Category: European Union

Josh Kutchinsky: What is wrong with a Secular Europe?

Josh Kutchinsky is a trustee of the British Humanist Association and the Secretary of the Central London Humanists

Nothing.
What could be wrong with a secular Europe?
It would be a Europe where your right to your religion or belief is respected.

Here is what it says in the European Convention (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms):

“Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes  freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with     others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching,  practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as     are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
(note: Sorry about the ‘his’  in the first paragraph but this document was drafted a long time ago in the year of my birth,  1950.)

Most European countries are signed up to the Convention. So, you may ask, what am I concerned about?
Well, actually at present 47 Countries have signed up and there are some non-European countries with observer status and one non-country. Guess the non-country? Yes. The Holy See !  see also this article.
Much of Russia is in Europe and it is not a signatory.
Belarus is not a signatory and neither is Kosova or Macedonia.
But point 2 of article 9 does provide something of a get-out-of-jail clause. Who is to decide on these matters?  The answer is, that as with any human institution (and I don’t know of any other!), these are political projects always and inevitably in a state of revision. There are political forces in many countries who would like to revise the Convention so as to allow certain sorts of bigotry and prejudice to rule. Others, like some in the UK, are even floating the idea of withdrawing from the convention altogether.

Don’t those who object to secular states have any point at all?
Of course some may do, but as far as I can see, this is invariably because they subvert the meaning of the word.  They may be misled by how authoritarian and non-democratic regimes have used the word. As far as I know there have been no brutal regimes which have been ‘secular’ in the sense of making no distinction between the  religion or belief of their citizens in their treatment of them.
Others demand the right to discriminate and the right to influence public policy by means of  privileged access to the seats of power. They argue that they are the purveyors and guardians of a universal morality, which is mystically truly objective  and grounded in the obscure nature of a supreme deity.
It is their manner to often be obtuse and mendacious. For example, they equate secular with material wealth, and with an anything goes mentality. They equate secular with atheist. They equate abortion (and contraception) with murder. They equate sex and relationship education with promiscuity and licentiousness. They equate secular with a  particular political system, usually of the so called ‘left’, socialism or communism. They equate secular with a philosophy capable of determining right from wrong, and so on.
Some claim that their religion has provided the  foundations of our societies and that they are therefore entitled to protect, for example, Holy Christendom  from contamination and expropriation. They, the true believers, are the hosts and the rest of us are  the guests. In countries where they think immigrants and those of other religions have been treated well, they see those who pursue a secular agenda as ungrateful and non-patriotic.

So what would a Secular Europe look like?
Countries can have their own political systems. It is difficult though to imagine how an authoritarian  dictatorship could provide the checks and balances required to  ensure true secularity i.e. the  equitable treatment by the state  of all people regardless of their religion or belief  and ensuring that no religion or belief organisation is given privileged access to the state or to power within it.  It takes little imagination to realise that there must be a single legal system with, within its jurisdiction, one law for all. The law must also be subject to some form of constitutional guarantee of the citizen’s rights – this can be achieved, in part,  by signing up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention. A free press and an an independent judiciary are also clearly necessary. The exact nature of these institutional arrangements are always under development. There is a sort of experiment going on. It is highly unlikely that, in the near future, there is any one system that will suit all. But as has already been said secularity does not dictate the system it just sets certain parameters which must be respected.

If you agree with me, then you need to make your voice heard. Join us in the Secular Europe Campaign  There is a focus on human rights because without respect for human rights there can be no Secular Europe in which the rights of all are respected.
On Saturday 14th September the Central London Humanists are organising this year’s March and Rally for a Secular Europe -  If you can’t make it then please try and spread the word and indicate your support
If you are a tweeter you could tweet the following – Join the Secular Europe March. Be seen be heard be Secular. 14th Sept 2013. Equal rights for all #SECM2013 http://tinyurl.com/SECM2013

Mention it on your facebook page and in other social media.

Here are some quick links
Event page on facbook:http://tinyurl.com/FB-SECM2013
Event page on Meetup:http://tinyurl.com/MU-SECM2013

Support a Secular Europe and a secular world – you know it makes sense!

Josh Kutchinsky | The lunchtime observers | 29 August 2013

EU: The European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning Russian homophobic censorship law

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning Russian MPs for passing a draconian homophobic censorship law, with Labour MEP Michael Cashman saying “hate speech” from President Putin and others has resulted in the “barbaric killing of gay men”.

