Category: Education

UK: Majority want secular state schooling, while RE declines

The majority of British people want state-funded schools to be secular, a recent YouGov poll has revealed.

The poll, conducted on behalf of Prospect magazine, asked whether the Government should “make all state schools secular and stop them having special links with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion”. Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) agreed that state schools should be entirely secular. Those opposing stood at 38%, while an additional 14% said they “don’t know”.

Support for secular state schools was strongest in Scotland, with 63% in favour. Opposition was at its highest in the North, at 43%.

The question was posed as part of a wider survey on education. The poll also found strong support for a ban on schools supplying unhealthy food and drink (72%) and mobile phones in the classroom (83%). Three quarters expressed their support for a return to “traditional” history teaching covering the main dates and events in British history and teaching students “to be proud ofBritain’s past”.

See the complete poll (pdf).

Meanwhile, the Government’s introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having a negative impact on school provision of non-EBacc subjects, including religious education (RE), according to a new survey of schoolteachers.

Among respondents, 13% reported a decline in provision for RE in their schools as a consequence of the EBacc (3% more than recorded that their schools were planning to cut RE in a similar survey in May 2011). Comparable reductions in provision for other non-EBacc subjects were: 14% for citizenship, music, and personal, social and health education; 15% for information and communication technology; and 16% for art and design and technology.

Source: Online survey of over 2,500 schoolteachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the largest teachers’ union.

More information

National Secular Society | 30th January 2013

UK: National Secular Society to challenge Catholic Church’s new restrictions on teachers

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has issued a new booklet warning teachers and governors at Catholic schools that they risk dismissal if they enter a relationship that is not approved by the Church.
The warning comes in guidance (PDF) written by Monsignor Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and co-published by the Catholic Education Service.
British Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tablet, reports:

Under the heading of “substantive life choices”, Mgr Stock includes marriage in a non-Catholic church or register office without canonical dispensation, remarriage after divorce and “maintaining a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the Church and which would, at least in the public forum, carry the presumption from their public behaviour of this being a non-chaste relationship”. This also applies to all staff in a Catholic school.”
Other “substantive life choices” he rules unacceptable include “maintaining the publication or distribution of, or by any other means of social communication or technology, material content which is contrary to gospel values”.

Many ‘faith’ schools are granted special legal privileges enabling them to discriminate in employment on religious grounds. Many teachers can find themselves blocked from certain positions because they are non-believers or of the ‘wrong’ faith. In addition, teachers can be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is “incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion”.
The National Secular Society has described the Catholic Church’s restrictions on its employees personal relationships as “prurient and tyrannical.”
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said:
“It is scandalous that the Catholic Church is able to use taxpayers’ money to practise this sort of crude discrimination. The document is completely unacceptable. The way a person arranges their private life, so long as it is within the law, should be of no concern to an employer.
“We will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, asking how he can justify a law that permits teachers in faith schools to be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is ‘incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion’. Such a harsh and unfair law drives a coach and horses through equality legislation and leaves teachers, paid using public money, uniquely vulnerable to religious discrimination.”
The level of discrimination permitted in ‘faith’ schools is currently the subject of an investigation at the European Commission following a complaint by the National Secular Society concerning whether UK legislation relating to state funded ‘faith’ schools breaches European employment laws.
The NSS has made clear that if it comes across anyone who has been fired from a Catholic school simply because they are living in a relationship that the Church does not approve of, it would be happy to assist them in a legal challenge.

National Secular Society | 26 January 2013

Ireland: We want secular schools, say parents

Pressure is building on the Irish Education minister to establish a multi-denominational school in Dublin under the Educate Together banner. Educate Together, a multi-denominational body, promises that “No child is separated because of his or her religion or belief system” in any of their schools.

The Dublin City Educate Together Second-level Action Group collected over 2,000 expressions of interest from parents who are looking for an addition to the current second-level school provision. It held a public meeting to discuss the plans this week.

Olivia Morahan, one of the campaigners from five Educate Together primary schools, told the Irish Herald: “We want this school because of the whole ethos, it’s child-centred and it’s democratically run and multi-denominational. From my own experience, I’ve two children in the early years of an Educate Together primary school and it’s a very different schooling to what I experienced growing up. There are demands on both sides of the city, so in the long term the best solution would be one for the northside and one for the south.”

