learn from a young age to include or exclude each other based on religion."
Emily, Surrey Heath


"Religious faith is a private matter and has no special place in the state education system. It is also quite wrong that taxpayers' money should subsidise divisions in our society."
Will, Oxfordshire

Sign the petition and explain why you're saying No More Faith Schools.


Petition comment of the week: against religious discrimination in school admissions

"Schools should be open to all children who live within a given catchment area. Discrimination on religious grounds is not acceptable in other institutions."
Judith, London

Sign the petition and explain why we should end religious discrimination in school admissions.

Alternatively, get involved in our No More Faith Schools campaign and help us to make the case against the government's wave of religiously selective faith schools.


NSS speaks out

The letter we jointly coordinated opposing the proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' was mentioned in The Times and the BBC's coverage of the issue. Premier Christian Radio and Guido Fawkes also ran articles about the letter.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans was quoted on our opposition to the proposed definition in a variety of papers, including The Mirror and local papers such as the Shropshire Star and East Lothian Courier. Our opposition to the definition was also mentioned in Mail Online.

Our education and schools officer Alastair Lichten was quoted in MyLondon on an independent faith school which is illegally segregating children by gender.


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