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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege


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Newsline 8 February 2019


This week's hearings at the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse have once again devastatingly revealed the depths the Catholic Church is willing to plumb to undermine efforts to tackle child abuse.

It should be shocking to hear that an institution of its size and influence is failing to cooperate with those attempting to investigate and prevent serious crimes. There should be high-profile outrage over the fact the Vatican's representative in Britain has dragged his heels in the face of repeated demands for evidence. But the most alarming thing about the church's latest obstructions of secular justice is how normal they seem.

We maintain that they should not be normal. That's why this week we took the rare step of writing to the prime minister to urge her to raise this with the Vatican.

Elsewhere it's been another busy week at the NSS – as you'll see below. We're pushing for a freer, fairer society where everyone has common rights and responsibilities regardless of religion. That campaign needs to be fought on a broad range of fronts. And we can only do it with your support. If you think our work is worth supporting, you can join or donate to the NSS today. Thank you.


News & Opinion


NSS: government must push Vatican to cooperate with abuse inquiry

The NSS has urged the prime minister to raise the Catholic Church's failure to cooperate with a child abuse inquiry with the Vatican.


Catholic abuse scandals: why self policing always fails

The IICSA inquiry has turned its attention to child abuse at two Catholic schools. Abuse lawyer and NSS vice president Richard Scorer delivered the following opening statement on behalf of several victims.


School cancels play about evolution after Christian parents object

A school has cancelled a play about the discovery of evolution amid objections from Christian parents.


Schools warned as parents refuse to let pupils speak to inspectors

The government has told independent schools inspectors must be able to speak to pupils after a Jewish school received a warning notice.


Religious dogma still clouds assisted dying debate

As the Royal College of Physicians consults its members over assisted dying, Stephen Evans says we should be aware of often well-disguised theological objections to reform.


Bishop helps scupper amendment to let CoE allow same-sex marriage

An amendment that would make it easier for the C of E to allow same-sex marriage has been withdrawn amid opposition from a bishop.


Animal welfare groups ask government to end non-stun slaughter

Animal welfare advocates are urging the government to repeal a legal exemption which allows the religious non-stun slaughter of animals.


Event to mark 30th anniversary of fatwa against Salman Rushdie

An event to commemorate the women who defended the right to publish The Satanic Verses is to be held in London next Thursday.


Isle of Man parents voice concern over RE ‘propaganda’

The National Secular Society has called for improved vetting and standards for religious education resources after parents accused a school of handing religious "propaganda" to pupils.


Other news

A woman who mutilated her three-year-old daughter has become the first person in the UK to be found guilty of female genital mutilation.

A row about allocation of scarce housing could be heading for the court of appeal after judges rejected a claim that a housing association broke equality laws with its policy of providing homes only to Orthodox Jews.

A retired accountant suffering from motor neurone disease who ended his own life yesterday left a powerful open letter to MPs imploring them to change the assisted dying law after it "robbed him of control over his death".

A Jewish state school that illegally segregates boys and girls is planning to form a multi-academy trust so that it can split itself into two single-sex schools rather than integrate its pupils.

University speakers should not be banned from campus just because they "offend, shock or disturb" students, according to new guidance. The former equalities chief Trevor Phillips has responded by saying universities are allowing free speech to be curtailed on campuses in favour of "rule of the mob".

Anti-semitic incidents have risen 16% in the UK since 2017, according to the Community Security Trust.

President Trump has expressed support for faith groups' ability to discriminate in a major speech and told a mostly Christian audience: "I will never let you down".


Read elsewhere


Sexual abuse of nuns: a longstanding church scandal emerges from the shadows

By Jason Horowitz, for the New York Times

The sexual abuse of nuns and religious women by Catholic priests and bishops — and the abortions that have sometimes resulted — has for years been overshadowed by other scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. That seemed to change this week.


An old culture war on Bible reading in US public schools is emerging again

By David Mislin, for The Conversation

Rows over Bible reading in US public schools have a long history. It is unsurprising that the issue is rearing its head again.


Buy your tickets: Secularism 2019

What does religious freedom truly mean - and how can it be defended for everyone? We'll be discussing this at our Secularism 2019 conference at the Tower Hotel in central London on 18 May. You can buy your tickets now.


We also recommend next Thursday's event in London to mark 30 years since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Other events coming up include a talk by our head of education Alastair Lichten at Brighton Humanists and a six-week course on 19th-century radicals in London run by our council member Bob Forder.

See all upcoming events.


Essays of the week

It is time to abandon the word 'Islamophobia'
By Mohammed Amin, for Conservative Home

Any word to describe anti-Muslim hatred must escape the baggage which the proponents of the word 'Islamophobia' have allowed to build up around it.


Why is Britain still tiptoeing around the evil crime of FGM?
By Rohan Silva, for the Evening Standard

The abuse of girls should not be accepted in the name of multiculturalism.


Men's rights activists have a point on circumcision
By Eleanor Margolis, for the New Statesman

An author whose upbringing encouraged her to embrace male circumcision, and who generally disagrees with men's rights activism, questions the ethics behind the practice.


The demonisation of Dina Torkia shows the hijab is not always a free choice
By Dana Forrest, for Conatus News

The case of Dina Torkia shows that even in the West wearing the hijab is hardly a free choice for many.


Quotes of the week

"Finding a figure who is acceptable to the Muslim Council of Britain and its friends but also realistic about the nature of the ideological threat to the UK is, to put it politely, a long shot."
Robin Simcox, counter-terrorism researcher, on the government's dilemma as it seeks someone to head its review of the Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy


"You can – and should – expect [people] to treat LGBT people, disabled people and ethnic minorities as equal citizens; to protect their rights; and to actively fight discrimination against them. The No Outsiders programme seems designed to do just that. On the basis of that, if nothing else, its continuation – and expansion – would, surely, be a good outcome for everyone."
Masuma Rahim, clinical psychologist, says faith shouldn't obstruct schools' efforts to teach children about LGBT rights


"There are significant tensions between people who have a strong interest in different protected characteristics. It is very easy for someone with a particularly strong interest in one of them to come to feel that it is of overwhelming importance and that everything else that is set out in law must be set aside because their particular area of interest is so strong."
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, rejects claims that Ofsted has an "anti-faith agenda"


"It stays with you for life. It's a life sentence."
Campaigner Hibo Wadere on FGM


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

"Religion is a matter of personal conviction. It should not intrude upon the public space, least of all in the education of the young."
Claude, Surbiton

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


Petition comment of the week: end non-stun slaughter

"An animal welfare law that provides exemptions for certain groups is no law at all."
Mark, Poole

Sign the petition and tell us why you want to end non-stun slaughter.


NSS speaks out

Our chief executive Stephen Evans's response to the school that scrapped a play about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution was featured in The Independent's exclusive coverage of the story.

Our response to the Commission on Countering Extremism and our opposition to a proposed definition of 'Islamophobia' were discussed in The Economist.

Our opposition to parliamentary prayers was mentioned in a blog on HITC.

Our scrutiny of an Islamic school which promoted strict religious practices was mentioned on Patheos.

Our calls for a review of parliamentary prayers led to a disapproving mention in a Church Times piece.


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