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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 28 February 2020


Challenging religious privilege in parliament has caught media attention this week, with the publication of a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group calling for an end to the bishops' bench and parliamentary prayers. News of the report, which is backed by many MPs and peers among our honorary associates, is helping to spread awareness of the considerable power the Church of England wields in our parliament.

This week, we've been challenging religious privilege in education. We've responded to a consultation opposing Surrey County Council's plans to turn a community school into a faith school, and countered a piece in The Observer praising a faith school in Stoke Newington for teaching about "cultural diversity and tolerance".

Help us continue to tackle religion's imposition in our state, our education, and our public life. Please join the NSS today. Thank you.


News & Opinion


End C of E bishops’ entitlement to sit in Lords, says report

The automatic right granted to 26 C of E bishops to sit in the House of Lords should be repealed, according to a new report.


NSS urges council not to replace community school with faith school

The NSS has warned Surrey County Council against a plan to turn a community school into a faith school.


Faith schools can never be truly inclusive

Faith schools can never teach 'diversity and tolerance' as well as schools without a religious character, says Megan Manson.


Other news

A sex education policy which appeared on an academy trust's website has been criticised as "explicitly homophobic". Our 2018 'Unsafe Sex Education' report found multiple examples of faith schools with similarly discriminatory attitudes towards same-sex relationships in their policies.

The Sutton Trust has said middle-class families 'gaming the system' is leading to social segregation in schools. Its report examined 'simplifying' faith school admissions. We've long called for an end to faith-based school admissions in order to tackle socio-economic segregation in schools.

A key figure in the Church of England has said the church should lose the power to hold legally binding weddings as long as it refuses to conduct gay weddings. Our campaign for marriage reform calls for 'one marriage law for all' by separating legal and religious aspects of marriage.

The think tank Policy Exchange has published a report criticising Ofsted for refusing to give in to religious demands. It accuses Ofsted of having a 'secularist agenda' for investigating the rise of children wearing hijab and cracking down on faith schools that refuse to teach about LGBT people. In response, we've said the 'multiculturalist' approach advocated by Policy Exchange would be the wrong direction to go in.

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


Essay of the week

Religious 'freedom' bill will divide Australians, not unite us
By Michael Kirby, for the Sydney Morning Herald

All Australians – whether they practise a religion, are 'lapsed' or belong to the quickly swelling ranks of those declaring 'no religion' – could be worse off on grounds of religious belief if this bill goes through.


Upcoming events

On Saturday 9 May we're hosting the first training day on our Exploring Secularism resources for educators. The day is free - but you must book in advance to attend.

Additionally, next Sunday NSS campaigns officer Megan Manson and NSS council member Yasmin Rehman will be joining Ana González, Lillian Greenwood MP, Stella Nickolay and Carol McCormick to discuss their work in a special event for International Women's Day by Nottingham Secular Society - find out more here.

You can also read about our other upcoming events on our website.


Quote of the week

"The RCGP has no right to tell society the law is working, when it clearly isn't."
GP Aneez Esmail responds to Royal College of General Practitioners' decision to remain opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying despite the majority of members saying it should change to a supportive or neutral position.


Read elsewhere


Why the UK has the only parliament with reserved places for clerics - aside from Iran

By Karl McDonald, for iNews

The House of Lords seats 26 Church of England bishops - and humanist politicians are calling for reform.


Blasphemy still a potent tool for Pakistan’s hushed hardliners

By the Associated Free Press, for Mail Online

The case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 and acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2018, shone a global spotlight on the use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.


NSS speaks out

The Gazette quoted campaigns officer Megan Manson in its report of the Diocese of Paisley's response to our criticism of Renfrewshire Council's plans to introduce more 'faith testing' in school admissions.

The Telegraph reported on data from the Office for National Statistics linking religion and health in a bid "to understand the circumstances of people of different religious identities". We cautioned against oversimplifying "a much more complex and nuanced picture". Both Stephen Evans and NSS Secular Medical Forum chair Dr Antony Lempert were quoted.


In your own words: scrap the bishops’ bench

"The majority of UK citizens are not religious - and so we should not have religious leaders representing us as this is unfair, unequal and undemocratic."
Isabel, Cambridgeshire

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