Posts Tagged ‘ Big Society ’

Newsline – 31st August 2012

Newsline is the weekly newsletter from the National Secular Society.  Every week we collate the stories and issues or most importance to our members and offer reportage and insight.  Our audio edition takes the main stories and offers them in an easy-to-listen podcast, available online and via iTunes subscription (for free).

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In this week’s Newsline

Cromer Council agrees to take prayers off the agenda
Free speech protest calls on Cameron to reform insults law
Religious beliefs should be respected – when rights are not impeded
Faith based welfare looms as local authorities ask ‘Big Society’ to deliver crisis aid to the vulnerable
Catholic schools to be challenged in High Court

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Newsline – 8th April 2011

Newsline is the weekly newsletter from the National Secular Society.  Every week we collate the stories and issues or most importance to our members and offer reportage and insight.  Our audio edition takes the main stories and offers them in an easy-to-listen podcast, available online and via iTunes subscription (for free).

Join Britain’s only organisation working exclusively towards a secular society


You can also subscribe to the audio version for FREE using iTunes: Newsline - The Weekly Newsletter from the NSS

In this week’s Newsline

  • Catholic Church hopes The Big Society will increase its influence
  • Bishops’ bench will survive in reformed House of Lords
  • Ending religious schools’ transport privilege “breaches human rights”, says churchman
  • Exploitative church rakes in millions from taxpayer – Charity Commission unconcerned
  • French secularism in trouble as it becomes a political football
  • Hand over the money, Irish government tells religious orders
  • Catholic Church Losing Influence in Latin America

Catholic Church hopes The Big Society will increase its influence

A conference this week showed just how the Catholic Church is preparing itself for increased social and political influence which it hopes to attain by exploiting the Government’s “Big Society” idea.

One of the speakers at the Catholic-organised London conference entitled “Building a new culture of social responsibility” was Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party. She said the Catholic Church “has the power, creativity and ability to change communities through its social action, now that the old system of top-down government has failed Britain and its deeply divided society”. She urged Catholics to continue their work that would help society move away “from a big, bossy state”.

The conference was attended by around 200 Catholic bishops, charity directors, politicians, Lords, academics and thinkers who are examining the methods by which they will be able to bring as much social provision under Catholic control as possible.

Baroness Warsi went on to say that the State had “sapped” responsibility from individuals and that the “top-down, big Government approach” had “failed Britain. She added: “This Government recognises and respects the role that religion and “people of faith” play in our society.”

The Conference was well aware that the Government was not going to provide the money for their big expansion plans, but as the Catholic propagandist Austen Ivereigh wrote in America magazine:

Church charities are more protected than others: nine out of ten of them receive less than 40 per cent of their support from the state. That means that in five years time Catholic and other faith charities are likely to play a relatively larger role; they’ll still be standing while other NGOs created by state funding have gone to the wall. This should lead to a bigger political influence.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said:

“This gives us a glimpse into the future where religious organisations see themselves playing a very large and dominating role in many people’s lives. We have seen from the experience of the United States how ruthless and relentless the Catholic Church can be in pushing their teachings as the cost of accessing their social provisions. There is no reason to think it will be any different here once they have the reins of power.”

Bishops’ bench will survive in reformed House of Lords

It was revealed this week that the bench of bishops will be retained as part of proposed reforms to the House of Lords, although their numbers will be reduced. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday that the Government will be publishing a draft bill in May.

Mr Clegg has had to concede that his preference for a fully-elected second chamber would be unlikely to pass and about 60 peers will still be appointed, including a number of Church of England bishops.

At present 26 bishops sit as of right in the House of Lords and this number is likely to be reduced, probably to 16.

The Press Association reported the president of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson, saying:

“The coalition has lost its nerve and as a result the House of Lords will remain a place of privilege and cronyism – as well as many ridiculous anachronisms, not least of which is the presence of the bishops. The abolition of the bench of bishops, in its entirety, is long overdue.

“How can a modern democracy function properly when it retains elements of theocracy? The UK is the only Western nation to invite clerics into its parliament, just like Iran.

“Instead, we now have a proposal to significantly reduce the number of bishops. But we fear that this will now result in even more representatives from other religions being introduced into Parliament.

“The Government should realise that it can’t win with this approach – where do you stop, given that there are hundreds of different religions represented in Britain. How do you avoid resentment from those who don’t get a place? The coalition should have the courage to secularise the new upper House and rid themselves once and for all of the unnecessary complication of religious representation.”

Ending religious schools’ transport privilege “breaches human rights”, says churchman

Plans by Durham County Council to cut subsidised transport to religious schools have been condemned by a Catholic leader as being a threat to the “human rights” of parents.