Campaigners said they are trying to pressure Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to set a timeline for when they can expect to see an Educate Together secondary school in Dublin.

The enthusiasm for an Educate Together secondary school is thought to be driven by the positive experiences reported by children coming through the primary level equivalents.

Last month, the Government asked parents in six Dublin areas to decide what kind of primary school they want for their children. The survey seeks to find out the participants’ preferred choice of school patron. It will probably result in a dilution of the influence of the Catholic Church, which currently controls over 90% of the country’s 3,000 primary schools.

A similar exercise last year led to the church being asked to hand over one school in each of the five areas surveyed to Educate Together.

National Secular Society | 24th January 2013

Ireland: Catholic Church wants reassurance that its “right” to indoctrinate school children will remain

Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills in Ireland. (Wikipedia)

THE battle lines are being drawn between Catholic bishops and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn over the future of primary schools.

Moves to reduce the dominance of the Church in primary education will see the handover of some schools to other patron bodies.

But the church is seeking guarantees about the protection of the ethos of schools that remain under Catholic control.

Last year the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism produced a blueprint on a process for divesting Catholic schools to other patrons, and on ways to ensure that denominational schools were more inclusive.

One strand involves the handover of Catholic schools to another patron body in areas where parents express a demand for greater choice.

Following surveys late last year, the Catholic Church has been asked to divest a school in each of five towns and suburbs and the Department of Education is currently running similar surveys in a further 38 areas.

The other element of change is concerned with laying down new rules for the treatment of religion in all primary schools to ensure that they are inclusive.

That is to be subject to a public consultation process that will get under way after the parental surveys are completed in February.

That will mean an overlap between the two strands of the process and, while there is no formal link, a leading Catholic educationalist yesterday called for a trade-off.

Professor Eamonn Conway said that no Catholic primary schools should be handed over without firm guarantees that the ethos of the remaining schools would be respected.

Prof Conway is head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and a priest of the Tuam archdiocese. He said that under one proposal, Catholic schools would be forced to display all religious symbols along with their own and to vet hymns and prayers to ensure they were sufficiently ‘inclusive’.

He also challenged the proposal to delete Rule 68, which obliges national schools to ensure that a religious spirit underpins all their work.

He challenged proposals to weaken Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, which protects the right of religious organisations, including schools, to employ only individuals who will respect the ethos of their employer.

Mandatory

Prof Conway also said a proposed new programme for primary schools, Education about Religion and Beliefs (ERB), should not be made mandatory because it “could teach pupils in a secularist view of religion”.

Catholic bishops also used the launch of Catholic Schools Week yesterday to insist that any change to the ethos must not undermine the faith of school-going children.

Bishop Brendan Kelly of Achonry said it would be a “terrible travesty” for children “if a natural part of who they are is not acknowledged and nurtured in our schools”.

His concerns were echoed by Bishop Jones of Elphin who told the young congregation: “It is because of you that we are all concerned about Catholic education in our schools.”

Irish Independent | Katherine Donnelly and Caroline Crawford | Tuesday, January 22 2013

UK: Parents object to school bus ‘apartheid’ in Northumberland

Northumberland: Catholic children get a free (and separate) bus to the local Catholic schools while non-Catholics attending the same schools have to pay (and go on another bus).

Northumberland County Council has introduced a new policy for school buses in which Catholic children get a free (and separate) bus to the local Catholic schools while non-Catholics attending the same schools have to pay (and go on another bus).

The scheme is costing the council £90,000 a year (less fares from non-Catholic children) and has been widely condemned by parents and teachers alike.

The policy was described as “apartheid” by one parent, Cherie Nelson, who hails originally from South Africa. She said she would try to get the council’s decision overturned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Con Todd, Headteacher at Bedlington’s St Benet Biscop Catholic High School said the school had asked the Council not to do this and was disappointed that Catholic and non-Catholic children were being separated.

Previously, children at the school had been able to share buses with their peers, but the new regulations mean that separate buses are now run for pupils of different faiths.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of theNational Secular Society, said the council should not be subsidising school transport on a sectarian basis in the first place.