Several violent homophobic killings have taken place in Russia since the start of 2013 – the most recent involving a 39-year-old man in a village on the Kamchatka.

On the 13th of June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the “anti-propaganda” law voted in Russia’s federal Duma earlier that week.

It fines anyone organising a gay pride event or giving information about LGBT issues to those under the age of 18.

Members of the European Parliament noted that “[Russian] federal authorities have done nothing to stop discriminatory legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ from coming into effect in nine regions of Russia”.

The Parliament said it was “deeply concerned by the negative consequences of the adoption of a federal law on ‘homosexual propaganda’, which could increase discrimination and violence against LGBTI individuals”.

The Council of Europe also condemned Russia’s new laws, which unduly restrict free speech in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that these laws breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia.

Michael Cashman, the British Labour MEP and co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, said: “hate speech from Putin and others had resulted in the barbaric killing of gay men”.

“This is unacceptable and uncivilised. The EU must continue to systematically express its strongest opposition to laws that restrict freedom of expression”, the MEP added.

The Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek MEP, who is also co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, said: “Not a month passes without Russia becoming less and less of a democracy. In addition to the propaganda law, the ‘Foreign Agents’ law also places undue pressure on NGOs.”

“Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev are the most dangerous same-sex couple in Europe these days; the EU and the Council of Europe need to up the pressure against Russia after these terrible laws are passed.”

Pink News | Scott Roberts | 14 June 2013

EU: landmark ruling of the European Court of Human Rights

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society.

 BHA applauds European Court of Human Rights in upholding equality and human rights principles against false ‘Christian Persecution’ cases

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has published its judgements in the cases of Chaplin v. the United Kingdom, Eweida v. the United Kingdom, Ladele v. the United Kingdom and McFarlane v. the United Kingdom. The court found in favour only of Nadia Eweida the former British Airways employee. The applicants, four practicing Christians, complain that domestic law failed to adequately protect their right to manifest their religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has applauded the ECtHR for ‘applying the right principles’ to the cases – principles of equality and human rights, and for dismissing three of the cases of alleged discrimination.

The cases involve:

Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to conduct same-sex partnerships because of her religion;
Gary McFarlane, who refused to treat gay couples equally with straight ones in his job as a counsellor at Relate because of his religion;
Shirley Chaplin, who refused an offer of wearing her cross on a pin and demanded to wear it on a chain, in spite of her employer saying this was dangerous in nursing;
Nadia Eweida, who demanded the right to wear a cross visibly in spite of a uniform code specifying no jewellery.
In all but the case of Eweida, the ECtHR found that the individuals’ human right to freedom of religion had not been unlawfully inhibited.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The European Court applied exactly the same tests and measures that we have been advocating for years. They asked the question “Will this manifestation of a person’s religion interfere with the rights of others?” In three out of the four cases they found it would and rightly dismissed them.

‘These cases have been repeatedly lost in court after court and have wasted an enormous amount of time just as they have generated a huge amount of unnecessarily divisive feeling amongst the public. The victim narrative that lies behind them, whipped up by the political Christian lobby groups that organise them and the socially conservative media that report them, has no basis in reality. The widespread misreporting of these cases under the guise of “Christian persecution” when they are anything but has undermined the chance of the public to get a really clear understanding of what the issues engaged by these cases really are.

‘What they describe as discrimination and marginalisation of Christians is in fact the proper upholding of human rights and equalities law and principles – principles which protect all people against unfair treatment – and we are pleased that the court has recognised this. All reasonable people will agree that there is scope in a secular democracy for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs when that accommodation does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. But if believers try to invoke their beliefs as a defence for treating other people badly – denying them a service because they are gay or claiming a right to preach at them in a professional context – the law is right to prevent them. It’s not persecution of Christians; it’s the maintenance of a civilised society for all.’

Notes

The BHA will be available for comment once the judgments are published. For comment and to arrange interviews please contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on             07534 258596       or at andrew@humanism.org.uk or BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on             0773 843 5059       or at pavan@humanism.org.uk.

