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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 22 March 2019


Last week's massacre of worshippers at mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand was an appalling manifestation of anti-Muslim hatred. It was another grim reminder of the threat posed by hatred and division when it infests democracies the world over.

The attacks have also been followed by a surge in reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK, most obviously the vandalism of five mosques in Birmingham.

We welcome sincere efforts to explain what motivated the Christchurch mosque killer and the associated debate over how to reduce anti-Muslim bigotry and violence. As secularists we stand firmly against prejudice, discrimination and hatred against individuals or groups because of their religion or belief.

But we maintain that a secular society is the best way to tackle bigotry and prejudice. And that means free speech must be defended. Free societies must have space both for those who choose to follow Islam and for those who choose to reject or criticise it.

In a post-terror attack climate it is easy to forget this. Some prominent voices have responded to Christchurch by pointing the finger of blame very widely, and associating criticism of regressive manifestations of Islam with racism and violence. Some disingenuous commentary has gained significant traction. This response is opportunistic and misguided, and will shut down free expression if it is not challenged robustly.

We will not flinch from criticising any religion when doing so upholds the principles of our Secular Charter. And in that spirit we hope you'll agree that we have been doing important work this week. We've published a major report on the role of religion in the charitable sector, and a set of resources to help teachers educate children on secularism.

We're continuing to challenge religious privilege, and to stand for a free, fair society where everyone is treated as equal citizens regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs.


News & Opinion


Over 12,000 charities exist only to promote religion, NSS reveals

Over 12,000 charities exist solely to promote religion with some using public money to promote extremism and harmful practices, a new National Secular Society report has revealed.


Religion and public benefit – why it’s time to rethink charity law

An NSS report says 'the advancement of religion' should be removed as a charitable purpose. Stephen Evans says the law should align with public opinion and only support charities that deliver a genuine public benefit.


NSS leads call for national inquiry into school admissions

The NSS has raised concerns about faith-based discrimination and segregation and called for an inquiry into school admissions in England.


More schools suspend diversity teaching under Muslim pressure

Four more primary schools in Birmingham have stopped teaching lessons about diversity amid complaints from mainly Muslim parents.


NSS launches new range of school resources: Exploring Secularism

The NSS has launched a new range of resources for secondary schools related to secularism and religion's role in society.


Doctors’ body drops opposition to assisted dying

The NSS has welcomed a decision by the Royal College of Physicians to drop its opposition to the legalisation of assisted dying.


NSS questions public benefit of Islamic “anti-Ahmadi” charity

The NSS has questioned why an organisation that displayed literature calling for the killing of Ahmadi Muslims has charitable status.


Home Office uses Bible passages to justify asylum refusal

The NSS has criticised the Home Office for citing Bible passages as it refused asylum to a man who converted from Islam to Christianity.


Derbyshire parents forced to send children to Catholic school

Parents are being forced to send their children to a Catholic school that belittles non-Catholic families in its official policy.


Other news

Andrew Yang, an outside bet for the Democratic party nomination for the US presidency, has taken a public stance against unnecessary infant circumcision.

A student stabbed a college professor to death in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday. According to police he did it because he felt that a planned party that would involve women would be un-Islamic.

Montreal has said it will take down the crucifix that has hung in its council chamber for more than 80 years and move it to a museum.

Philippe Barbarin, the French Roman Catholic cardinal convicted this month of failing to report sexual abuse allegations, has said Pope Francis has turned down his offer to resign.

The US state department has held a press briefing for 'faith-based' media outlets only.

Pakistani authorities have been ordered to preserve a dilapidated hall in Lahore named after former Northampton MP and NSS founder Charles Bradlaugh.


Read elsewhere


US anti-LGBT group dramatically increases UK spending

By Claire Provost and Peter Geoghegan, for openDemocracy

An American anti-LGBT 'hate group' with close ties to the Trump administration has spent more than £410,000 in the UK since 2017.


US Catholic sex abuse victims deserve justice. They’re now getting more time to seek it

Editorial, for The Washington Post

The all-but-impregnable wall of power and influence that for decades blocked victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice and compensation from paedophiles and their enablers has started to crumble — and not a moment too soon.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

There's now less than two months to go until our Secularism 2019 conference at The Tower Hotel in London on Saturday 18 May. You can buy your tickets now.


Our upcoming events include a conference on children's bodily integrity, featuring the chair of or Secular Medical Forum Dr Antony Lempert, at the University of Leeds.

See all upcoming events.


Essays of the week

Touting anti-Muslim terrorism as a reaction to jihad is as dehumanising as it is counter-productive
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, for Sedaa

Unfortunately the aftermath of every major terror attack provides a platform for self-serving, narrow-minded, often bigoted voices to forward their own agendas.


Parkfield School and No Outsiders: We must learn from Trojan Horse history in Birmingham
By Colin Diamond, for Schools Week

No Outsiders and in particular the teaching of LGBT issues must continue if we want to protect the values that are enshrined in British law.


The New Zealand mosque massacre blame game is out of control
By Maajid Nawaz, for The Daily Beast

Radical Islamists and radical leftists have seized on the Christchurch tragedy to push their own hateful agendas.


Quotes of the week

"What do they want? Less conversation? Isn't less conversation what leads to people having extreme positions? The less words exchanged between us, the more fists and bullets are going to exchange between people. Having more conversations is exactly what you need in the face of some tragedy like this."
Armin Navabi, ex-Muslim activist whose speech to a university in Canada was cancelled in light of the Christchurch attack


"It's not as if we're going anywhere, we're human beings and we're no more, no less than anybody else."
Kristian Nairn, Game of Thrones star, calls for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland


Petition comment of the week: scrap the bishops' bench

"It is entirely inappropriate that this practice should continue. The 26 Bishops should be removed immediately. There should be no religious groups of any denomination that have automatic political power in the UK system of governance."
Chrystopher, Staffordshire

Sign the petition and tell us why clerics shouldn't have an automatic place in the legislature.


Petition comment of the week: end compulsory worship

"Assemblies inside school should be inclusive, ethical and non divisive."
Rebecca, East Sussex

Sign the petition and tell us why children should not be compelled to worship in school.


NSS speaks out

Our report on the role of religion in the charitable sector picked up significant coverage, including in The Observer, Third Sector and The Economist.

Our call for an inquiry into school admissions was covered in The Observer and by TES.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans appeared on talkRADIO to discuss the Home Office's use of Bible passages to justify an asylum refusal. Our criticism of the Home Office was also reported by The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Sun, The Express and the Daily Mail.

Our call for the Department for Education not to make any concessions to parents objecting to diversity lessons in Birmingham was covered by The Hindu.

And our criticism of the Catholic Church's empty rhetoric when it comes to tackling child abuse made headlines in the Buckinghamshire press after an Aylesbury priest was convicted of sexually abusing children.


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