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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 1 February 2019


In the run-up to our Secularism 2019 conference we're excited to have launched a series of podcasts, in which a range of expert guests explore the meaning of religious freedom. You can listen to the first two episodes of the podcast – which feature our chief executive Stephen Evans and Rachel Laser, who will deliver the keynote speech at the conference – below.

Elsewhere this week we've told a commission on counter-extremism that secularist principles are the best way to push back against religious extremists. There's qualified good news in Wales, where the government has decided to include non-religious worldviews on its curriculum. And we're relieved to say Asia Bibi, who was on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan for eight years, has had a challenge to her acquittal thrown out.

We'll keep standing up for a cohesive society based on common rights and responsibilities, regardless of people's religious belief or identity. If you value that work, please consider joining or donating to the NSS. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


NSS: secular democratic values are key to countering extremism

The NSS has said the government should prioritise secularist principles in its attempts to challenge extremism.


Welsh government to put non-religious worldviews on curriculum

Wales's government will include non-religious worldviews in its curriculum and allow non-religious representatives on RE advisory bodies.


Pakistani court upholds blasphemy acquittal in death row case

Pakistan's top court has upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges.


NSS launches podcast series exploring religious freedom

The NSS is releasing a series of podcasts focusing on religious freedom ahead of its Secularism 2019 conference on the subject.


Listen to the NSS podcast


NSS podcast: first two episodes

Listen to the first two episodes of our Exploring Religious Freedom podcast series, featuring our CEO Stephen Evans and Rachel Laser, who will deliver the keynote address at our Secularism 2019 conference.


Exploring religious freedom: Stephen Evans

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans says religious freedom and secularism are intertwined, and explains the basis of religious freedom in human rights law and its limits.


Exploring religious freedom: Rachel Laser

Alastair Lichten speaks to Rachel Laser, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the keynote speaker at the NSS's upcoming conference, Secularism 2019.


Other news

A Muslim school in Birmingham which was at the centre of a High Court case over gender segregation in 2017 is still segregating boys and girls, according to Luke Tryl, Ofsted's director of corporate strategy. He said the segregation meant girls were denied the chance to have lunch until boys had eaten theirs. The NSS supported campaigners who said the segregation was unlawful sex discrimination at the High Court in 2017.

A woman who is trying to change Northern Ireland's abortion law with a case based on her personal experience has begun her High Court challenge. Sarah Ewart was denied an abortion in 2013, despite doctors saying her baby would not survive outside the womb. Meanwhile this week MPs were told that a 12-year-old rape victim in NI was forced to travel to England under police escort for an abortion.

The education secretary has met with religious representatives in a new push to encourage them to convert their schools into academies.

The BBC is launching a year-long series of programmes examining faith, belief and values in modern Britain. This will include a programme exploring the issue of male circumcision and a series on the consequences of the 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

A lesson plan by the anti-abortion Christian charity Lovewise compares abortion in cases of "medical abnormality" to the crimes of Nazi Germany against disabled people, The Times has revealed. The NSS encourages anyone with concerns about religious groups exploiting invitations to schools to contact us via our campaigns page.

The Department for Education has warned heads of independent schools that they could be in breach of educational standards if inspectors are unable to speak to pupils. Ofsted reports have revealed that inspectors at some Charedi Jewish schools have recently been denied permission to speak to pupils by parents, or had access restricted.

A leading figure in the Charedi community has protested to education secretary Damian Hinds at the "aggressive" attitude of Ofsted inspectors.


Read elsewhere: the US religious right


How the religious right gained unprecedented access to Trump

By Jessica Glenza, for The Guardian

As the president offers a sympathetic ear to the religious right, critics see a de facto advisory committee which violates federal law.


Christian right groups roll out their radical anti-woman campaign — overseas

By Amanda Marcotte, for Salon

Anti-choice groups say they don't aim to punish women or end birth control. Their work overseas tells a different story.


New York Times readers share their stories of Christian educations

By Dan Levin, for the New York Times

The paper asked people on Twitter to share their experiences of Christian schools after the hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools went viral on social media.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

What does religious freedom truly mean - and how can it be defended for everyone? We'll be discussing this at our Secularism 2019 conference at the Tower Hotel in central London on 18 May. You can buy your tickets now.


Other events coming up


Why we defended Rushdie and why it is still important today: 30 years after the fatwa

Thursday 14 February 2019
Conway Hall, London

On the 30th anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, this event organised by Feminist Dissent defends the right to apostasy, blasphemy and asylum.


Let's talk about secularism

Wednesday 20 February 2019
Human Rights Action Centre, London

An event exploring the relationship between secularism, sexuality and religious identity. This is the third of a four-part roundtable series from British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Hidayah, a campaigning group focusing on issues facing LGBT+ Muslims.


Other events coming up which we recommend include two events at Brighton Humanists (one of which features our head of education Alastair Lichten) and an upcoming six-week course on 19th-century radicals in London run by our council member Bob Forder.

See all upcoming events.


Quotes of the week

"It seems to me incontrovertible that the most sinister and oppressive states in the world are those that use God to control the minds and actions of their populations."
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist and author, defends the separation of religion and politics


"I don't really want those two."
James Rebanks, shepherd and writer, rejects the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs


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

"Religion should not hold children's education hostage, and it is a poor government that condones such."
Edward, London

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


Petition comment of the week: end non-stun slaughter

"The suffering of sentient creatures overrides religious beliefs. If people choose to eat meat, the creatures they eat should be spared pain and fear as far as is humanely possible. Here in the UK there are laws that protect the welfare of animals. Let us respect and even improve on those laws."
Chloe, London

"Allowing exemptions to animal welfare laws seriously undermines the rule of law in a secular country."
Duncan, East Dunbartonshire

Sign the petition and tell us why you want to end non-stun slaughter.


Petition comment of the week: protecting secular public services

"Public services must be inclusive. Any exclusivity implied by an organisation's connections ought to be a barrier."
David, Northumberland

Sign the petition and tell us why religious organisations shouldn't be able to undermine secular public services.


NSS scholarship

The NSS's scholarship supports students who conduct research relevant to secularism and the promotion of human rights. Applications for our third round of funding are now open. We're inviting requests for grants ranging from £500 to £3,000. Find out more on our research & scholarships page.


NSS speaks out

Our support for a motion calling for the end of parliamentary prayers was mentioned by Vision Christian Radio.


Support our work

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


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