Read the ECtHR’s full judgement: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/001-115881

Read the ECtHR’s press release: http://udoc.echr.coe.int/webservices/content/pdf/003-4221189-5014359

British Humanist Association | 15th January 2013

NSS welcomes European Court of Human Rights ruling on ‘religious discrimination’ cases

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected three of the four landmark cases of alleged religious discrimination in the workplace. It upheld one case, Eweida v. the United Kingdom, in which Nadia Eweida claimed that uniform policy violated her human rights as a Christian. In this instance the court ruled that her employer, British Airways, failed to correctly balance her right to manifest her religion with their right to project a corporate image.
In all four cases Christian applicants complained that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. The ruling, while protecting the right to manifest religion at work, makes clear that these rights must be balanced against rights of others.
The National Secular Society was the only organisation that intervened to support the UK Government (pdf) to argue that all four cases of Eweida, Chaplin, Ladele and McFarlane were correctly dismissed by the UK courts. The European Court of Human Rights has today largely upheld those decisions.
Reacting to the landmark ruling, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:
“First and foremost, this ruling demonstrates that UK equality law is fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and that there is no need to change UK law. Any attempt to do so by the Government would therefore signal a clear desire to give privileged treatment to religious believers, and would be robustly challenged.
“In the cases of the registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships and the counsellor who wouldn’t counsel gay couples – the principle of non-discrimination against gay people has been upheld. If they had won these cases, it would have driven a coach and horses through the equality laws. The rights of gay people to fair and equal treatment would have been kicked back by decades.
“It is always better if employers can reach some kind of accommodation with their staff on these issues, and in the vast majority of cases, they do. But when employees refuse to carry out the duties that their job entails, it is reasonable for employers to discipline them. Religious people who feel elements of their job go against their conscience can always find employment that better matches their needs. That is true religious freedom.
“In the case of Eweida, it is a very limited victory which simply means that if employers want to prevent an employee wearing religious symbol for corporate image purposes, they must prove that their image is negatively affected by such manifestations of belief. In the case of Chaplin we are pleased that the court has acknowledged that employers are better placed than the court to decide if jewellery is a health and safety risk and did not support the idea of blanket permission to wear religious symbols in the workplace.”
Read the ruling in full: JUDGMENT – CASE OF EWEIDA AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM
Watch Keith Porteous Wood explaining why the NSS intervened in all four cases

National Secular Society | 15th January 2013

Italy: Foreign Affairs Minister must defend free speech and secularism

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Terzi asked to penally prosecute those offending religions...

 

22 September 2012

Italian ministers, and especially Foreign Affairs ministers, have had us used to disparaging nonbelievers. Two years ago Franco Frattini, minister under the last Berlusconi government, said that “atheism, materialism and relativism are perverse phenomena characterized by intolerance that undermine society”. A few days ago his successor, Terzi, commented on the facts surrounding the cartoons published on Charlie Hebdo, showing once more, as if it were necessary, how the current technical Monti goverment is tied to the Catholic Church.

 

Read below UAAR’s reaction :

(UAAR is the largest Italian humanist association)

 

Minister Terzi,

 

It came to our attention that, while discussing the publication of the cartoons on Charlie Hebdo, you talked of “irresponsible sensationalisms” that “provokes the believers”, of “great sensitivities that must be respected”, of the necessity to “penally prosecute those offending religions”. Because “nobody must be allowed to mock these values and joke on them”.

Yours are very weighty declarations, and in a way they are not new: in the past you expressed in favour of “Christian values” and of recognizing the “Christian roots” of Europe. But they still represent a definite step.

Certainly not forward. Don’t you realize, Minister, that with your declarations you are, to put it bluntly, throwing away two centuries of civil, secular and democratic achievements, not to mention the international declarations on human rights our country signed? Don’t you realize, Minister, that the freedom to voice one’s opinion is the very foundation of our civilization?

We didn’t read any declarations of yours (did we miss them?) defending the atheists that, in Tunisia, Egypt, Indonesia and other Islamic countries, have been incarcerated for expressing their opinion, even though such incarcerations have been justified on the same basis as the detentions that, in the same countries, punished Christians. But lo! in those cases your voice was high and loud in condemnation. Now we understand: you do in fact propound the legitimacy of those incarcerations. Double standards.