Mr Wood said: “Parents in Northumberland have suddenly woken up to the fact that school transport is a hotbed of separatism and religious discrimination. We have been saying for years that it is iniquitous that the taxpayer should be funding transport to religious schools for religious families much more generously than that to any schools for non-religious families. It is religious discrimination of the worst and most despicable kind – the sort that keeps children apart and creates needless differences between them.”

Mr Wood said that all over the country local authorities were ditching these school transport subsidies because of budget cuts.

“It is a shame that so many councils are stopping this discrimination only because they can’t afford it any more. They should be doing it on the more principled grounds of equality. But, whatever the reason, it is ending an injustice. Northumberland Council should do the same.”

Find out more: Read the NSS briefing paper on faith school transport

National Secular Society | Friday 28th September 2012

Italy: Catholics outraged at suggestion that they shouldn’t have a monopoly on RE

Rome, September 26 – Italy’s education minister refused to back down Wednesday from his earlier suggestions that schools in the country should teach more than Catholicism in the classroom. But Francesco Profumo said he had no immediate plans to change “certain rules or terms” of the curriculum for religion classes. The minister triggered controversy recently when he suggested it was time to update school curricula with respect to teaching the Catholic religion in public schools. As Italy becomes more multicultural, it may be important to teach students about other faiths, Profumo said. He expanded on his views in a letter to Catholic philosopher Giovanni Reale, a copy of which was obtained by ANSA Wednesday. “Our country is at the center of a tumultuous evolution, both political and spiritual, in the Mediterranean, which has always been a crossroads of peoples and faiths,” Profumo wrote. It’s time, therefore, that Italian schools “deal with this changing reality” of a multicultural world, he added. Religious education teachers have responded to Profumo’s ideas by saying the Catholic faith is a deeply embedded part of Italy’s historical heritage, and curricula shouldn’t be changed. These teachers, and an association for Italian families, noted that in June Profumo signed new agreements on what would be taught in religious education classes and now is no time for change. “Christianity is inextricably inserted in the history of our country,” said Francesco Belletti, president of the Forum of Family Associations. Religious teachers are appointed by schools in consultation with local religious Catholic authorities. Students who opt out of religion classes are not given alternative teaching. One in 10 Italian students are not Italian and a slightly higher percentage are not Catholic. A small minority of atheist or agnostic parents insist their children should not be given lessons in Catholicism.

Gazzetta del Sud | 26/09/2012

Bulgaria: Keeping Secular Education Secular

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has been adamant recently in its attempts to persuade the government that the introduction of religious education in the core curriculum of Bulgarian schools is necessary.

Children nowadays do not adhere to moral values, the Church has argued, claiming that compulsory religious education would be the cure to the increasing aggression among youngsters.

In June, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov from the centrist-right GERB party said he was in favor of the introduction of religious education in schools.

However, the Bulgarian Education Ministry recently rejected the idea, pointing out that there are over 115 religious beliefs officially registered in the country – and it would be practically impossible to introduce all of them into classrooms.

As Education Minister Sergey Ignatov noted, the Church may reach out to children through the already existing Sunday schools and optional courses in public schools.

So far, it seems that the Orthodox Church will not be able to push religious indoctrination in .Bulgaria’s schools.

However, Borisov’s cabinet has been in the habit of making numerous U-turn decisions on various issues since it took over in 2009. Therefore, I feel the debate should be kept alive.

Political propaganda in schools is wrong. What about religion?

Last year, the Bulgarian society was outraged – and rightfully so – as it turned out that schoolchildren from the small town of Peshtera have taken part in puzzle contest, with teams receiving one word as prize for each successful solution. The final phrase ended reading “We Are GERB, We Are Stronger with You.”

While there is a strong consensus in society that political propaganda in schools is utterly unacceptable, it appears that religious indoctrination of children as young as seven is fine for many.

If the notion of a 7-year-old GERB supporter is grotesque and frightening, then why shouldn’t we find it disturbing if 7-year old kids already have strong religious convictions?

Should we back further segregation?

The introduction of religion in the core curriculum of Bulgarian schools is likely to increase segregation among ethnic groups in the country at a very early age.

It is safe to assume that the Orthodox Church will try to reach out to all ethnic Bulgarian children (save for Pomaks), while the central Islamic institutions will reach out ethnic Turkish children (since Bulgaria’s Muslims are predominantly Turkish).

