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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 31 May 2019


Even in half-term week, religious groups' attempts to undermine LGBT-inclusive education and relationships and sex education have generated significant press coverage.

Last Friday Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham was forced to close early as protests outside the school escalated. Since then a former chief prosecutor who was brought in to mediate in that row has called the government's response "cowardly". And one of the contenders for the Conservative party leadership has said parents should have the "final say" on whether their children receive LGBT-inclusive education – in comments we've criticised.

We're continuing to expose the religious reactionaries who seek to undermine inclusive, age-appropriate education about relationships and sex. This week we highlight the activities and messages of a group called Islamic RSE, which is promoting anti-LGBT, anti-sex and anti-contraceptive messages and encouraging sympathetic parents to get elected as school governors.

And we're urging the government to stand up to these groups. But we can only do this with your help. If you want to see more pushback against this bigotry, please consider joining or donating to the NSS today. Thank you.


News & Opinion


NSS warns of growing threat from religious anti-RSE campaigners

NSS research has highlighted the activities of an Islamic group campaigning against relationships and sex education.


Praying on the vulnerable

A ruling that a nurse was not wrongly dismissed for repeatedly evangelising was unsurprising, says Stephen Evans. Healthcare professionals must be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs at work to protect patients.


Council rejects Islamophobia definition after NSS lobbying

Lancashire County Council has rejected a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' after the NSS lobbied against its adoption.


Research reveals impact of religious discrimination on NI teachers

Segregated education and legal discrimination are causing the "cultural encapsulation" of Northern Ireland's teachers, a report has said.


Governor's perspective: How faith schools prioritise religion over education

Matthew is the governor at a Church of England school in Cornwall. He says those running the school have made it a priority to push religion on children.


Watch: Dr Ahmed Shaheed at Secularism 2019

The first video from our Secularism 2019 conference is now up on our YouTube channel. Watch Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, address the meaning of religious freedom and its limits.


Listen: NSS Secularist of the Year on BBC Radio 4


Saif ul Malook on BBC Radio 4 Sunday

Earlier this month we awarded our Secularist of the Year prize to Saif ul Malook - a lawyer who has defended those on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan. He told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme why he took up the cases in the face of death threats. (Listen from 6:14)



Other news

Children who were sexually abused in religious institutions often did not disclose assaults and mistreatment because they felt ashamed and guilty, a report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has said. The full report is available on the IICSA website.

Religious representatives could lose their voting rights on education issues at Edinburgh City Council under proposals discussed this week. Councillors have approved a delay to the decision and will revisit the issue in August. Meanwhile talks have opened between the Catholic Church and Perth and Kinross Council over the council's decision to withdraw religious representatives' voting rights. The NSS is pushing councils across Scotland to strip unelected religious representatives of their voting rights.

An independent school in Leicester has been ordered by the government to stop segregating male and female pupils.

Conservative leadership hopeful Rory Stewart has said he would like the archbishop of Canterbury to mediate a citizens' assembly, which would be tasked with thrashing out a Brexit compromise.

There has been a significant rise in burial fees in Birmingham, partly driven by religious demands for special services.

People in the Republic of Ireland have voted overwhelmingly in favour of liberalising divorce laws in a referendum. Catholic pressure groups were the main source of opposition to the measure.

The pope has compared having an abortion to hiring a "hitman" and said the procedure is always unacceptable. The NSS has said his view should have no impact on the reproductive rights of women who disagree with him.


Read elsewhere


‘We can’t give in’: the Birmingham school on the frontline of anti-LGBT protests

By Donna Ferguson, for The Observer

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the school head caught in the crossfire between demonstrators and the law amid protests in Birmingham, talks of the stress she's endured as a result of her desire to promote equality.


The US’s abortion bans are a church-state separation issue

By Liz Hayes, for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

The aggressive abortion ban bills being considered in states across the country may not explicitly mention religion, but it's clear that these bills and the restrictive policies they propose are religiously motivated.


Christian rightwingers warn abortion fight could spark US civil war

By Jason Wilson, for The Guardian

Prominent figures on the Christian right in the US, ranging from religious magazines to authors to elected politicians, have warned that the fight over abortion rights could lead to a new civil war.


Essays of the week

When Protected Characteristics Collide
By Tehmina Kazi, for Quillette

The government must support schools which have faced anti-LGBT protests from Muslims.


Birmingham's anti-LGBT rhetoric limits the progress LGBT Muslims have fought hard for
By Asifa Lahore, for Gay Times

People should not expect the education system to be compromised for the benefit of religious groups at the detriment of other groups within society.


Quotes of the week

"I've looked at the curriculum, there is nothing in the curriculum that is LGBT specific. There is nothing about gay sex. I've seen people walking around outside of that school with stuff that they have downloaded from the internet suggesting this is on the curriculum. This is what's being taught to their children. It's a lie. And this is what I'm dealing with."
Nazir Afzal, who was brought in to mediate talks over LGBT-inclusive education in Birmingham


"It's a very sad indictment of our society where a relatively small number of parents can create a hue and cry that leads to teachers and schools across the country rowing back on what they know and believe to be necessary."
Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, on the LGBT-inclusive education row


Petition comments of the week: male circumcision

"We are living in a genital cutting society. Against boys and girls. It is a contradiction to democracy and relates to a fundamental misunderstanding of human rights. Freedom of religion means freedom for the individual. A child has the inalienable right to choose. Those who cite this freedom are doing so incorrectly, lumping their child's rights and their adult rights as one rather than two separate rights."
Ozan, Middlesex

Sign the petition and explain why non-therapeutic infant genital cutting should end.


Petition comment of the week: end religious discrimination in school admissions

"In commercial or other public organisations, this kind of discrimination would, quite rightly, be illegal. Segregating children creates division and intolerance in society. Time to end these policies."
Ian, Dorset

Sign the petition and explain why we should end religious discrimination in school admissions.

Alternatively, get involved in our No More Faith Schools campaign and help us to make the case against the government's wave of religiously selective faith schools.


NSS scholarship: deadline tomorrow

The NSS is keen to support original research that supports the evidence base of our campaigns work and improves public understanding of secularism. Applications for the latest round of funding for our scholarship are due to close tomorrow: Saturday 1 June.

Our scholarship committee will particularly be looking for applications which demonstrate:

  •   A significant contribution to the evidence base of one of our existing campaigns.
  •   The ability to improve understanding of secularism among both academics and the wider public.
  •   That the applicant has the necessary experience to complete the research to a high standard.

Applicants are strongly recommended to make reference to existing NSS campaigns and our Secular Charter.

Find out more and apply here.


NSS speaks out

Our chief executive Stephen Evans said the government was right to reject a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' in a letter to The Sunday Times.

Our Secularist of the Year Saif ul Malook was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme (see above), with our decision to award him the prize mentioned.


Support our work

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


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