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Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 10 November 2017


We've long pointed out the absurdity of the fact that 26 bishops are entitled to sit in the House of Lords. This week, after we criticised plans for reform which would have given them even more power, the chair of the panel leading those reform efforts conceded that we had a point. It was a small step, but another blow for ending the bishops' automatic role in the UK's legislature.

Often religion's unjust encroachment into politics is most insidious at a local level. This week we've seen the relevance of our work in London, Yorkshire, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We're holding local authorities to account and standing up for freedom of and from religion.

And as Remembrance Sunday approaches, you can find a special section below featuring our previous blogs on the importance of secular remembrance rituals.


News & Opinion


Cut bishop numbers in Lords, says panel chair, following NSS criticism

A committee chair has said the number of bishops in the House of Lords should fall after the NSS criticised proposals for reform.


NSS criticises London council’s ‘religion-friendly’ housing

The NSS has criticised a council for building housing with special features to accommodate the ultra-orthodox Jewish community's beliefs.


NSS urges Bradford council to stop supplying un-stunned meat

The NSS has written to Bradford's district council to urge it to stop supplying un-stunned halal meat in schools and elsewhere.


Councillor proposes silent reflection in place of council prayers

A councillor in Northern Ireland has proposed replacing religious prayers at council meetings with a moment of silent reflection.


Stornoway shop owner harassed by sabbatarians

A Stornoway shop owner has been the victim of harassment and intimidation by sabbatarians due to the owner's decision to open on Sundays.


Residents’ anger over council’s £3m gift to ‘homophobic’ church

A council plans to close and partially demolish a public hall in south-west London and build a new Pentecostal church on the site.


NSS writes elsewhere


'Life of Brian', 38 years on: de facto blasphemy is alive and well

By Chris Sloggett, NSS communications officer, for Conatus News

It is now 38 years since Monty Python's Life of Brian was released in November 1979, despite protests. But we are kidding ourselves if we think we have learnt the lesson.


Religion in schools round-up

Gender segregation: Judges at the Court of Appeal have rejected the Association of Muslim Schools' attempt to take a case over gender segregation at Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham to the Supreme Court. For religious reasons the voluntary-aided school, which has pupils aged between four and 16, believes that separation of the sexes from year five onwards is obligatory.

Trojan Horse: The Islamist group MEND organised an event in Birmingham, supported by the NUT, to promote the Islamist driven 'Trojan Hoax' myth. Theresa May's former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, said the group's claims were "false propaganda" and a "grotesque distortion of the truth" which risked inflaming community tensions. Birmingham City Council issued a statement to make clear that Trojan Horse did happen that it would challenge those who deny it.

Failed inspection: The Olive Secondary School, an Islamic faith school in the Barkerend area of Bradford which segregates children by gender, was judged inadequate by Ofsted. The report says: "Pupils are not prepared fully for life in British society. They do not have regular opportunities to apply and test out their knowledge and understanding of respect and tolerance of different genders."

Creationism in schools: Barnet Council has insisted Beis Yaakov Primary is complying with requirements of national curriculum, despite the school's visitors' guide stating creationism is taught as fact, evolution is not discussed and pupils are taught that "the age of the universe is accepted as 5778 years old". A spokesman for the school said the NSS had referred "to an outdated visitors' guide written 20 years ago, before the school came into the state sector" – despite the fact that the guide we saw was updated in October 2017!

Inappropriate RE: Parents have spoken out after teenage girls at Tonbridge Grammar School were told it was wrong to have an abortion. The "one-sided" view on termination is said to have been given to 15-year-olds during a RE lesson delivered by CrossTeach, a Christian group which provides 'religious education' in schools across West Kent.

Home schooling: Ministers have been warned to crack down on home schooling because extremist groups are encouraging parents to pull children out of mainstream education. Matthew Coffey, Ofsted's chief operating officer, said new regulation was needed to prevent extremist groups taking advantage of home schooling.


From the archives: on remembrance


Remembrance Sunday should not be dominated by religion

The commemoration of Remembrance Day should be rethought and re-designed to make it a truly inclusive national event, says NSS honorary associate Dan Snow.


National occasions need not be dominated by religion – as France’s commemoration ceremony so poignantly demonstrated

France's recent ceremony for those killed in the Paris attacks was a moving demonstration that religiously neutral ceremonies are a powerful way to unite people regardless of faith or politics; it is something the UK could emulate for our own public ceremonies, writes Keith Porteous Wood.


Quote of the week

"It's not just about sexual violence. For some students it's just another way for Europeans to gang up against a prominent Muslim intellectual. We must protect Muslim students who believe and trust in him, and protect that trust."
Eugene Rogan, the director of Oxford University's Middle East Centre, gives a bizarre justification for the university's inaction following rape and sexual misconduct allegations against its Islamic scholar, Professor Tariq Ramadan

"It is ironic that here in the UK we say we want children to learn to be good citizens and share the same values, but then divide them at the school gate into faith groups, immediately instilling an 'us and them' culture."
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition


Essays of the week

Open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury from a sexual abuse survivor
By Gilo, for Ekklesia

Last month the Archbishop of Canterbury personally apologised to a sexual abuse survivor for his office's failure to respond to 17 letters seeking help and redress. Here the survivor responds and sets out the serious issues the Church of England needs to address.

Why 'Judeo-Christian values' are a dog-whistle myth peddled by the far right
By M J C Warren, for The Conversation

It might seem neighbourly, even pluralistic, to include Judaism in a declaration of purported Western values. But in reality the phrase 'Judeo-Christian' is used to exclude rather than include.


NSS speaks out

Our campaigns director Stephen Evans was quoted in The Times over Oxford university's response to allegations against Tariq Ramadan.


Annual Report 2017

This year's Annual Report is now available. It has details of our campaigning, events and successes over the last year.

As our President Terry Sanderson steps down, this report makes clear the difference the NSS can make - and why our work is increasingly important. Whether you care most about faith-based education, free speech, abortion rights or equality laws, we're championing the secularist cause.

Annual General Meeting

Along with the Report, members received details of our AGM, which will be held on Saturday 25 November 2017 Registration will start at 13.00, details are on the website and the meeting is open to paid-up members and affiliated group representatives only.


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