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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 5 October 2018


In July the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard that a series of powerful figures helped Peter Ball, a bishop who abused children, evade justice for decades. An appeal court judge was among those who wrote letters to the police defending Ball after allegations against him were first reported in 1992.

This was a particularly shocking example of the impact of our institutions' unjustified deference to the established Church of England. In response those in positions of power should be asking why there was such a cosy relationship between senior judges and the church. They should also ask how to ensure judicial neutrality when dealing with religious figures and issues where religious groups have an interest.

But this Monday we once again saw the judiciary engage in its annual act of homage to the C of E, the Anglican judges' service at Westminster Abbey. As you can read below, we've once again written to the justice secretary to challenge the service and call for its ending.

The state should expect judges and other public servants to wield their power without fear or favour, and to make decisions which are in the interests of all the citizens they serve. Judges' services undermine this.

You can join or donate to the NSS to help us continue to challenge the C of E's privileged status and the influence of religion in public life more widely. You may also consider joining us at one of our upcoming events, particularly our Healthcare & Secularism conference later this month or our Secularism 2019 conference next May. Thank you for your support.


News & Opinion


NSS reiterates call for end of Anglican judges’ service

The NSS has again written to the justice secretary to call for the end of Anglican services which mark the beginning of the legal year.


C of E wants unconditional government support for church repairs

The NSS has urged the government not to submit to a Church of England demand for at least £30m per year for church maintenance.


The questionable ethics of evangelical debt advice

The good deeds of faith-based organisations shouldn't lead us to turn a blind eye to their more ethically dubious practices,... Read More »


Don’t let mixed-sex civil partnerships distract from the need for marriage reform

Campaigners' elation at the arrival of opposite-sex civil partnerships is understandable, says Chris Sloggett. But beware... Read More »


Princess removed from line of succession for being Catholic

The NSS has said a princess's removal from the monarchical line of succession is "a reminder that Britain needs a secular head of state".


Ireland lifts discriminatory ‘baptism barrier’ in school admissions

The Irish government has stopped primary schools from discriminating on religious grounds in admissions in almost all cases.


Other news

The UK's highest court is to rule next week on whether the Christian owners of a bakery in Northern Ireland discriminated against a customer by refusing to make a cake decorated with the words 'Support Gay Marriage'.

A Police Scotland document says displaying some flags, including some with religious connotations, in a "provocative manner" could be a criminal offence. MSP James Kelly has raised an objection in the Scottish parliament – reportedly focusing in particular on the Vatican flag, which was included on the list.

A council is to take part in an LGBT+ Pride march in the Highlands which was the subject of a petition seeking a ban. The Proud Ness march is due to take place tomorrow, along with Hebridean Pride in the Western Isles.

The new head of the Catholic school Downside has "absolutely promised" children are safe after a report found the school hid allegations of historical child abuse.

An independent Jewish boys' school in north London has been rated inadequate in all areas in its first inspection as a registered institution.

One of the leaders of the Sweden Democrats party has submitted a non-binding draft motion to the Swedish parliament calling for a ban on non-medical circumcision of boys. We have responded by calling on policy makers to deal with this issue on human rights grounds, partly to avoid handing the issue to those who wish to do so for identitarian reasons.

An Atheism Association in Turkey has been forced to shut down amid external pressure on its activities.

To get all the latest news and views on secularism from the media in your inbox every morning, you can sign up to receive your daily media briefing.


Events coming up


Healthcare & Secularism Conference

Featuring talks by academics and experts in the fields of medicine, law and ethics, the Healthcare & Secularism conference will give participants the opportunity to discuss the most pressing secular medical issues today. These will include conscientious objection, ritual circumcision, pastoral care and assisted dying.


Secularism 2019: reclaiming religious freedom

What does "religious freedom" truly mean? While religious lobbyists commonly use terms like "religious freedom" to demand privileges, this conference will serve to highlight that true "religious freedom" means freedom of belief for people of all religions and none. The conference will also explore the limits of religious freedom when it impedes on other human rights, including bodily autonomy, equality and freedom of expression.


Other events

Other upcoming events include a talk from activist Aron Ra in Manchester (taking place next Thursday), a talk from our 2017 Secularist of the Year Yasmin Rehman in Nottingham and a conference on sharia, segregation and secularism.

See all upcoming events.


Quotes of the week

"This government has weaponised the notion of religious liberty not for its own sake, but rather to advance a blatantly partisan, conservative agenda."
Katherine Frank, Columbia University professor, on the Trump administration's inconsistent stance on religious freedom


"This referendum is essentially asking people to approve discriminating against their neighbours, colleagues, friends and family members."
Katrin Hugendubel, European advocacy director at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, on this weekend's vote to ban same-sex marriage in Romania


"As one sage put it, 'the right to swing my arm finishes when my fist comes into contact with your chin'."
Michael Kirby, former High Court judge in Australia, on how to define religious freedom

See our quotes of the week archive.


Essays of the week

The Satanic Verses affair sowed the seeds of rifts that have grown ever wider
By Kenan Malik, for The Observer

Thirty years after some Muslims reacted furiously to Salman Rushdie's novel, we've yet to learn the right lessons.


Denominational education in Ireland defies equality
By Peter Gunning, for The Irish Times

It makes no sense for one church to claim ownership of Irish schools' ethos, as I saw when I was the principal of one.


NMFS comment of the week

"As our society becomes increasingly diverse it is essential that all children are educated in a way that will enable them to see through difference, rather than to reinforce it; and to instil in them common values fit for a democratic and open-minded country."
Adam from north London, No More Faith Schools supporter

Sign the petition and tell us why you're saying No More Faith Schools.


Read elsewhere


Which vision do Church of England schools follow?

By Tim Wyatt, for Church Times

A look at the arguments behind C of E schools' purpose and admissions criteria.


FGM survivor describes what she went through

By Lizzie Dearden, for The Independent

Campaigner Hoda Ali has described what happened to her when she underwent FGM as a child and explained why she fights to end the practice.


Pakistan’s Ahmadis fearful as leaders bow to extremists

By Kathy Gannon, for AP News

Imran Khan's concessions to religious hardliners have underscored the fraught position of Ahmadis in Pakistan.


NSS speaks out

The Freethinker covered our letter to the justice secretary expressing concern over a judge's theological remarks, which we reported last week.


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