We remind you that atheists, agnostics and humanists, who make up a significant portion of the Italian population, are frequently the object of slander on the part of the Church hierarchies: you can read some of that here: http://www.uaar.it/ateismo/dicono-di-noi. And yet they are not used to assailing churches and embassies: a host of studies agree in showing that they are in fact more respectful than believers towards minorities and of human rights. Unlike the majority of believers, we do not ask for the freedom of those who think differently from us to be revoked. We just demand that to equal obligations do correspond equal rights. Which you seem to want to deny us

We do not know if your words proceed from white-hot clericalism or just a faint heart. Still they are definitely out of place on the lips of minister of a secular Republic. We hope you won’t be so inconsiderate as to have our country join an international Sacred Alliance with freedom-killing nations. We firmly invite you to respect our constitutional charter on which you swore.

Raffaele Carcano, UAAR Secretary | 22nd September 2012

 

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 

March for a Secular Europe tomorrow: be there!

Human rights are in danger all over Europe – threatened by religious interference in politics. As our own Government threatens to “do God” on a big scale, we must let them know that we won’t tolerate any interference in the lives of those who don’t share, or won’t share, their religious beliefs.

We must not stand by and watch religious doctrine written into law. This march and rally through the streets of London (and Kraków and Russia) is an opportunity to make our voices heard. Full details about the route and joining points and timings. Be there!

 

Kraków: https://www.facebook.com/events/383008128433433/
London: http://www.facebook.com/events/307451025970582/
Russia: http://www.humanism.ru/

“Join the march and rally against religious attacks on human rights. All across Europe, religious leaders are orchestrating campaigns against equality for women and LGBT people,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“Most UK religious leaders oppose same-sex marriage. They support legal discrimination against same-sex couples. Some faith organisations ban women clergy and bishops. Others oppose divorce, contraception, abortion, donor insemination, embryo research and adoption by same-sex couples. Several have been involved in child sex abuse and the cover-up of these crimes against children.

“Cardinal O’Brien in Scotland has stirred homophobic prejudice and intolerance by comparing gay marriage to slavery and by denouncing marriage equality as “grotesque” and as an “aberration” that will lead to society “degenerating” into “immorality”.

“Saturday’s protest demands an end to religious privilege and to religious exemption from the equality laws. We support women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBT rights & all human rights.

“While we defend the human rights of all believers and non-believers, it cannot be right that faith organisations have special rights and privileges in law.

“It is not compatible with democracy for the Church of England to be the official state religion and for 26 of its bishops to sit automatically in the House of Lords, with the ability to influence legislation. This is an insult to people of other faiths and to those with no faith at all,” he said.

March & Rally in London

Assembly13:30 Storey’s Gate

March:  14:00-15:00  Storey’s Gate, Parliament Square, Bridge Street, Embankment

Rally:  15:00-17:00 Surrey Street (Temple Place)

CONFIRMED SPEAKERS:

  • Robin Ince, Comedian and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Chris French, Skeptic and Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths University
  • Warren Ellis, Writer and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
  • Joan Smith, Journalist
  • Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director, United Sikhs
  • Richard Norman, Philosopher
  • Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
  • Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
  • Antony Lempert, Secular Medical Forum Chair
  • Adam Knowles, Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association
  • Nahla Mahmood, Council of ex-Muslims of Britain and One law for All
  • Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe
  • Maurizio Turco MP, Italian Radicals

 

Male circumcision: in defence of the child

Parents who have their sons circumcised risk criminal prosecution in countries like Germany. Under some circumstances, religious practices aren't part of the private sphere.

Discussions of male circumcision have been heated, and have clearly showed the vault lines between the different camps. When worlds collide, an amicable solution that pleases all interested parties is virtually impossible. This is especially true in the case of circumcision, which now transcends the concrete question and has been turned into a more general debate about the role of religion (and religious symbols) in a modern and secular society. In addition to circumcision, the permissibility of crucifixes in schools or the prohibition of the veil are also up for discussion.

Religion is a private matter that must not be interfered with by the state. The liberal state guarantees that everyone is free to choose their own religion, practice it, and is protected from discrimination in the basis of his or her religious affiliation of beliefs. This is the outcome of a long reform process in Europe: without the age of Englightenment, we might still be embarking on crusades or burning witches at the stake. But many orthodox interpretations of religion – whether they are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim – don’t accept modern views. This helps to explain the strong reactions against circumcision, which is regarded not as an understandable religious act but as an affront against free will and as a relict of pre-Enlightenment thought.

