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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 23 August 2019


In recent months a definition of 'Islamophobia', proposed by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, has been adopted by many councils and political parties and gained a great deal of attention. The government has rejected it, but has faced significant criticism for doing so and is now consulting over its own definition.

We've opposed the APPG's definition since it was proposed. Its adoption would further contribute to a climate in which legitimate criticism of Islam and the privileges afforded to it are routinely dismissed as bigotry. And this week we've been among a group of campaigners with a broad range of interests who have contributed to an anthology of concerns about it.

We'll continue to argue that free speech on religion, and a robust exchange of ideas in the public square, is an important tool in efforts to promote social cohesion and harmony. If you think this is worth supporting, please consider joining or donating to the NSS. Thank you.


News & Opinion


‘Islamophobia’ definition curtails free speech, campaigners warn

The widespread adoption of a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' risks curtailing free speech, a collection of essays has warned.


Islam, like any other religion, must be fair game for criticism

The disqualification of a GCSE student who criticised halal meat is a reminder of the need to resist censorious offence-taking on Islam and the normalisation of the idea of 'Islamophobia', says Stephen Evans.


Jewish school may severely restrict families’ IT use, says DfE

The government has said it will not prevent a Jewish school from severely restricting families' IT use after the NSS raised concerns.


Islamophobia compendium: read our submission


The gatekeepers of public debate can’t patronise away anti-Muslim bigotry

Adopting a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' would restrict legitimate speech on Islam and embed a failing approach to anti-Muslim hate. This is the NSS's submission to a series of essays criticising the definition.


Other news

Edinburgh City Council has delayed its decision over whether to strip unelected religious representatives of their right to vote on education matters, and will consult with religious leaders in the meantime. The NSS has expressed disappointment at the decision and is continuing to lobby for the removal of the representatives' privileges and positions.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of sexual abuse, has failed in a legal bid to quash his convictions in Australia. The NSS campaigns to ensure religious status does not provide protection from secular justice.

A report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found that abusers in the Church of England's Diocese of Chichester were "safe in the knowledge that no one would believe the victims".

The number of students taking RS GCSE has continued to fall and has now fallen by 43% in just eight years. The NSS has said this is further evidence that a significant rethink of the way children are taught about religion and belief is needed.

New papers from the British Library have revealed that material was cut from the film Life of Brian because its creators were concerned at the risk of being prosecuted for blasphemy. The NSS has described this as a reminder that no religious idea must be above criticism or mockery.


Bradlaugh Lecture 2019: tickets on sale

There are now just two weeks to go until our 2019 Bradlaugh Lecture in Manchester.

Andrew Moffat will address the subject 'No Outsiders: reclaiming radical ideas in schools' on Saturday 7 September.

Tickets are selling quickly, so don't miss out!


Talk on Richard Carlile & his legacy

Richard Carlile was a champion of secularist principles who was on the platform at the Peterloo rally 200 years ago and spent time in prison for selling 'blasphemous and seditious' literature.

Our council member and historian Bob Forder will deliver a talk on his career and legacy before our AGM on Saturday 30 November. Entrance is free, with no booking required.


NSS speaks out

Our head of education Alastair Lichten made the case for ending religious representatives' voting privileges on council education committees on BBC Scotland (starts after 2:54). We were also mentioned in a letter from Edinburgh Secular Society's Neil Barber on the same topic in The National.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans said fair minded people should push back against the fear that criticism of Islam will be branded racist in an opinion piece by Hardeep Singh in The Article.

We were mentioned in an article about prayers before council meetings in Denbighshire published in North Wales Live and elsewhere.


Essay of the week

Let's replace religious assembly in schools with a 'thought for the day'
By Laura McInerney, for The Guardian

Compulsory Christian worship is divisive and excludes many children. Why not teach them all to think about religions and philosophies instead?


Quotes of the week

"The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is [often] misunderstood as protecting religions and beliefs instead of the people with the beliefs and those without. It is incumbent on states to ensure that religions or beliefs are not used to violate human rights."
UN rights experts mark a day to commemorate victims of violence based on religion or belief


"The longest three minutes of the morning."
Charlotte Runcie on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day in The Telegraph


In your own words: remove religious reps

"It's long past time this undeserved and unnecessary privilege was removed. If religious organisations want this kind of influence over education, they should stand for election and be held to account alongside every other committee member."
Mark, Glasgow

Find out more about our campaign to remove religious reps from council education committees in Scotland and sign our petition to explain why you support it.

Or sign one of our other petitions to highlight a secularist cause you care about.


Read elsewhere


Hail Satan?: The Satanists battling for religious freedom

By Kev Geoghegan, for the BBC

Everything you know about Satanism is wrong. At least that's what a new documentary about the Satanic Temple could be about to prove.


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