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.
This Online Harms White Paper set out the government's plans for new online safety measures to make companies more responsible for their users' safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups.
It proposed establishing in law a new duty of care towards users, which will be overseen by an independent regulator. Companies will be held to account for tackling a comprehensive set of online harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviours which are harmful but not necessarily illegal.
We welcome many of the actions the government proposes to take to tackle online radicalisation and extremism. However, we were concerned that some of the proposals may severely impact upon freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
This consultation was a follow-up to the consultation and call for evidence on elective home education held by the Department for Education in 2018.
It sought views on proposed legislation to establish a register maintained by local authorities of children not attending mainstream schools, together with associated duties on parents and the proprietors of certain educational settings. It also consulted on proposed legislation to establish a duty to support parents who educate children at home and seek support from their local authority in doing so.
The Welsh government consulted on the legislative framework to facilitate the new curriculum's implementation. This includes:
- The purpose and structure of the curriculum
- The Welsh and English languages
- Relationships and Sexuality Education for 3 to 16 year olds
- Religious Education for 3 to 16 year olds
- Right to withdraw from RE and RSE
- The assessment of learners.
The Welsh government consulted on the the statutory guidance for the reformed Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum.
We supported the changes, but not the faith schools containing to teach the subject through a faith ethos. RSE shouldn't be undermined by, or used to promote faith based perspectives.
RSE should be comprehensive, developmentally appropriate and non-discriminatory, in all schools.
This consultation seeks views on potential improvements to the statutory charity regulation framework in Scotland, in light of proposals put forward by the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). The proposals broadly focus on improvements to charity law that would increase transparency and accountability in order to maintain public trust and confidence in charities and OSCR.
The NSS agrees with most of the proposals put forward to improve transparency, compliance and accountability. We also proposed that the Scottish government consider removing "the advancement of religion" from the list of charitable purposes.
Hundreds of thousands of young people attend out of school settings or supplementary education (OOSS). For many this is an enriching and rewarding experience, however too often a lack over oversight and accountability means children's welfare is out at risk.
Our response focuses on:
- Ensuring authorities with responsibilities for child safeguarding are acting appropriately.
- Ensuring that legitimate OOSS are not used as cover for unregistered (illegal) and unaccountable faith schools.
- Challenging institutional religious child abuse.
- Ensuring that children's rights are not undermined on account of their or others' religion or belief.
The Scottish Government is considering the recommendations from Lord Bracadale's 'Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland' in order to inform the modernisation and reform of hate crime legislation in Scotland.
In response to its consultation, we have emphasised the importance of protecting free speech, countering sectarianism by promoting secular education, and repealing blasphemy laws.
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.