Category: Health

Germany: rape victim turned away by Catholic hospitals over pregnancy fears

According to Dr Maiworm, the hospital's ethics committee, following consultation with Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner, had decided not to conduct examinations of sexual assault victims Photo: AFP

A rape victim in Germany was turned away by two Catholic hospitals because they might have to advise on what to do with an unwanted pregnancy, a doctor has claimed.

Irmgard Maiworm, an emergency centre doctor, first treated the 25-year-old woman when she walked into the centre in the early hours of December 15 saying that she believed that she had been sedated with a date-rape drug and sexually assaulted.
Dr Maiworm called the neighbouring St Vincent’s Hospital, run by the Catholic Foundation of the Cellites, to arrange a gynaecological examination – but she said doctors “fearful of their jobs” refused the request.
According to Dr Maiworm, the hospital’s ethics committee, following consultation with Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner, had decided not to conduct examinations of sexual assault victims to avoid having to be in the position to recommend options such as the morning-after pill, which run contrary to Catholic teachings.
Another hospital run by the same organisation also refused to help, Dr Maiworm claimed.
“Is repeatedly refusing to treat someone who is probably traumatised the moral thing to do? What kind of morality is this?” the doctor was quoted as saying in the German newspaper Westdeutsche Zeitung. “This, to me, is like the Church of the Middle Ages.”

Stung by the allegations, which have received widespread coverage in the German media, both the Cellites Foundation and the Cologne archdiocese denied Catholic hospitals had been instructed to turn away rape victims.
“We regret very much that the impression has been given to the public that rape victims are no longer able to be treated in Catholic hospitals. That is false,” said the archdiocese in a statement, adding that victims will be given all necessary treatment.
The Cellites Foundation said that a “misunderstanding” had led to the woman being turned away, and that an internal enquiry was underway to find out what had happened.
Dr Maiworm said she had heard of other doctors reporting similar cases, however.
The scandal has generated significant outrage in Germany, and comes at difficult time for the Catholic Church in the country. It has faced recent accusations that it undermined an investigation into sexual abuse at Catholic institutions, and has long been dogged by declining congregation numbers.

The Telegraph | Matthew Day |  18 Jan 2013

Vatican: Philippine birth control law takes effect – but Catholic Church still trying to derail it

Philippine birth control law takes effect


The government is still threshing out how to implement the law, which proponents say will help moderate the nation’s rapid population growth, reduce poverty and bring down high maternal mortality.

But Catholic groups have already shifted their battle to the courts, questioning the law’s constitutionality. The church, which counts 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, disallows the use of artificial contraceptives.

A group of women lining up for contraceptives at a non-governmental organisation’s health centre in a slum area of Manila said the change of law came as a relief.

Housewife Nerissa Gallo, 44, who has already had 16 children, said it would bring contraceptives into the reach of the poor.

She broke into tears as she recalled the difficulty she has faced in raising her children, four of whom died after suffering from diarrhoea.

Asked about the church’s opposition, she said: “We don’t pay attention to that. They are not the ones who are giving birth again and again. We are the ones who have to find a way to care for the children.”

The medical charity Merlin praised the law as a “milestone” but said more efforts were needed to make sure it was properly implemented.

“There is likely to be cultural opposition… led by religious conservatives, which could make it hard for clinics to offer services,” country director, Maxime Piasecki, said in a statement.

President Benigno Aquino signed the bill into law last month in the face of strong lobbying by the Catholic church, and religious leaders have vowed that the fight is not over.

The church is now relying on lay groups that have filed petitions with the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the law, said Roy Lagarde, a spokesman for the country’s Catholic bishops.

The bishops will hold a regular meeting this weekend where measures to oppose the law will be discussed, he added.

The law’s chief author Congressman Edcel Lagman said he was confident the court would uphold the change.

“We have long expected that the opposition will go to the Supreme Court. We have prepared for this eventuality,” he told AFP.

Although took effect as of Thursday, Hazel Chua, an official at the Health Department’s family planning unit, said they were still preparing implementation rules and regulations, which will only be released in April.

Under the law, government health centres will have to have a supply of contraceptives, unlike in the past when local mayors could be intimidated by the church into not providing birth control services, she said.

MSN News | 01/17/2013 15:27 | By Agence France-Presse

Ireland: another abortion scandal emerges

The Irish Government has paid substantial compensation to a woman who was forced to travel abroad for an abortion, despite being terminally ill with cancer.

