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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 31 January 2020


This week a bill that we've helped to draft which would end the automatic right of Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords has been introduced to parliament.

You can watch the moment it was introduced – to the consternation of some in the Lords – and read more details in our news story below. The peer behind the bill, Dick Taverne, makes his argument in an opinion piece for Politics Home; we have an interview with him about it in our latest podcast; and you can write to your MP to help us make the case.

Meanwhile we're also working alongside councillors in Peterborough who are challenging a decision to open a new selective Catholic school there.

And as the scourge of faith schools and deference to religious interests in our state education system are largely the legacy of the 1944 Education Act, we're hosting a talk on that topic on Monday 10 February. Details are below.

If you think this work is worthwhile and you're not a member already, please consider joining the NSS to show your support. Thank you.


News & Opinion


Bill to end bishops’ automatic right to sit in Lords introduced

A bill to end bishops' automatic right to sit in the House of Lords, which the NSS helped to draft, has been introduced to parliament.


Councillors to challenge new discriminatory Catholic school

Three councillors in Peterborough have formally challenged a decision to open a new religiously selective Catholic school... Read More »


The Church of England’s position on sex is yet another reason for disestablishment

The C of E's position that sex is only for heterosexual married couples is heartless, discriminatory and out of touch with the country it supposedly serves. Time to cut its ties to the state, says Keith Porteous Wood.


Our MPs now subscribe to many religious beliefs and none – it’s time to scrap parliamentary prayers

A religiously diverse new intake of MPs should prompt the removal of parliamentary prayers and the Church of England's privilege in our political institutions, says Megan Manson.


Why the bishops' bench should go


Separation of church and state is far from complete in the House of Lords

By Dick Taverne QC, for Politics Home

Anglican bishops' automatic right to sit in the Lords grants the Church of England special access to power.


Our latest podcast: scrap the bishops' bench


Ep 22: Bishops in the Lords - Dick Taverne interview

Is it time to remove the bishops' bench in the House of Lords? Emma Park travels to Westminster to ask Liberal Democrat peer Dick Taverne why he's introduced a private members' bill to do just that.


NSS letter on the C of E and sex


The Church of England’s stance on sex highlights the need for disestablishment

NSS president Keith Porteous Wood is among letter writers who responded to the C of E's recent 'pastoral statement' on sex in The Guardian.


Other news: UK

The bishop of Blackburn is set to take a seat on the bishops' bench in the House of Lords on 6 February after receiving a writ of summons.

The queen has appointed Prince William as lord high commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Monarchs have sworn to maintain the Church of Scotland in one of their three coronation oaths since the 16th century. The NSS campaigns for a secular head of state.

The NSS has welcomed a government statement against the APPG on British Muslims's definition of Islamophobia, but lamented Bury Council's decision to adopt the definition.

An independent Jewish school in north London has been rated 'inadequate' over its insular curriculum and pupils' very limited understanding of English. Meanwhile another independent Jewish school has been warned over its failure to teach about LGBT people.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion is campaigning for a change in the law to protect young people from grooming and sexual abuse in religious settings and similar environments such as sports clubs.


International news

A French appeals court has overturned a guilty verdict against Philippe Barbarin, a Catholic cardinal who was convicted last year of failing to report sexual abuse charges.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, has published a book about her experiences and her new life.

Further details have emerged about the situation facing a 16-year-old schoolgirl who has received threats and gone into hiding after criticising Islam online in France. The latest developments include a response from the justice secretary – now withdrawn – that insulting religion was "obviously a breach of freedom of conscience".

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


Talk on 1944 Education Act: 10 February

On Monday 10 February the chair of our Secular Education Forum, Keith Sharpe, will address the impact and legacy of the 1944 Education Act at Conway Hall in London.

Tickets are free, but advanced booking is recommended. We have more details on our website.

To whet your appetite, you can read why Keith thinks it's time for some constructive criticism of the act in his blog on the subject.


Other events

Our other upcoming events include a training day on our Exploring Secularism resources for educators on Saturday 9 May.


Write to your MP: scrap the bishops’ bench

Help us raise awareness of the House of Lords (Removal of Bishops) Bill by writing to your MP.


Essay of the week

Grooming gangs: facing the truth
By Khadija Khan, for sister-hood

Prioritising repressive religious and cultural norms over women's rights is a travesty of justice to all British women, whether they are Muslim or not.


Quote of the week

"This school should be accessible to all children as it is publicly funded."
Tracy Butler, local resident, criticises the decision to open a selective Catholic school in Peterborough


Anniversary of Charles Bradlaugh’s death

Yesterday marked the 129th anniversary of the death of our founder, Charles Bradlaugh.

You can read about his founding of the NSS, his prosecution for publishing information about birth control, his struggle to claim his elected seat in parliament and more on our website.


NSS speaks out

Our assistance in drafting a bill to scrap the bishops' bench was mentioned in Dick Taverne's article on the subject in Politics Home (above) and a similar piece in the New Statesman.

Our opposition to plans to open a new Catholic school in Peterborough was mentioned in the Peterborough Telegraph.

Our president Keith Porteous Wood's letter about the Church of England's position on sex in The Guardian (above) was also mentioned in The Freethinker on Patheos.


NSS out and about

Our chief executive Stephen Evans met with Kirsty Williams, the minister for education in the Welsh government, over plans for curriculum reform. He expressed broad support for ministers' plans but reiterated the importance of a right of withdrawal from education on religion where it is not objective, critical and pluralistic. He expressed particular concern that this will be a problem in faith schools under current plans.

Stephen also represented us at the UK commemorative ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday.


In your own words: scrap the bishops’ bench

"It is a complete anachronism that in this day and age when we are supposed to be an 'inclusive' society that Church of England bishops are given an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords. This right should be abolished."
Susan, West Sussex

If you want to let us know why you support a secularist cause, why not sign one of our petitions? We aim to feature the best comments in Newsline.


Read elsewhere


Scrap the bishops’ bench

By Neil Barber (Edinburgh Secular Society), letter in The Courier

The House of Lords is due for reform and the bishops' entitlement to seats is a good place to start.


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