As a result, ethnic Bulgarian children will be taught that their Turkish friends’ religion is “wrong” – and vice versa.

Does the Church “deserve” to take care of children?

Some disturbing statements have been heard recently from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the most recent one being hardline Bishop Nikolay’s statement “surrogate motherhood is no different from prostitution.”

The same Bishop once made the insulting claim that a Madonna concert in Sofia was the reason why 16 people drowned in tragic accident back in 2009.

In June, a priest from the Sliven eparchy notoriously stated that “it would be a good idea to throw stones” at participants in the annual Sofia Pride LGBT parade. Fortunately, nobody listened to his “advice,” but one should also note that the Church did not consider it necessary to distance itself from the outrageous remark.

The fact that the majority of Bulgaria’s Holy Synod members were (expectedly) exposed as former spies of the totalitarian State Security secret service certainly does not the Church‘s image.

It would not be exaggerated to say that the majority of Bulgarians do not trust the official Orthodox Church, including many of those who do believe in God. There is a reason for that: the Church is simply surrounded by too much controversy.

The “limousine scandal” in Varna is just another example.

Will religion enhance education in Bulgaria?

The Bulgarian education system is in a deep crisis now, with functional illiteracy rates reaching disturbing highs.

I do not believe that introducing religious education will induce much harm to the current situation, since I highly doubt that children will be taught that the Earth is flat or that there is no evolution.

However, if the core curriculum should really be expanded, I feel that there are at least several much more vital subjects one should begin with, perhaps including more classes in math, science, literature and philosophy instead.

Novinite (Sofia News Agency) | Nikola Petrov | 19 September 2012

Richard Norman: follow John Stuart Mill – don’t impose your conscience on other people

Humanist Philosopher Professor Richard Norman echoed the call from John Stuart Mill for the end of ‘faith’ school and the segregation of children. Photo by: Mary Grove.

Professor Richard Norman’s speech to the Secular Europe Rally
London, 15 September 2012

I’d like to introduce you to one of our most distinguished supporters.  He’s concealed in the trees behind you, and you can’t see him because he’s been dead for nearly 140 years.  His name is John Stuart Mill, there is a fine statue of him over there in Temple Gardens, and it’s appropriate that we’re meeting near it today.

Mill was of course a great philosopher, and he was also a great campaigner for secular institutions.  The first great secularist campaign was in fact the campaign for a secular education system in the nineteenth century, and Mill was at the heart of that campaign.  I’d like to quote from a speech which Mill made to a meeting of the National Educational League in 1870.  This was the year when the first Education Bill was going through parliament, to set up a national school system, and the Bill proposed to keep Church schools at the heart of that system, alongside the new Board schools.

Mill was furious.  He welcomed the fact that new secular schools would be set up, but he said of the Church schools:

Teachers are still to be employed and paid by the entire community to teach the religion of a part.  A more effectual plan could scarcely have been devised by the strongest champion of ecclesiastical ascendancy for enabling the Church of England to educate children in their religion at the expense of the public.

That’s the crazy situation which we’re still grappling with.  We’re still living with the mess which is the legacy of the botched 1870 Education Act.  Not only do we still have a school system in which public funding pays for Church schools, but their number is actually growing.  The Bishop of Oxford, Bishop John Pritchard, who is the Chair of the Church of England Board of Education, recently wrote:

Our Church schools are at the heart of our mission… If we seize the moment, we could be embedding the Christian story back into the life of our nation in a way that we haven’t been able to do for some decades… We can grow our influence through our schools.

And they still expect us to pay for it.  Mill would have been horrified.

I want to take you back to 1870 and to Mill’s speech again.  Mill went on:

We are told that in places where the Dissenters are strongest it will be they and not the Church that will be enabled to teach their own doctrines at other people’s expense.  As if an injustice in one place were cured by an injustice in another.

And again that’s the situation we’re still in, but now on an even bigger scale, because we now have a school system in which there are schools which teach kids to be good Muslims, and schools which teach kids to be good Jews, and schools which teach kids to be good Hindus – and all at the public expense.  And again, an injustice in one place is not cured by injustice in other places.

There’s one other telling phrase which Mill uses in his speech.  In 1870 some members of the Church of England were arguing that if the government refused to fund Church schools, this would violate the consciences of those who believed that children should be brought up to be good Christians.

