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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 21 December 2018


As the year draws to an end we're looking forward to our biggest event of the new year – our Secularism 2019 conference in London on 18 May. This week we've opened nominations for the Secularist of the Year prize, which will be awarded at the conference.

The Secularist of the Year award is a chance to celebrate the inspiring individuals and groups who stand up for the secularist cause in the UK and abroad. The nomination process always gives us valuable ideas on who to consider; we're sure our supporters will be able to suggest a variety of worthy nominees for recognition and financial support.

And if you're looking for a gift to give over the Christmas period, tickets are on sale for the conference now and cost £50 – or just £25 for NSS members.

We'll have a special edition of Newsline before the new year, when we'll have a selection of our best writing of 2018. In the meantime we'd like to thank you for all your support this year and wish everyone a happy and restful Christmas break.


News & Opinion


Education secretary dismisses commission's call for RE reform

The education secretary has dismissed calls for the reform of RE in England which were outlined in a major report from a commission.


Independent Jewish school that censors resources warned by DfE

An independent Orthodox Jewish school that prevents pupils from gaining GCSEs by censoring resources has been given a warning notice.


Most maintained rural primary schools are faith schools, data shows

The NSS has reiterated concerns about parents' lack of access to secular schools in rural areas after an analysis of new official data.


NSS opens nominations for Secularist of the Year prize

The NSS has called on supporters to submit nominations for the 14th Secularist of the Year award.


Sharia ‘law’ should not trump domestic law, ECHR rules

A Greek court was wrong to prioritise sharia 'law' provisions over those of the country's domestic legal code, the ECHR has ruled.


NSS writes to councillors over discretionary faith school transport

The NSS has urged councillors in north Wales to take a decision on school transport based on "equality for all families and taxpayers".


Relativism is undermining liberalism from within

In her book Identity, Islam and the Twilight of Liberal Values, Terri Murray explores attacks on liberalism from the left and right – and the failure to defend it. Here she explains what motivated her to write the book.


Latest from the No More Faith Schools campaign


DfE assessment: new selective faith schools will disadvantage families

The No More Faith Schools campaign has said the government "must think again" over the funding of a wave of religiously selective... Read More »


From the archive


Secularism is a challenge to religion’s political power and privilege, not people of faith

Some Christians use the Christmas period to attack secularism for its challenge to their sense of entitlement. But Stephen Evans says the faithful have far more to fear from religious fanatics than secularists.


Read elsewhere


How RE teachers see religion – and why it can be bad for pupils

By David Smith, Graeme Nixon & Jo Pearce, for The Conversation

Young people need to be encouraged to develop a mature view which is able to encompass and reflect the best and worst of religious expression – and all the shades in between.


An interview with Asia Bibi's lawyer

By Iram Ramzan, for the Spectator

Saif ul-Malook speaks about fearing for his life and defending Asia Bibi from blasphemy.


Other news

Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire, which has faced criticism for supplying non-stun meat to schools, has said it is schools' responsibility to disseminate information about halal content to parents. Both a local councillor and the NSS have criticised this as a cop-out.

A parliamentary group's report on a working definition of 'Islamophobia' has been "decisively influenced" by the Muslim advocacy organisation MEND, according to a report from the think tank Policy Exchange.

Academics have said lessons about Jesus should explore how Muslims view him as a prophet and also examine his Jewish identity.

The Catholic Church in the US state of Illinois withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, the state's attorney general has said in a scathing report. The report accused the church of failing victims by neglecting to investigate their allegations.

Two Christian brothers have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, weeks after Asia Bibi was acquitted of the same crime following international outcry.

The authorities in Langfang, a city in China's Hebei Province, have issued a ban on all Christmas displays on streets and in stores, according to a notice from city officials. Meanwhile a US congressional panel tasked with monitoring China's human rights record has criticised Beijing's recent detention of Christians.

A senior politician from India's Congress party has been jailed for life in the most significant conviction to date over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Keep up to date with all the latest news and views on secularism - sign up for your daily media briefing.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

There are less than five months to go until our Secularism 2019 conference, where we'll explore what 'religious freedom' truly means and how genuine religious freedom can be best defended for everyone. You can buy your tickets now.


Other events

Other events we recommend in the new year include a course on 19th-century radicals with our council member Bob Forder.

See all upcoming events.


Essays of the week

In Australia's religious freedom debate, the bullies are playing the victim
By Julie Szego, for the Sydney Morning Herald

Religious institutions enjoy privileged status in Australia, but are claiming victim status amid a debate over discrimination.


Baroness Warsi's attack on Sara Khan could have a chilling effect on criticism of Islamism
By John Ware, for The JC

Warsi has been beating Khan with a stick ever since her appointment as the government's counter-extremism commissioner last January, and seems to regard any attack on Muslims as demonising all Muslims.


Quotes of the week

"They have their views about it being closed on a Sunday and that is absolutely fine. But their views should not restrict the wishes of others."
Uisdean Macleod, parent and campaigner, on Sabbatarians and swimming pool opening hours on the Isle of Lewis


"That response typifies the pope's foot-dragging and half-measures in the face of allegations that date back years or decades."
The Washington Post editorial board on the pope's belated response to allegations against senior cardinal George Pell

See our quotes of the week archive.


Did you have no option but a faith school?

BBC Current Affairs is making a new programme looking the ways in which backgrounds, aspirations and opportunities shape our lives. As part of an education section the team is interested in the experience of parents whose children currently or in the past have attended faith schools.

The team has told us:

"We're looking to speak to parents who maybe didn't agree with the process of getting their child into a faith school or didn't themselves relate to a particular faith but possibly felt like they had no other choice. It would be great to speak with any parents for an initial chat after which we if they feel comfortable we can discuss possible filming. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic we are happy to anonymise any parents who would be willing to speak on camera."

If you think you might fit the bill, please let us know and we can put you in touch.


Scholarship: funding applications open

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 president Keith Porteous Wood discussed the Church of England's Christmas advert and its decline in attendance on Sky News.

Our CEO Stephen Evans discussed Christmas opening hours in the shops on BBC Radio Kent.

Our advocacy of change to the coronation vows was mentioned in the Express.


Support our work

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


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