Joseph Hughes, director of the Roman Catholic diocese of Hexham and Newcastle’s education service who oversees much of the region’s Catholic education, said Durham County Council’s proposals undermined a 60-year-old legal principle that there should be financial help available for faith school travel costs and threatened a parent’s right to freedom of choice.

He said:

“We are strongly opposed to these proposals. I can’t make it any clearer than that.”

But Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said:

“I don’t know what legal principle Mr Hughes is talking about, it’s not one that I know of. The provision of these financial privileges solely to people who claim to be religious is discriminatory, unjust and probably illegal.”

Catholic priests in the area are urging parents to complain to the Council, which is carrying out a consultation on the issue which closes on Tuesday.

Exploitative church rakes in millions from taxpayer – Charity Commission unconcerned

According to The Times, the Charity Commission is refusing to investigate the activities of a controversial Pentecostal church, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), which the paper says is exploiting its congregations and amassing a fortune on the backs of some of the poorest people in London. The Times says UCKG has encouraged its members to get themselves into debt and ignore bills in order to donate more money to the church.

The Times investigation showed that since 2003 the UCKG (the Church) had also benefited from almost £8 million in taxpayer subsidies through the Gift Aid scheme. Gift Aid is a government scheme that allows registered charities, including churches, to claim back the income tax paid by supporters on donations, including their collections. (Changes to the Gift Aid rules announced in the Budget last week are likely to make it even easier for all churches to claim a public subsidy despite the serious concerns raised about its conduct.)

The paper reports:

The Church’s accounts also reveal that the UCKG owns a large portfolio of freehold and leasehold property. In 2009–10, the church reported that it had £33.7 million in fixed assets, despite having operated in the UK for only 16 years. Last year it spent three quarters of total donations on the purchase of more than £7 million of fixed assets. A spokesman for the church says: “We acquire properties because, unlike other churches, we have not had the chance to build a portfolio over a thousand years. We currently own 11 freehold properties, which were purchased over a 16-year period from 1995. We also work from a further 14 leasehold properties. All 25 properties operate as ‘Help Centres’.”

The Church’s accounts also state that services collectively brought in £9,683,234 of donations, equivalent to £248,288 per congregation — more than ten times the amount raised by the Church of England per congregation.

Times Money‘s initial investigation in November found that the Church was encouraging worshippers to sell all their possessions and even default on bills to make large donations. Pastors taught that gifts to the church, which they represented as gifts to God, were necessary to secure the Lord’s intervention and bring about earthly prosperity and salvation.

The Church even used sessions supposedly designed to help worshippers with financial troubles to elicit more cash. At one such session, witnessed by Times Money, the pastor encouraged his congregation to give money in exchange for strips of his tie, which he said were invested with God’s power to make financial miracles. Our investigation also uncovered that the Church was using demonstrably false testimonies by worshippers to encourage donations from others. At the time of Times Money‘s initial investigation, the Church said that it asked people at financial help sessions to donate money because it gave them “a sense of self-worth and communal involvement”. However, the Church now denies encouraging worshippers into debt.

Despite The Times‘ findings, the Charity Commission said last month that it would not investigate the UCKG, saying the investigation did not demonstrate either “a serious risk of harm to beneficiaries” or “pressure on vulnerable beneficiaries”, the grounds on which it might have intervened.

French secularism in trouble as it becomes a political football
Editorial by Terry Sanderson

On Monday, France will implement a new law against face-coverings in public places. Women who wear face-covering Muslim veils, including the hijab and burka, in “the street and areas open to the public, as well as cinemas, restaurants, stations, public transport or schools” will be fined £125 or ordered to follow citizenship classes, or both. Veils must also be removed while driving, while crossing borders or taking part in official ceremonies to acquire French nationality.

Husbands and fathers who force such veils on women and girls risk a year of prison and a £25,000 fine, with both penalties doubled if the victim is a minor.

But the authorities in France know in their hearts that this is a law that cannot work. The Interior Minister, Claude Guéant, has issued a nine-page document telling the police to move carefully and with great diplomacy when trying to enforce the law. He says that women wearing the full veil cannot be forcibly obliged to remove it in public.

Officers who stop a woman wearing the garment must instead “invite the person to show their face in order to check their identity and establish a fine.” If the woman persists, officers are instructed to take her to the nearest police station “as a last resort,” but not to either place her in custody or keep her waiting for more than four hours. If she still refuses to comply, the rules state that police should contact the public prosecutor.

Rather than force, police are invited to employ “persuasion” and, where possible, involve a female officer.

The guidelines emphasise that the full veil ban does not apply in the home or to car passengers. Nor is the ban to be enforced in or around mosques, so as not to be “interpreted as an indirect restriction of religious freedom.” Police are also told not to go on “veil hunts” or to seek confrontation over the veil.