Mill responded:

The rights of conscience do not extend to imposing our own conscience on somebody else.  When a man tells me his conscience requires that other people shall have his religious teaching whether they like it or not, I tell him that he is not asserting his freedom of conscience, but trampling on that of other people.

And this still applies not only to the funding of Church schools but to so many other aspects of our campaign for a secular Europe.  We say to these people with their aggressive consciences, which trample on the consciences of others:

If your conscience forbids you to seek assisted dying, OK – but don’t impose your conscience on other people.

If your conscience forbids you to have an abortion, OK – but don’t impose your conscience on other people.

If your conscience forbids you to have gay sex, OK – but don’t impose your conscience on other people.

And don’t demand that, for the sake of your conscience, you should have privileged exemptions from the Equality Laws so that you can continue to discriminate against gay people.

What a tragedy it is that we’re still fighting Mill’s battles.

What a tragedy it is that we’re still fighting for a secular education system, one in which all pupils are taught to think for themselves, instead of schools where pupils are inducted into one particular religion and the rest of us are expected to pay for it.

What a tragedy it is that we’re still fighting for a world in which freedom of religion and belief means freedom for ALL religions and beliefs, not freedom for some to impose their beliefs and consciences on other people.

So, John Stuart Mill, I’m sorry that we haven’t done better.  I’m sorry that we haven’t made greater progress.  But we will take heart from your clarity of vision.  We will take inspiration from your example.  And we promise that we will go on working for a society in which no religion or belief has special privileges, a society of freedom and equality for all.

Richard Norman

London, 15th September 2012

(Professor Richard Norman is a member of the Humanist Philosophers.)

Robin Ince: The biggest enemy of bigotry is to mix with the people that other people are trying to make you bigoted against

Robin Ince, Comedian and BHA Distinguished Supporter, at the March & Rally for a Secular Europe 2012. Photo by: Mary Grove. http://www.facebook.com/mary.grove3

A Ghastly Secularist Writes Some Awful Words About the Oppression of Equality

another overly lengthy blog post that is me reflecting on a few things inspired by the fear of having to make a speech at a pro-secularism march 

This weekend I had to make a speech at the Secular Europe march. I worry about doing such things. Even though comedians are meant to have a desire to play Hamlet and seem wise underneath the jester garb, something inside me (my brain I presume, as there aren’t really any other organs that conjure up guilt and then mull over it) makes me feel awkward at taking to a stage with serious purpose and on a bill of people who really know what they are talking about. I became a comedian precisely because I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Something between my inability to say no and my great big ego means I usually say yes, then I stand edgily on the pavement watching a succession of people deliver fine speeches and talk of extraordinary experiences and wonder if chutzpah and jazz hands will be enough to get me through.

When I mentioned the Secular Europe march a few days beforehand, I was surprised how many people had misinterpreted what modern secularism entails. My viewpoint is that secularism defends the freedom to worship but is against religious privilege. I see it as another step towards equality, though the way its ideas are mangled by its opposition it has been seen as a bigotry, that ghastly bigotry of equality.

The bigotry of equality is what has snapped at the heels of those journalists and jocks that whine on about how “the most oppressed group now is the straight white, middle class male”. This oppression, and as a white middle class male I have felt the lead sledgehammer thwacks of it, is not being quite as privileged as before. Your privileges, earnings and access to opportunities is still more than most, but not quite as much more than most, and that is so unfair, before you know it you’ll be on the same level as the gays, the women and the blacks, and that can’t be right because you’re the sort of person a few generations ago would have been giving orders to shoot at some unarmed rabble wanting bread or salt.

I wore my intellect on my sleeve on the journey to the rally by going to the wrong but of pavement the wrong side of central London. I then swore across town, my curse words distracting tourists from the architecture and guardsmen of London they were ogling.

I heard a series of powerful speeches on suffering, oppression and the importance of freedom of expression for all and enjoyed seeing amongst the banners a balloon with “down with this sort of thing” painted on it. I had gathered my thoughts on a piece of paper and here are a few of the things I said or intended to say, I’m not sure, I get rather carried away in the moment.