It’s also possible to consider circumcision in light of existing laws from a criminological or legal perspective. Some facts are clear: circumcision represents an irreversible interference with the bodily integrity of the child. It is performed on boys at an age when they are too young to freely decide about the procedure or their religious affiliation.

Circumcision is not only painful and poses certain medical risks, it also results in a changed physical appearance. Experiences of pediatricians and psychotherapists indicate that circumcised boys are sometimes traumatized by the procedure and continue to suffer from it for the rest of their lives. Every fifth circumcision still results in medical complications, even when performed in a proper manner. A German provincial court has recently ruled that male circumcision was impermissible, and partially based its argument on the case of a four-year old boy who suffered from serious complications after a properly performed procedure.

From a legal perspective, religious circumcision amounts to bodily harm, comparable to other forms of physical assault that are usually spelled out in the penal code. From a legal perspective, it does not matter whether an attack was carried out using a baseball bat or a scalpel. Some scholars even argue that circumcision should be classified as “serious assault” under the German penal code, a move that would imply a prison term of up to ten years in serious cases, and up to five years in less serious cases. The relatively high prison terms illustrate how highly valued bodily integrity is before the law.

Since children – especially babies and infants – cannot consent to procedures that would violate their right to bodily integrity, the right to consent is legally vested in the parents or guardians of the child. But they cannot legally consent to any procedure: violations of bodily integrity are permissible only insofar as they benefit the child (for example, the consent to have vital surgery performed on the child).

In the case of circumcision, this is only the case when a persuasive medical reason exists to justify the procedure. German law does not permit violations of bodily integrity that serve the freedom of religion of the parents. Freedom of religion is limited by strong considerations of the rights of the child. Under this framework, tradition cannot suffice as a justification for the violation of important rights – a legal interpretation that was affirmed in 2000, when a court ruled that physical punishment of children was illegal even in places where it had historically been carried out on a routine basis. Physical punishments, psychological torments, and other degrading measures are impermissible as educational tools. Even if the German parliament passed a law to allow male circumcision, the Constitutional Court would be likely to reverse it.To make it clear: those parents who opt to have their sons circumcised in Germany today are risking criminal prosecution. This does not mean – as some voices from the Jewish and Muslim communities have charged – that the country is intolerant, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic. Those arguments are shortsighted or simply false: a discussion of male circumcision is occurring in many other countries as well. Some have moved to prohibit the practice, while others have not yet reached a conclusion and will look to Germany for future guidance.

Children cannot protect themselves. Thus, it is the responsibility of the community to offer protection. The prohibition of male circumcision isn’t a sign of anti-religious hostility but of a commitment to the rights of the child.

The European | André Schulz | 10.09.2012

Secular Spring (Why We Should March for a Secular Europe)

Knowing that all people are born equal entails certain responsibilities, including allowing others the freedom to choose their religion (or absence thereof). Traditionally, secularists protected religion from the state. As it often does, this evolving dynamic has recently presented new challenges: Islamic extremism, the U.S.A.’s Christian Right, and the revival of old issues such as the Catholic lobbying of European governments.

A proper analysis of European secularity, and its value, must begin with an exposition of the greater context. Religious influence of government has a long history, one that posterity does not look fondly upon. Whilst one must keep in mind that totalitarian regimes have often used their religiosity (or lack thereof) for political purposes, we cannot ignore the occasions when religion has inspired discrimination and subjugation.

As far back as the earliest civilisations, established religion has justified the prevalent hierarchy. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and Roman Emperors were deities, due unyielding loyalty. In the cradle of civilisation, the early Sumerians married the state and church in a fusion which made religious structures the foci of the first cities. The Chinese emperors possessed the Mandate of Heaven, and surmounting the Indian caste system were the Brahmin.

Proto-Enlightenment ideals were born in ancient Greece, with the advent of Athenian democracy and the materialist schools of thought. This movement, after the spread of Christianity, hibernated in the Middle East during the Islamic Golden Age and was preserved by monastic orders.

In the centuries that followed the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the discovery of the New World lived the first Enlightenment thinkers. John Locke, David Hume, and Thomas Paine were some of the people that challenged the role religion had traditionally played in medieval Christendom. Instead of believing that the Divine Right of Kings was the foundation of leadership, ideas like the will of the people entered the public consciousness.

