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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 20 December 2019


This week we have significant news on an issue we've campaigned on since we were founded in 1866. A bill calling for the removal of the automatic right of Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords, which we've backed, has been introduced in parliament.

Giving representatives of one religion a privileged opportunity to shape our laws and contribute to public debate undermines equality and religious freedom for all. We argue that the bishops' entitlement to sit in the Lords is an anachronistic affront to democracy which should come to an end. And according to a 2017 poll by YouGov, 62% of people agree with us.

We look forward to pursuing that and taking our other campaigns further in the new year. In the meantime we'd like to thank our supporters for everything you've done to help us this year. We'll have an end-of-year Newsline with a selection of some of our favourite blogs from the year before 2019 is out. But in the meantime we wish everyone a happy and restful festive period.


News & Opinion


Peer proposes bill to abolish bishops’ bench in House of Lords

The NSS is backing a private member's bill which would end the automatic right of Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords.


Patients complained at surgery of doctor cleared over imposing religion

Patients complained at a surgery where a doctor was recently told he would face no action for pushing religion on patients, it's emerged.


No inquiry opened into charity promoting Islamist extremism

A regulator hasn't opened a statutory inquiry into a charity behind a TV station which has promoted Islamist extremism, the NSS can reveal.


New archbishop blocked attempt to let CoE accept same-sex marriage

The NSS has said the appointment of the new archbishop of York has highlighted the case for disestablishing the Church of England.


NSS warns against discriminatory new Catholic school in Peterborough

The NSS has urged Peterborough City Council not to approve plans to open a new discriminatory Catholic school in the east of the city.


The 1944 Education Act was a landmark law – but let’s reconsider the privileges it granted to religion

Three-quarters of a century ago an enduring piece of legislation secured free education for all – but gave churches substantial control over schools in return. Keith Sharpe says this settlement needs updating.


Rule change may shut children out from non-faith schools in Surrey

The NSS has warned that changes to admissions rules in Surrey could restrict families' chances of sending children to non-faith schools.


Other news

The archbishop of Canterbury has responded to recent revelations about Prince Andrew by saying it's wrong to expect the royal family to be "superhuman saints". The revelations about the duke of York include allegations that a trafficked woman was forced to have sex with him.

Catholic bishops have opposed including information about how to access abortion in the school curriculum in NI, arguing it would "undermine the Catholic ethos of our schools". In response the NSS has said schools should exist to educate children, not to uphold religious groups' taboos.

More than two million people have signed a petition calling on Netflix to withdraw a Brazilian comedy depicting Jesus as gay. In response the NSS has said religious sentiment does not justify censorship.

Keep up with all the latest news and views on secularism by subscribing to our daily media briefing.


Latest NSS podcast


Ep 20: Lee and Lizanne Harris – compulsory worship

In this episode, Emma Park speaks with Lee and Lizanne Harris about their experience of the collective worship requirement in schools. The Harrises recently initiated judicial review proceedings against the primary school attended by their children. They challenged its decision to provide no alternative to a proselytising Christian assembly.


Charles Bradlaugh's struggle to enter parliament

More than 150 MPs made use of the right to take a secular affirmation, rather than swear a religious oath, as they took their seats this week.

Our founder Charles Bradlaugh's struggle to enter parliament in the 1880s made this possible. This story is told on our website.


From the archive: parliamentary prayers


Institutionalised prayer doesn't belong in parliament

As new MPs discover the anachronistic custom of parliamentary prayers, we revisit NSS CEO Stephen Evans's argument that ending it would strike a blow for modernity, equality and freedom of conscience.


Upcoming events

Our upcoming events in 2020 include a talk on the 1944 Education Act and its legacy and an event for educators on our Exploring Secularism resources in 2020.

Our No More Faith Schools campaign coordinator Alastair Lichten will also deliver a series of talks in several locations, starting in Oxford in April.

Find out more on our events page.


NSS speaks out

Our chief executive Stephen Evans responded to the General Medical Council's decision not to pursue a case against a GP who raises religion during appointments in a letter to The Sunday Times. Stephen was also quoted in the Daily Mirror as new evidence emerged showing patients at the surgery had complained.

Stephen called for the separation of church and state in response to the appointment of the new archbishop of York. His comments were widely reported, including in the Belfast Telegraph and Mail Online and in local papers such as the Express & Star.

A tweet from Stephen was also read out during a debate on religious representation in the House of Lords on LBC.

Our finding that the Charity Commission hadn't opened a statutory investigation into a charity behind a TV station promoting Islamic extremism (highlighted above) were reported in the trade magazine Third Sector. Our campaigns officer Megan Manson was quoted.

We were quoted in Schools Week as it revealed that four in 10 independent schools which had received warnings from the government over the last year were faith schools.

We were mentioned in the Solihull Observer after we highlighted the fact an Ofsted report had severely criticised a local independent Islamic school which had already received government warnings. The Ofsted report said the school was "dangerous in places" and had a "basic" curriculum, and noted that the school was closed to children on the day of a recent inspection.


Essays of the week

It's not what we wear
By Khadija Khan, for sister-hood

The world should stand up for women's rights regardless of their religion.


Conspiracism threatens both Jews and Muslims
By David Toube, for The Jewish Chronicle

There should be a proper understanding of the nature and the shape of anti-Muslim bigotry and conspiracism, rather than dismissal of it.


Quotes of the week

"I'll do affirm please. Separation of church and state."
Newly elected MP Anthony Browne chooses to take a secular affirmation as he assumes his place in parliament


"I don't know one resident that wants it. We don't want discrimination based on faith... All children should have a place in their local school."
Tracy Butler, Peterborough resident, explains her support for a petition against a proposed new discriminatory Catholic school in the city


In your own words: end compulsory worship

"I believe all religions should be taught and respected. However, I specifically enrolled my son into a non-religious school only to find they ask students to participate in prayer during assembly. I want my son to make up his own mind in regards to his faith and belief, should he have any, and for it not to be forced on him."
Jo, Devon

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.


Read elsewhere


Like China, India's Modi is engaged in a massive faith cleansing of its Muslim minority

By Shikha Dalmia, for Reason

For Hindu nationalists, India is meant only for indigenous faiths whose holy places reside on the Indian subcontinent, not in Mecca or Bethlehem.


Religious discrimination bill: what will Australians be allowed to say and do if it passes?

By Paul Karp, for The Guardian

An explanatory memo from the Australian government outlines how a new bill's far-reaching effects will change public life dramatically – in medical services, schools, offices and hospitals.


The case for infant circumcision is weakening

By Noam Shpancer, for Psychology Today

Increasing numbers of parents in the US are questioning the ethical and medical case for infant circumcision.


Support our work

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