Michelle Harte, of Co Wexford, sued for violation of her human rights last year. In 2010, after she became unintentionally pregnant while suffering from a malignant melanoma, doctors at Cork University Hospital advised her to terminate her pregnancy because of the risk to her health. Her obstetrician was willing to perform a termination but was “hamstrung” by legal issues. The matter was referred to the hospital’s “ad hoc” ethics committee. which decided against authorising an abortion on the basis that her life was not under “immediate threat”.

Ms Harte has since died from her cancer.

Because of delays caused by her not having a passport and the time it took for the hospital to reach its decision, her condition deteriorated and she was not able to receive cancer treatment because of her pregnancy. Eventually she travelled, with great difficulty, to Britain for the abortion.

Ms Harte’s lawyers then sued the State on her behalf for infringing her rights under the ABC case, in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had breached the human rights of a woman with cancer who had to travel abroad to get an abortion.

National Secular Society | 22 Nov 2012

After Savita’s death, the brutal irony of “pro-life” is exposed

Savita Halappanavar, 31, died of septicaemia a week after being found to be miscarrying while at a Galway hospital. Photograph: Photo Courtesy: The Irish Times

Anti-abortion groups’ response to a young woman’s tragic death in Ireland exposes their scant regard for women’s lives

Anti-abortion campaigners can be callous, but Savita Halappanavar is not the kind of woman they find easy to dismiss. She wanted to have children, and part of the anti-abortion pretence is that mothers are the only women who count, and restricting terminations is good for mothers. In contrast to this fiction, NHS Choices explains how treatment of miscarriage may involve inducing early labour or evacuating the womb contents – in other words, performing an abortion – to prevent infections like that which killed Halappanavar.

Not that you’d have any idea of best practice from reading Youth Defence’s response. The organisation (which professes to be “protecting mothers and babies by keeping abortion out of Ireland”) issued a self-contradictory statement claiming Halappanavar’s death wasn’t due to Ireland’s abortion ban, and anyway, the procedure doctors refused to perform wouldn’t have been an abortion, but instead classed with “interventions to deal with the cause of the illness … not considered a therapeutic termination of pregnancy”.

Live Action News brought out a grasping reiteration of its favourite refrain, “abortion never saves a woman’s life. It just kills a baby.” Writer Josh Craddock determined that Halappanavar’s death could be blamed on the belated delivery of antibiotics, rather than the lengthy exposure to infection caused by leaving her to miscarry over many days. And you can trust him, he’s a doctor. Sorry, not a doctor: a PPE student who had read some newspaper reports on the case.

Craddock also decided that it wasn’t Ireland’s law at fault, but “pro-choice advocates” for “obfuscating between interventions that risk the life of the unborn child and direct abortion”. Perhaps he was getting “pro-choice advocates” confused with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which opposes abortion in all circumstances – including, according to its statement, circumstances in which a woman’s life is imperilled by continuing the pregnancy. *

“Rather than removing the protection of the womb from unborn children, the ethical response to emergency situations in pregnancy is medical treatment of the mother for the conditions causing the emergency,” says SPUC. There’s no acknowledgment that the “protection” referred to is for a woman who may die in the process, possibly because SPUC considers the worthlessness of women to be so self-evident it is unworthy of explanation.

Even more compassionate anti-abortion voices reveal their commitment to a brutal hierarchy of life. While there are many principled pro-choice Catholics, the Catholic Herald follows an anti-abortion editorial line. Its commentary on Halappanavar bemoans “a heretical misreading of Catholic moral law” in her reported treatment – termination should have been permitted once “[i]t was clear that [Halappanavar’s] death would in any case lead to the death of the child”. But note that Halappanavar’s life is subordinate to that of the foetus – according to this formulation, her death would apparently be acceptable if the foetus could survive at her expense. Some people have a funny way of being “pro-life”.

Then there’s Judith Woods in the Telegraph. “What a shameful time to be Irish, Catholic and anti-abortion,” she writes affectingly. “As I’m all three, I hang my head in mortification.” She goes on to explain why she hopes Halappanavar’s case won’t lead to liberalisation in Ireland: “Once you have seen four cells under a microscope in an IVF laboratory and by some miracle witnessed them become an embryo, then a foetus, a baby, a little girl, it is utterly impossible not to believe that life begins at the moment sperm and egg fuse.”