So, instead of viewing secular governance as the orthodoxy, it is important that we who wish to defend it recognise its status as a radical notion. Dwarfed by the number of years mankind has lived under ‘godly rule’, like a child its youth makes it vulnerable and due protection. As the popular maxim states, “freedom isn’t free”.

Even now, there are those who wish to open free schools under Michael Gove’s new policies that replace evolutionary biology with young earth creationism in science classes. As a percentage of British state schools in 2011,19% of secondary institutions and 37% of primary institutions are faith schools.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly attempted to cover up, or shelter the perpetrators of, paedophilic crimes committed by its clergy. Not to mention the support the Catholic Church is lending,and has lent, to political parties around the world that have right-wing social agenda.

As has already been made clear attacks on secularity have not been restricted to Britain, or Europe. Very recently the 4-day GOP convention came to a close, one that showcased a theistic rhetoric unbecoming of the second largest party in the world’s most powerful democracy.

Of course women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of non-heterosexuals, are not just subverted in the United States. Russian legislation has outlawed ‘pro-homosexual’ language, not to mention the fact that in Near Eastern and African theocracies (Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.). homosexuality can earn someone the death penalty. This is all on top of the infamous human rights abuses we’ve all heard of, banning women from driving cars and persecuting those who make ‘heretical’ tweets.

If what has already been mentioned isn’t enough, those suffering from HIV as a result of the Catholic propaganda in places such as Africa that forbids contraception, and tax-exempt religious organisations during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression should be enough to spurn people into action.

In the defence of liberty every threat warrants a response, and if that means taking to the streets and marching in the name of a secular Europe, so be it. Secularism, like flora of Spring, has to maintained if it is to survive the opposition that would destroy this experiment of justice and diversity in its infancy.

AHS | Sean Oakley | 8th September 2012

Come out for a secular Europe: for women’s rights!

Please join us on

Saturday, 15th September

for the Secular Europe Campaign Annual March and Rally.

In London, the march is organised in conjunction with the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.

Assembly13:30 Storey’s Gate

March:  14:00-15:00 Storey’s Gate, Parliament Square, Bridge Street, Embankment

Rally:  15:00-17:00 Surrey Street (Temple Place)

 

In Kraków, the March will start at 12.30pm

Start 12:30, location: pl. Wolnica

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/383008128433433/

Further events and details: Kraków for a Secular Europe

Why Campaign for a Secular Europe?

 

Watch the Video

Our Campaign’s  supporters includes over 90 associations from all over Europe including the BHA, NSS, EHF & IHEU

WAR ON WOMENA humanist hero
Below I provide some details of the situtation in Europe in respect to women being able to access abortions.
But let me first tell you about

Dr Henry Morgentaler – Humanist Hero

In 1968, in response to the needs of women, he set up a ‘model abortion clinic’ in Montreal Canada. Between 1973 and 1975 he was prosecuted three times for defying the abortion law; each time, he raised the defence of necessity, and each time he was acquitted. The jury took less time to reach their decision at each trial. By the third occasion they took just one hour! They had refused to enforce a law that they regarded as unjust. They were legally entitled to do this. However the Judiciary appealed and the jury’s decision was overturned.This action was unprecedented.
Henry Morgentaler was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In 1975 the Canadian Parliament amended the law so that an appeals court could not overturn a jury acquittal, but could still order a new trial. This became known as the Morgentaler Amendment. The Quebec government then ordered a new trial. Henry was released to await this trial. He had served ten months and had  suffered a minor heart attack whilst in solitary confinement. It was reported that the Justice Minister for Quebec, Jérôme Choquette, was committed to  prosecuting Morgentaler. In the end the prosecution was dropped as it was clear that no jury would find Henry guilty.

In 1983 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion law ruling that it was unconstitutional. The Justices found that the law violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,which had been incorporated into  Canada’s law in 1982, because it infringed upon a woman’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person.” The decision came approximately 20 years after Dr. Morgentaler first performed an abortion.

The federal government then introduced a resolution to Parliament containing the broad outline of a new gestation-based abortion law. The resolution was defeated, along with five amendments.

Over the years Henry Morgentaler had set up abortion clinics across Canada. Clinics were raided by police. Clinics were firebombed and colleagues have been shot.  He has been prosecuted numerous times.  In the 1980s, a reporter noted that the stack of death threats for a single month was six inches thick.
Efforts to try and curtail or deny women access to abortion continue to this day.