The law to “forbid concealing one’s face in public” was voted through last October after a year of heated national debate over the issue. Nine out of ten French people back it, a recent poll suggested.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has already described the burka as a “sign of debasement”, and women’s rights campaigners denounced it as “a walking coffin”. Michele Alliot-Marie, the former interior minister, said it “cuts [women] off from society and rejects the very spirit of the French republic, founded on a desire to live together.” Around 2,000 women, out of France’s 5 million Muslims, are estimated to wear the face-covering garments, according to interior ministry figures.

France banned wearing conspicuous religious symbols such as veils, Jewish skullcaps and crucifixes in schools in 2004.

The guidelines came as France’s ruling UMP party initiated a highly controversial debate on Islam and secularism on Tuesday. Organisers say it was to address changes in French society such as a growing demand for building mosques in a country where a 1905 law formally separates the Church and state.

It is quite clear that the issue of Islam is being used by established parties on the right to appeal to those French people who would otherwise be attracted to the ultra-rightwing National Front.

Secularism is being seen as a tool and an excuse by these right-wingers to punish and isolate Muslims. And this is probably something that has the Islamic extremists rubbing their hands with glee.

There is nothing they would like better than a Muslim population that feels aggrieved, discriminated against and even persecuted. It will drive more and more of them into the arms of radicalism. It will also enrage the liberals and leftists who feel it is their duty to protect Muslims from the bullying right.

At the same time, there is little doubt that Islamists have engineered many of the challenges that are being made to the secular ideal of France, and which enrage republicans.

French people who are deeply attached to the idea of separation of religion from the state are enraged by demands for only halal meat to be served in school canteens, for separate hours for Muslim women only in swimming pools, for state subsidies for the building of mosques, for special treatment in hospitals.

It is also clear that the new law will create confrontations over the burka with women refusing to remove it, refusing to pay fines and eventually being threatened with prison. It is a nightmare in the making.

The main casualty in all this will be laïcité — the French form of secularism — which will now be portrayed as discriminatory and Islamophobic. Many religious leaders boycotted the debate this week, saying it was an attempt to further push religion from public discourse. The Catholic Church, again using its age-old tactic of playing the victim, see how this wicked secularism creates disadvantage for Catholics as well as Muslims, they say.

During the debate it was said that France’s law of 1905, which separates church from state, needs to be updated to take into account the changes in French life. There were few Muslims in the country when it was implemented, but now there are between five and ten million and many new challenges to the concept of laïcité.

It was suggested that 26 changes would be made that would strengthen secularism in the light of the rise of Islam in the country.

But debating anything to do with Islam is fraught with danger. Even the title of the debate had to be changed from “Secularism and Islam” to the more anodyne “Secularism: Living better together”. Now the interior minister Claude Guéant has been threatened with prosecution by The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples for supposedly “Islamophobic remarks” after he said: “This growth in the number of (Muslims) and a certain number of behaviours cause problems. There is no reason why the nation should accord to one particular religion more rights than religions that were formerly anchored in our country.”

So debate is rendered next to impossible by hair-trigger sensibilities that detect “Islamophobia” in anyone who tries to move the debate on.

It is this kind of chaos that the Islamists thrive upon. And it poses a severe threat to France’s secular tradition.

Hand over the money, Irish government tells religious orders

The Irish government is to ask religious orders to hand over title to property worth up to €200 million, the Department of Education has confirmed.

The €200 million is the shortfall the State considers it is owed by the 18 religious orders which agreed to share the cost of the €1.36 billion bill for survivors of institutional abuse.

Last year the 18 congregations named in the Ryan report on clerical sexual abuse agreed to pay €476 million towards the cost of compensation. As this is €200 million short of an even split of the bill with the State, proposals for the remaining payment are being sought.

It is understood the religious orders paid €128 million in 2002. Some €110 million was promised in cash and €235 million was promised in property. Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has pointed out this amount leaves the €200 million shortfall, and he is now seeking the transfer to the State of the legal ownership of religious-owned schools to meet this deficit.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education last night confirmed Mr Quinn was seeking transfer of ownership of the some of the schools to the State, but even these are likely to become multi-denominational rather than secular schools.

Mr Quinn has indicated he did not want to bankrupt the religious orders and was not intending to change the structure by which the religious orders were able to continue to be in charge of the schools. The Church is still talking of a ‘minimum non-negotiable requirement’ with any schools transferred, insisting on no change on confessional religious instruction.