The enemy of civilization is neither secularism nor faith it is thoughtlessness. We are blessed and cursed with brains so big we have to come out of the womb way too early to avoid killing our mothers and then start from a lowly position of gurgling incompetent while other animals pop out, shake off that amniotic fluid and go for a gallop in a meadow. While most animals are hardwired and ready for much of what will be thrown at them by nature, we learn, and via learning we shape our environment rather than fit into it as it is. With these brains, we have the ability to question, if we fail to do that, if we look for a high priest or elder to do our thinking for us, to instruct us and manipulate us, then we are failing to live up to our potential. “it’s not my fault, I was told to do this” is not a good enough alibi. As Stanley Milgram showed us, we can be manipulated into outrageous even murderous situations by the overbearing authority figure that we fear.

It is not enough to say I believe it because God or Christopher Hitchens or asome Mahirishi told me.

We have evolved to be capable of free thinking, your brain heavy skull caused your mother to go through agony at birth, in memory of her pain, use its contents as fully as you can. Before going on a rampage of violence and carnage because some dicks made a film, stop for a moment and think, “hang on, it’s just a film. I don’t like what it says, but it is just a film. I think I might take the handkerchief out of the bottle and put the petrol down”

I then went on about evidence based thinking for a while as gesticulated wildly.

As for faith schools, unsurprisingly I am against them. The arguments that they are providing better education (and there is pro and anti evidence for this) seems no argument at all, if faith schools are doing better then the answer is not more faith schools, it is fighting to improve all our schools. Everyone in a local area need to get involved, good schools improve the lives of everyone, this is no time to sit back and blame the teachers while sinking into your armchair, we have to stop undervaluing education and those who provide it. One of the major reasons I am against faith schools is not fear of indoctrination or creationist education, I know enough rationalists and atheist who have come out of Catholic schools, but that faith schools create another wall between communities. I was arguing with a friend who believes Muslim schools are the right way forward but also spends much of his time complaining people don’t understand Islam. We won’t gain understanding by putting the Muslims in the Muslim school, the Jewish in the Jewish schools, the Anglicans in the Anglican schools and so on. One of the greatest weapons against bigotry and intolerance is experience and interaction – the propagandists and the rabble rousers may tell you about the Gays or the Jamaicans or the Hindus or the tall or the short or the gothic, but if you have mixed with them, if you know people socially, you can question that. “you say all Belgians are like that, but the ones I know have never kept a boy in a well or cooked cats”. We are told “the multicultural experiment has failed”, I am not even sure it has really begun. In living memory, Bed and Breakfast places could still have a “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” above their buzzer. I fear faith schools will eventually aid divisions that some or only to keen to inflame.

Then there was gay marriage…

I have already seen people with straight faces complain that society is now prejudiced against the homophobe , “what about the right to discriminate, eh?”

If you are against gay marriage; why? The Christian Concern man on the TV said it was because it was against his God’s words, but I wonder if he could honestly declare that nothing in his life goes against God’s words. And if it doesn’t he must live a multiple personality life like Sally Field’s Sybil because you can’t be true to all God’s words without facing conflict from snack choices to wife stoning, it would be a busy day for the men people who live in the mind of Mr Christian Concern. When did the occasional homosexual mentions become the central theme of The Bible and why did Jesus forget to mention it? I am sure there are still not enough people doing as they would be done by to get down to the small print stuff.

Some say gay marriage devalues marriage. Surely the only thing that might devalue your marriage is your behaviour within it. How does my marriage change if same sex marriages are legalized? What is the fear – “well it was very embarrassing, I told someone I was married and of course they immediately thought I was gay”. If you are worried marriage is being debased, look at some of the people getting married every Saturday. Only the other week I saw an awful woman marry a ghastly man, doesn’t that devalue marriage? The rot set in when the awful and ghastly started marrying, there’s nothing we can do about it now.

“The last thing I want is those gays having increased stability in their relationships and a greater suggestion of commitment, it will ruin my sense of disgust as I imagine  their vicarious and bacchanalian lifestyle I have been told of.

If you don’t want a gay marriage, you  won’t be forced to have one.

Someone else argued with me that the west and its soulless depravity was a flamboyant display of the failure of secularism. I suggested they look back to when we were a truly Christian society (there’s still quite a few bauble of faith dangling in system anyway) and see how much better it was then. Then the church going, God fearing elite were happily exploiting or ignoring any piteous child or similar member of the underclass, left to live in squalor and sold a dream that if they put up with the squalor on this go, when they died there would be a smashing place for them, so don’t make a scene now. Ealing comedies are not documentary evidence of our previous lifestyles.