Henry Morgentaler’s heroic fight for the rights of women has been made into a docu-drama
Democracy on Trial: The Morgentaler Affair  http://www.nfb.ca/film/democracy_on_trial

There has also been a feature length TV film “Choice: The Henry Morgentaler Story” – 2003

Humanist Canada‘s first president was Henry Morgentaler.

In an article, “Secular Humanism Versus Christianity”  Morgentaler stated,
I believe people should be made aware that it is possible to develop a life-style and a commitment to human values without the necessity of believing in God or the illusions of immortality. . . . It is this commitment to the values of secular humanism, embodying the desire for justice and a better society, that is the origin of my twenty-year-old struggle for women’s right to safe medical abortions. . . . It is time we all change our attitudes and learn to live in peace and harmony in spite of religious or ideological differences.

THERE IS NO ABORTION LAW IN CANADA – this is as it should be.
[I have read somewhere that there are only two other countries in the world with no  law governing abortion but I haven't been able to find out which they are. Please let me know if you know.]

Canada Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Dickson wrote:

“Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of her security of the person.”


Canada has no law regarding abortion. Abortion is regulated like other medical procedures.


UK BUT NOT INCLUDING Northern Ireland

There is no automatic right to an abortion. For an abortion within the first 24 weeks a woman needs to obtain the consent of two doctors. After 24 weeks an abortion can be carried out only if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk, or she is at risk of grave physical or mental injury or the child, if born, would be handicapped as a result of serious mental or physical abnormalities

So what about NORTHERN IRELAND?
Image of Northern Ireland (unofficial)
An Abortion  is only lawful if there is a real and serious risk to the woman’s mental or physical health and the risk is permanent or long-term. Consequently, many women, if they can afford it, travel to England to obtain a private abortion. They are not entitled to an abortion on the NHS.


Most countries in the European Union allow abortion on demand during the first trimester (up to 12 weeks) but then vary considerable after that time. Often the social climate is very significant. Abortions may be very dificult to access even when the law allows it. See ITALY below.

&
MALTA & ANDORRA
Abortion is illegal on any grounds
The Secular Europe Campaign is supported by

&
POLAND & IRELAND
According to the World Health Organisation
In Poland and Ireland, legal abortion is severely limited in availability.

The Secular Europe Campaign is is supported by

NOTE People will be protesting this Saturday  in Cracow (Poland’s second largest city) join them by joining us in London.

In most other European countries abortion is available on request but there are conditions which the woman must meet:
see here for more details. You will notice that even where abortion is available on request there are usually conditions attached.
Why should there be such paternalism?
Why should women be treated like children?
Why would a woman choose to have a late abortion?


Note the situation in ITALY

Abortion is theoretically available on request before 12 weeks. A one-week reflection period is imposed unless the situation is one of urgency. A certificate confirming the pregnancy and the request for termination must be issued by a doctor and signed by the woman and the doctor. Parental authorisation is required if the woman is under 18. After 12 weeks, abortion is allowed only if the foetus has a genetic deficiency or to preserve the physical and mental health of the mother. An abortion must be performed in a public hospital or authorised private facility – if there are staff willing to perform the procedure.
The influence of the Roman Catholic Church – and the threat of excommunication for anyone performing an abortion and any woman obtaining an abortion – means the majority of physicians and other healthcare professionals invoke a conscience clause allowing them to be exempted on moral or religious grounds.

I think it is important to understand that if you are a middle or upper class woman with money, or the daughter of parents in this category, there has never been a problem in obtaining a competent medical abortion in almost all countries, even where it is, or was, illegal.
Where there are hoops to go through, or a need to travel, or to stay in a private clinic, money and confidence will win through.

It has always been poor women, often the least well educated and the most ill-informed, who have paid the price of a backstreet or self-induced abortion and the price has often been their lives.

A Secular Europe would not guarantee that women would be treated like adults and allowed to make their own decisions about their own bodies. However it would discourage the sort of clandestine arm twisting by religious organisations who so often are given privileged access to power. It is the more secular countries that have the more liberal abortion laws. There is a concerted campaign to try and roll back these gains and the anti-abortion lobby is predominately religious based and funded.

