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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 30 March 2018


Thank you to everyone who helped to make Secularist of the Year such a success on Saturday. We hope you'll agree that Phil Johnson and Graham Sawyer were worthy winners, and there were inspiring speeches from – or on behalf of – our other nominees. It was great to be reminded of the variety of activists who can be brought together under the secularist banner. None of us stand alone in our campaigns for fairness and freedom of and from religion.

This week we've paid particular attention to a couple of concerning legal developments. Judgement has been reserved in the case of Mary Hassell, the North London coroner who prioritises her work regardless of religious sensitivity. But we've expressed our concerns about the potential impact of the weight of political pressure against her. We've also written to the lord chief justice over a judge's profoundly unwise decision to interpret Islamic scripture at the close of the trial of the Parsons Green bomber. We'll keep you informed of the major developments in these cases.


News & Opinion


NSS names Phil Johnson and Graham Sawyer as Secularists of the Year

The NSS has named Phil Johnson and Graham Sawyer as its Secularists of the Year for 2018.


NSS raises concerns over political interference in coroner court case

The NSS has asked if political interference has influenced a court case on a coroner's refusal to prioritise work for religious reasons.


NSS: judge shouldn’t have interpreted Islam when sentencing bomber

The NSS has said judges should "refrain from theological interpretation" after a judge's comments to a terrorist.


JCHR: “confusion and complexity” restricting campus free speech

A parliamentary committee has said critics of religion are among those whose free speech is most likely to be restricted at universities.


NSS welcomes initiative to mark freethought history month

The NSS has welcomed an initiative to mark the history of freethought and secularism throughout April.


Other news

A bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland passed its first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Armagh-born Labour MP Conor McGinn introduced the bill at Westminster amid a continuing deadlock over power-sharing at Stormont. Marriage equality is one of the reasons why politicians in Northern Ireland continue to be bitterly divided.

The Scottish National Party has made it party policy to abolish the blasphemy law. Last week we encouraged the Scottish government to get on with repeal after it emerged that the SNP was considering adopting the policy.

The Los Angeles Press Club announced that it would honour the blogger Raif Badawi, who is in prison in Saudi Arabia for "insulting Islam". His wife, Ensaf Haidar, will receive the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism at a gala on 24 June on Raif's behalf.

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.


Quotes of the week

"Two exceptionally courageous, tenacious and determined men who simply refused to give in to the lies and deceit of the church hierarchy."
Peter Tatchell pays tribute to Phil Johnson and Graham Sawyer at Secularist of the Year

"Following last year's terrorist attacks, a central government has again been forced to make it look like something is being done on integration. But once again the administration of the day appears to have a faith schools policy that flies in the face of such a goal."
William Stewart, Tes reporter and twice national educational journalist of the year in the CIPR Education Journalism Awards

"Those fighting injustice should be the last to demand censorship, the first to oppose it."
Kenan Malik calls for a greater commitment to free speech

See our quotes of the week archive...


Essays of the week

How did the Chichester diocese produce so many paedophile reverends?
By Andreas Whittam Smith, for the Independent

Evidence at the IICSA inquiry has shown that abuse was normalised in the C of E's Chichester diocese because it was practised by so many. Worse still, one member of the clergy believed God had forgiven him - meaning he seemed to believe his slate was "wiped clean".

Easter egg truthers: the annual religious row over chocolate
By Martin Belam, for the Guardian

Far-right groups are again stoking the row over whether Easter is being erased from Britain.


NSS speaks out

Our decision to award Secularist of the Year to Phil Johnson and Graham Sawyer was covered in a variety of outlets: The Independent, Christian Today, The Argus, Premier Christian Radio, the Eastbourne Herald and the Burnley Express.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans responded to the High Court challenge against a coroner who refuses to prioritise her work around the demands of religious groups in The Times and The Times Brief.

As usual at this time of year we were called upon to rebut drummed-up claims of a 'war on Easter'. Our communications officer Chris Sloggett went on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 on Tuesday morning (the relevant section begins after one hour and 22 minutes). Stephen Evans went on BBC Radio Kent.

Last week our president Keith Porteous Wood, our vice-president Terry Sanderson and Chris Sloggett went on local BBC radio stations to discuss the decline of religion among the young. Keith went on Radio Wales (he's introduced 10 minutes in to the show); Terry appeared on Three Counties Radio (from 1:12:43); Chris was on Radio Stoke (from 22:06).

The chair of our Secular Medical Forum, Dr Antony Lempert, was one of the two guests on the first-ever head-to-head version of the Godless Spellchecker podcast. He debated forced genital cutting.

Our chief executive Stephen Evans was quoted in Pink News on a court's decision to uphold a C of E bishop's right to veto the appointment of a gay man as an NHS bereavement manager.


Conference on 21st Century RE for All

There are just two weeks to go until our 21st Century RE for All conference.

Thirty years after the introduction of a national curricular entitlement for all pupils, the religious education syllabus is still decided locally by committees of faith representatives, or worse, by religious bodies responsible for running faith schools.

This one day event will explore the future of religion and belief education in schools, and how we can create a truly balanced and non-partisan approach.

It's on Saturday 14 April at Conway Hall in Central London.

Find out more...


Other events


Nottingham Secular Society: Assisted Dying - What do you think?

Date: Tuesday 27th March 2018, 19:30 prompt start
Location: the Canal House, 48-52 Canal Street, Nottingham
Tickets: £2 on the door
Details: Tim Bell is a retired local man, whose working career... Read More »


Scottish Secular Society: The Major Minor Cinema: the Highlands and Islands Film Guild (1946-71)

Date: Thursday 3 May 2018

Time: 19:30–22:00
Venue: 17 Queens Crescent, St Georges Cross, G4 9BL Glasgow, United Kingdom

Dr Ian Good and Dr Ealasaid Munro present some of the key findings of their AHRC... Read More »


One Law For All: Conference on Sharia, Segregation and Secularism

Date: Sunday 25 November 2018, 09:30 – 20:30
Location: Central London
Tickets: From £65.27
Details: Join notable secularists and veteran women's rights campaigners for a conference on Sharia,... Read More »


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