The most ancient of criticisms is “how can you have morality if there’s no god.”

At the mention of that, the audience groaned, many of them clearly having had that thrown at them before. Before the worthy point the finger at the atheists, perhaps they should look to themselves and wonder how can there have been so little morality when there is God. How can any Catholic church leader declare there is no morality without god when such immorality has been committed by the very organizers of worship I presume in the sight of their god.

Here is another argument for the loss of privilege, for self-questioning and free thinking to be used to its full. Crimes within religion can occur and can be covered up because the congregation respect and fear their leaders. Certain people were given a level of power and respect which allowed them to do whatever they wished with no consequences. If it all became too much, they could just be moved to another parish. It is not a pleasant watch, but the document Deliver us From Evil shows one story of how power allows you to corrupt.

With the revelations of just how complicit senior figures in the catholic church were in sexual abuse cover up, I am, naively of course, perplexed that Cardinal O Brien believes he is still able to take some moral high ground with the reading out of letter in all Scottish Catholic churches which criticizes the Scottish parliaments position on gay marriage. I think the sorting out of non consensual sex would take moral priority over consensual declarations of love, but I am odd that way.

Such oppressive leadership by fear and epaulettes is not merely the domain of the religious; communism, fascism and any other dogmatic systems seek to shut down free thinking and incarcerate those who question it.

Healthy societies should encourage questions and public scrutiny, not fear them. I think it was Howard Zinn who said that governments fear a healthy, well-educated and interested population; they are much harder to manipulate.

A proper secular society gives people rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. It is not a threat to anyone of faith, unless their mission is to ensure their faith and their people are superior to all others and deserve rights above all others not of their persuasion. There will always be those who think some people are more equal than others.

Damn  it, I think I might be some sort of utilitarian.

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” John Stuart Mill

and of course, I ended with this

Robin Ince | 16 September 2012

 

TOUR FOOTNOTE

My tour continues, next up Exeter, Brighton, Lincoln, Oxford as well as an angry show at Norwich. All dates here

Terry Sanderson: in Europe we are ready for secularism, politicians should lose their fear of religious leaders

National Secular Society's President Terry Sanderson

Terry Sanderson’s speech to the Secular Europe Rally
London, 15 September 2012

If you’ve seen the newspapers this morning or the TV news, you won’t need me to make the case for secularism.

I have to admit, though, that neither secularism nor anything else could have controlled the insanity that has swept the Middle East and beyond over the past few days. There is religious madness involved, but also religious manipulation. This is as much about power-seeking as it is about offence at a film.

These Islam-dominated nations have a long way to go before secularism – as we understand it – even becomes a remote possibility, but in Europe we are ready.

The people – when they are asked – say that they don’t want religion to interfere in politics. They don’t want priests in parliament. They don’t want the pope’s vision of the world. And yet politicians of all hues still indulge the would-be theocrats.

The Vatican is accorded ridiculous influence in the institutions of the European Union. It is undemocratic and there is no justification for it. But whenever an issue arise of what they see as “conscience” (and we would regard as of human rights) their voice prevails above everyone else’s.

We in Europe are ready and prepared for gay marriage. Many nations already have it and the terminal consequences that the Vatican and the Church of England predict did not come to pass.

A woman’s right to abortion is secure almost everywhere in Europe – except in those nations still dominated by the Catholic Church.

In stem cell research, in the right to unfettered access to contraception, in the matter of choosing our own moment to die – in all these issues the churches seek to impose their doctrines by law on not just their congregations, but on everyone.

It is time now for politicians to lose their fear of religious leaders, to accept that they can’t corral their followers into a voting bloc, and to give the people what they want – a peaceful, tolerant and progressive society.

We will never have such a society while politically-motivated religious bodies are permitted to call the shots.

Secularism is the answer. Of course religion and religious believers have a place in a democratic society, but that place must not be privileged above anyone else’s.

Secularism can underpin democracy to bring fairness and justice to everyone, without fear or favour. Make sure you take every opportunity to make that case.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society. London, Saturday 15th September 2012 

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