If Woods understands IVF, presumably she knows that several embryos are created for each attempted pregnancy: treating each one as if it were the moral equivalent of a child would mean implanting them all, and exposing the woman to the dangers of multiple pregnancy – and the embryos to a competitive uterine environment that would mean none of them survive. Even the self-professedly pro-life tend to recognise in practice that women must control their fertility, or be dragged under by the consequences. Savita was a living woman, full of light and love, and in her last duress doctors denied her that control. The poverty of anti-abortion rationalisations tells us exactly how little value such logic really places on women’s lives.

The Guardian | Sarah Ditum | Monday 19 November 2012

UN Human Rights Commissioner says abortion laws should not be pushed back

The UN’s human-rights commissioner has argued that governments have a responsibility to prevent “retrogressive measures” regarding abortion—in other words, efforts to restrict legal abortion in countries where the practice is legal.

Navanethem Pillay called for changes in all laws that restrict full access to “sexual and reproductive health services,” and urged governments to resist any pressure to allow any new restrictions. The UN official also said that governments should ensure that pro-life activists do not stop women from procuring abortions, saying that states must “protect against interference with sexual and reproductive health rights by third parties.”

Catholic Culture | 4th October 2012

UN accepts IHEU recommendation on preventable maternal mortality

Humanists at the UN have stressed the role of contraception in not only enabling family planning and lowering the rate of sexually transmitted infections, but also in reducing the number of women dying in childbirth or during pregnancy.

The UN Human Rights Council has now adopted our recommendations, encouraging access to health services which stand to save 100,000 lives per year.

On 27 September 2012, the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council adopted without a vote a resolution on preventable maternal mortality which called on all States to:

“…renew their political commitment to eliminate preventable maternal mortality and morbidity … including through the allocation of necessary domestic resources to health systems and the provision of the necessary information and health services addressing the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.

The addition of the reference to sexual and reproductive health services (or family planning) comes after intensive lobbying by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) at the UN Human Rights Council. In support, IHEU cited a report published in the Lancet in July 2012 showing that in 172 countries surveyed, the use of contraception was averting 272,000 maternal deaths per year, and that by eliminating the unmet need for contraception a further 100,000 lives could be saved per year.

The resolution coincided with the publication of a joint report by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, UNFPA and WHO, on the human rights-based approach to the reduction of preventable maternal morbidity and mortality (PDF) which, in the words of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, “brings family planning back centre stage”.

International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) President Sonja Eggerickx

IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx said, “I’m proud to say that lobbying by our IHEU delegation helped make this possible and I want to thank all in Geneva for their work on this issue. It shows that the Human Rights Council can be a place of mature debate and policy formation, and we urge Member States to listen and take action on this enlightened resolution.”

International Humanist and Ethical Union | 3rd October 2012

UK: Pastors telling HIV-infected patients to stop medication and trust in prayer

Leaders of some West African churches in the UK are pressuring patients infected with HIV to stop taking medication and instead trust in prayer and faith healing.

The scandal has been uncovered by the charity African Health Policy Network (AHPN) in a report (pdf) that will be published later this month.

Cases where patients were told to stop taking their anti-retroviral medication have been reported in churches in London, Manchester, Leeds and across the north-west.

The AHPN, which deals with health inequalities for the African population in the UK will call on the Government to do more to prevent religious leaders from encouraging HIV patients to stop taking life-preserving drugs. The charity says that although the churches play a big role in offering support and advice to people infected with HIV, some of them put too much emphasis on faith healing which can lead to a rapid deterioration in the health – both mental and physical – of those persuaded to give up medication.

The report says: “Faith leaders and churches can play a very positive role in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. They are often the first port of call and a source of support and hope. But in a few churches these practices exist and we want to work with faith leaders to monitor what is going on in churches around HIV…

“Whilst faith intersects positively with health as a source of spiritual guidance and hope for those living with long-term health conditions, faith and HIV can often interact negatively. Not only is the perpetuation of stigma something that must continue to be addressed by faith communities, but the issue of transactional faith ‘healing’ claims are harmful, life-threatening and should not be tolerated.”

National Secular Society | 2 October 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.

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



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 

Sign up for email updates.

We will not share your details with third parties.

* = required field

Supported by