Remember in the  secular europe for which we are campaigning nobody would be forced to have an abortion. We are the real pro-life people, for we want to see good sex and relationships education, excellent family planning  advice and good availability of contraceptives and the morning-after pill. If  this were to be the case the numbers of abortions would be much reduced.

The War on Women is only one reason to support the Campaign for a Secular Europe.
Others are:

  • State funding of religious schools
  • Blasphemy Laws
  • The privileged status of the churches under Article 17 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union)
  • The special status of the Vatican at the United Nations and its economic and political privileges across Europe

TAKE A FUN STROLL FOR A SECULAR EUROPE THIS SATURDAY
and then listen to a great line up of

CONFIRMED SPEAKERS:

  • Robin Ince, Comedian and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Chris French, Skeptic and Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths University
  • Warren Ellis, Writer and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
  • Joan Smith, Journalist
  • Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director, United Sikhs
  • Richard Norman, Philosopher
  • Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
  • Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
  • Antony Lempert, Secular Medical Forum Chair
  • Adam Knowles, Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association
  • Nahla Mahmood, Council of ex-Muslims of Britain and One law for All
  • Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe
  • Maurizio Turco MP, Italian Radicals

There will be further speakers to be announced soon!

(my sources have been various online articles including wiki and UN pages – )

Central London Humanists | Josh Kutchinsky | 9th September 2012

EU: four UK religious discrimination cases at the European Court of Human Rights

Four controversial British religious discrimination cases are due to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday 4 September 2012. The outcome will have a huge impact on how future equality cases involving religion are determined.

The National Secular Society is the only intervener to argue – along with the Government – that the judgments about wearing crosses at work and refusing on religious grounds to provide services to gay people were correctly dismissed by the UK courts, and the dismissal did not, as the applicants claim, breach their freedom of religion.

The submission was prepared for the NSS by renowned Human Rights barrister Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, assisted by Dr Ronan McCrea of University College London and Max Schaefer of Brick Court.

The cases are brought by Eweida and Chaplin, concerning the wearing of crosses at work and Ladele and McFarlane, both of whom objected on religious grounds to dealing with same sex couples in the same way they would with opposite sex couples. Ladele was a Registrar and McFarlane a Relate counsellor. All four are applying to the European Court of Human Rights claiming that the dismissal of their cases breached their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the UK law must therefore be changed.

We understand that the NSS was the only organisation given leave to intervene that fully supports the UK Government’s view that the UK is not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of these cases.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “Any further accommodation of religious conscience in UK equality law would create a damaging hierarchy of rights, with religion trumping all. Any change to the law to increase religious accommodation stands the risk of seriously undermining UK equality law.

“This is likely to be a landmark case determining the future direction of equality law in the UK, and potentially also in Europe.

“In the cases of Ladele and McFarlane, the rights of gay people are placed at risk if it is decided that ‘reasonable accommodation’ is acceptable when religious people provide (or refuse to provide) services to them. We have argued that such accommodations are humiliating and unacceptable. Such accommodation would not be suggested if the objection were on the basis of race, and it should not be granted on grounds of sexual orientation.

“In the case of the wearing of religious symbols at work — Eweida and Chaplin — we think the English courts reached the correct decisions on the relevant facts.

“We argue strongly that religious conscience should not override uniform policies or health and safety regulations in the workplace. We uphold everyone’s right to manifest their religion and wear religious insignia, but occasionally there may be limited circumstances where the State and private employers will be justified in restricting the display of religious symbols, or indeed, expressions of non-belief, in the interests of protecting the rights of fellow employees, users of public services, and private customers.

“We very much regret the disingenuous and persistent portrayal of the current situation as being a blanket ban on religious symbols in the workplace. As the millions of people who wear a cross to work will testify, there is no such ban, nor should there be such a ban. But it is important that employers maintain their rights to ask their staff to comply with reasonable uniform policies or health and safety regulations. We must at all costs avoid creating a hierarchy of rights with religious rights firmly at the top.”

Read the National Secular Society submission in full

The application numbers of the cases to be heard in the European Court of Human Rights are:

Nadia Eweida & Shirley Chaplin against the United Kingdom (Application numbers 48420/10 and 59842/10) – Statement of facts

Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane against the United Kingdom (Application numbers 51671/10 and 36516/10) – Statement of facts

National Secular Society | 2nd September 2012

Sign up for email updates.

We will not share your details with third parties.




* = required field

Supported by