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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 25 January 2019


In the run-up to our Secularism 2019 conference we're talking a lot about religious freedom. And just as much of public debate mischaracterises the meaning of religious freedom, it often neglects the freedom of the vulnerable and voiceless. That includes children, who should be enabled to take their own decisions over religion when they are ready to do so.

So this week we were pleased to see Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, standing up to pressure to cede ground to religious groups in parliament. In particular she acknowledged the pressure some children face to wear the hijab – and knocked back an MP who implied children should simply be allowed to "copy what their mum is wearing".

But meanwhile draft General Medical Council guidance – although generally positive – neglected to tackle the issue of ritual genital cutting. We're pleased the GMC has endorsed the principle of patient autonomy and said doctors should acknowledge patients' vulnerabilities, but this is incongruous with its current position on circumcision. Parents' religious beliefs shouldn't be a determining factor which means unnecessary surgery is performed on children.

If you think children should be protected from unreasonable religious impositions, you can show your support by joining or donating to the NSS. And remember to get your tickets for our conference, where we'll thrash out these issues and more. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


Religion must not trample on children’s rights, says Ofsted head

The chief inspector of schools in England has told parliament that children's rights should take priority over religious concerns.


NSS warns home affairs committee against ‘Islamophobia’ definition

The NSS has warned a parliamentary committee against recommending the adoption of a formal definition of 'Islamophobia'.


NSS: doctors shouldn’t collude in unnecessary child genital cutting

The NSS has called on the body which registers doctors to "explicitly address" the harm caused by ritual infant genital cutting.


League tables overestimate faith school performance, says study

A measure of school progress unfairly benefits faith schools by not taking into account pupils' backgrounds, academics have said.


A secular education system would mean community schools for all

An end to faith schools would not impose conformity or be without compromise, as our system of community schools shows, argues Alastair Lichten.


Contraceptive guideline partly designed to please pope is dropped

A long-standing clause which was partly designed to gain the pope's approval has been dropped from guidance on the contraceptive pill.


Other news

The government's anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy is to be independently reviewed after ministers gave into longstanding pressure to address concerns about its impact.

Iran arrested 7,000 people last year in a "shameless campaign of repression", according to Amnesty International. These included at least 112 women's rights activists who protested against the country's compulsory hijab law.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parents and teachers have said schools may go underground and children be educated at home if the government presses ahead with guidance on teaching about same-sex relationships and gender reassignment.

A Muslim man has lost a High Court battle to build a raised marble edge at a West Midlands cemetery to stop people walking on his father's grave. Walsall Council leaders said they could not accommodate his wish without harming the rights of other Muslims. The court ruled that their decision fell within the council's "margin of judgment".

An online petition calling on publisher DC Comics to halt its publication of a superhero comic featuring Jesus Christ as a main character has been signed by more than 100,000 people.

Twelve abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland last year, official statistics show. Terminations are only permitted in NI in cases where the woman's life is in danger or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Meanwhile the House of Commons women and equalities committee has visited Northern Ireland to speak to campaigners on both sides of the abortion debate.


Read elsewhere


The hidden torment of British men forced into arranged marriages

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, for The Mail on Sunday

The government's forced marriage unit saw 1,200 forced marriage cases in 2017. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown speaks to some of the men affected.


A politician’s release is a reminder that Indonesia’s blasphemy law has been weaponised

By James Massola, for the Sydney Morning Herald

The former governor of Indonesia's capital has been released from prison nearly two years after being jailed for blasphemy against Islam. One expert says it's a reminder that the law has been used to target the Indonesian regime's political opponents.


How one Kenyan woman escaped FGM and saved thousands more girls from the cut

By Lucy Anna Gray, for The Independent

Nice Nailantei Leng'ete was shunned from her village for avoiding FGM and now campaigns to end the practice.


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

Other events coming up which we recommend include a lecture on apostasy and asylum in Nottingham next Tuesday and an upcoming six-week course on 19th-century radicals in London.

See all upcoming events.


Essay of the week

Rahaf al-Qunun has raised a major taboo: that some Muslims reject their faith
By Fiyaz Mughal, for Metro

Many ex-Muslims feel isolated when they openly come out as atheists.


Quote of the week

"Our message to those extremists is: this is just the beginning."
Yusuf Patel, community engagement coordinator at Redbridge Council, on a mosque's decision to host an exhibition on Muslim heroes of the Holocaust, in defiance of calls for a boycott


Write to your MP: end parliamentary prayers

We've backed an early day motion calling for the end of institutionalised prayer in parliament. You can use our template letter to ask your MP to sign it.

You can also read about why we want to end official prayers in parliament and in local council meetings on our campaigns pages.


Sign the petition – say No More Faith Schools

No More Faith Schools is our national campaign dedicated to bringing about an end to state funded faith schools. Tell us why you support it by signing our petition.


Petition comment of the week: end non-stun slaughter

"Religious groups should not be exempt from the highest welfare standards that modern Britain can offer. It is of immediate importance though that if non-stunned meat is to be sold to the general public, they are aware that these standards have not been met."
Lee, Birmingham

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


NSS speaks out

Our research on councils supplying non-stun halal meat to schools, and our response to the leader of Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire making blanket accusations of bigotry against those criticising the policy, was featured in The Mirror. Our chief executive Stephen Evans was quoted.

Stephen was quoted in stories on the same subject in The Yorkshire Post, Dewsbury Reporter and The Freethinker.

Stephen was also quoted in stories on the early day motion we've backed against parliamentary prayers in The Hindustan Times, Premier Christian Radio and The Freethinker. The motion was also covered in The Times and on the Law & Religion UK blog.

We were mentioned in a report on our former president Barbara Smoker's new book in Euro Weekly News.


Support our work

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


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