A significant part of our output, which often receives less attention, is our submissions to Government or international bodies' consultations. A selection of these submissions can be found below.
The independent Commission for Countering Extremism carried out a first-of-its-kind study into extremism aiming to improve understanding of extremism and its impact on individuals, communities and wider society.
Whilst countering extremism is not the primary aim of our organisation, the National Secular Society believes that secularist principles have a key role to play in the increasingly polarised debate around religion, extremism and discrimination. Secularism provides a framework for countering extremism and minimising the harm that extremists can inflict upon society.
The General Medical Council have released draft guidance to help healthcare professionals help patients make decisions, to protect their best interests and autonomy, particularly where they may have difficulties giving informed consent.
These guidelines have been warmly welcomed by the Secular Medical Forum (SMF) and will help ensure that medical ethics and patient autonomy (not religious dogma) influence healthcare choices. However there are a few areas where the guidance is too lose or inconsistent with other GMC guidance: scenarios where a patient is put under pressure either by their family or community or by their doctor to choose a specific treatment, or when a patient without capacity is given a treatment or intervention that is not medically necessary - such as non-therapeutic infant circumcision.
The Home Affairs Committee has put out a further call for written evidence on Islamophobia, as part of its ongoing work on hate crime. This comes amidst increasing numbers of Islamophobic hate crimes, and follows publication of a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims calling for the adoption of an official working definition of Islamophobia.
The National Secular Society welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Islamophobia. We oppose sectarianism, bigotry and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their religion. Both the Government and civil society have a role to play in challenging the very real phenomenon of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred. We do however caution against use of the term Islamophobia, due the way in which it confuses and conflates criticism of a religion with anti-Muslim prejudice. We believe that any efforts to silence or stifle criticisms of Islam will be to deleterious to free speech and counterproductive to social cohesion.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) requested views on how they should tackle important equality and human rights issues. They outlined some aims in their strategic plan for 2019 to 2022.
The NSS gave our views on particular points in the plan, emphasising that our key priority is to ensure that manifestations of belief do not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. We seek to ensure that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion.
We urged the BBC to treat free expression as a positive value and raised concerns that new guidelines defer excessively to religious sensitivities.
We largely welcomed the guidance under consultation which delivers many of our campaign aims for non-discriminatory, non-stigmatising and age appropriate relationships and sex education.
Unfortunately the guidance is undermined by poorly defined requirements to take account of the religious background of pupils and freedoms for faith schools to teach in accordance with their ethos. Sadly, this will in all likelihood continue to serve in many faith schools as a euphemism for discrimination, stigmatisation, misinformation and censorship.
Our response calls for a balancing of protections for the autonomy of EHE families, the interests of LAs and the rights of children. This relates to our work:
- Challenging abuses of children's rights in the unregistered (illegal) faith school sector.
- Ensuring that children's rights to an education are not undermined on grounds of
religion or belief.
Our response to the government's integration strategy for communities in England welcomes some of the proposals, but expresses concern over others (including the reliance on faith leaders) and disappointment over the the failure to acknowledge the division caused by faith schools.
Consultation on drafts of advice for schools on independent school standards, and policy statement on regulatory and enforcement action, and regulations relating to the provision of information by independent schools.
The NSS outlined its support for the draft advice.
The county council is considering its current policy for the supply of halal meat to schools. The council currently provides both stunned and un-stunned halal meat in a small number of schools, providing this service for school meals where there is the demand for it. The county council is considering the proposal to provide only stunned halal meat to schools.
The NSS responded strongly supporting the proposal to provide only stunned halal meat to schools.