The Minister’s concern is said to be in relation to the amount of the total compensation bill which will have to be paid by the taxpayer, as well he might, given his Government’s parlous financial position. The current overwhelming dominance in the publicly funded sector of Catholic schools insisting on confessional religious instruction as part of the school day is believed by the Irish Human Rights Commission to breach the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Executive Director of the National Secular Society, Keith Porteous Wood, observed: “The Irish state is in unprecedented need of hard cash and the promised transfer of assets by the Church to the State achieves virtually nothing unless those assets are ones that can be realised, which cannot be true of the schools. The citizens of Ireland are in danger of being duped and abused yet again by their church and their Government.”

Catholic Church losing influence in Latin America

A leading expert on religion in Mexico has said that “Catholicism is destined to be abandoned” in the country and across Latin America. He bases his prediction on an analysis of census returns that show about 1,300 Mexicans leaving the church every day.

Roberto Blancarte said that this added up to some 4 million Mexicans defecting from the Church between 2000 and 2010. He said the decline had continued uninterrupted for 60 years and was escalating.

Blancarte — from the Colegio de Mexico and the National Autonomous University of Mexico — said that one of the main conclusions to be drawn from the 2010 census is that Mexico is no longer a predominantly Catholic country and has become a nation of religious pluralism. One of the fastest growing demographic groups is those who profess to have no religion: 5.2 million.

In 1950, 98.21 percent of Mexicans said they were Catholic; the latest figure shows that this has dropped to 83.9 percent.

Blancarte said that this change is not exclusive to Mexico but extends across the region. In Brazil, for example, surveys have found that Catholics make up less than 70 percent of the population.



Newsline – 25th March 2011

Newsline is the weekly newsletter from the National Secular Society.  Every week we collate the stories and issues or most importance to our members and offer reportage and insight.  Our audio edition takes the main stories and offers them in an easy-to-listen podcast, available online and via iTunes subscription (for free).

Join Britain’s only organisation working exclusively towards a secular society


You can also subscribe to the audio version for FREE using iTunes: Newsline - The Weekly Newsletter from the NSS

In this week’s Newsline

  • Secularist of the Year won by Dutch MEP
  • Secularism in Europe takes a blow as Vatican flexes its political muscle
  • Funding for police religious groups ends
  • More evidence that religion on the way out
  • Judge says it’s OK for churches to abuse gays in advertising
  • Academics given money to research ways of using the ‘Big Society’ to advance Catholic teaching
  • Have you remembered to renew your membership?


Secularist of the Year won by Dutch MEP

The 2011 Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year was won by Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who chairs the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics.

Sophie received her prize to great acclaim from a capacity crowd in central London last Saturday. Her acceptance speech brought further cheers of approval as she made clear that her secularism is firm and of prime importance to her.

Also honoured on the day were two outstanding volunteers, Claudine Baxter who has loyally helped in the office with membership administration for the past five years. Come rain or shine, Claudine has made it into the office and has freed up many hours of time for our campaigners to get on with the work of creating a secular society.

Also Dominic Wirdnam from Bristol who helped so much in the hospital chaplains campaign and who is now a leading light in the new Bristol Secular Society.

Winner of the special achievement award this year was Marco Tranchino of the Central London Humanist Group who was so tenacious in negotiating a high profile route for the Protest the Pope March last September. Marco chipped away at the obduracy of the authorities — particularly at Scotland Yard — until he got the route he wanted, and the rest is history.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The whole afternoon was a wonderfully friendly time, when so many secularists got together to honour those who are working so hard on their behalf. Sophie was an excellent choice because her voice chimes so well with our own message of the importance of separation of religion from politics.”

Terry also thanked Neil Edwards (The Trickman) for his contribution to the entertainment as he went from table to table baffling and bamboozling some of the finest scientific minds in the country.


Secularism in Europe takes a blow as Vatican flexes its political muscle
Editorial by Terry Sanderson

The ruling from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that the display of crucifixes in state school classrooms does not violate a student’s freedom of conscience is a severe blow to the concept of secularism in Europe. It also leaves an uncomfortable suspicion over the motives and independence of the European Court.

This is not just sour grapes from those on the losing end. We must ask why the original decision — which was reached unanimously — has now been completely reversed by the upper chamber of the same court. How could the first court have got it so wrong?

Friday’s reversal has implications in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe, opening the way for Europeans who want religious symbols in classrooms to petition their governments to allow them. It is not immediately clear how the ruling would affect France, a traditionally Catholic country with a strictly secular state that does not allow crucifixes or other religious symbols in public schools, including the Muslim headscarf.

The court’s Grand Chamber said Italy has done nothing wrong and it found no evidence that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls “might have an influence on pupils.” This is the polar opposite of what the previous court said. But that does not mean that religion now has carte blanche to impose itself in schools. In its judgment the Court specifically distinguished between the (in their words) “passive presence” of symbols such as crucifixes and activities such as school prayer which the Court said represents a much more significant violation of Convention:

“a crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol and this point is of importance in the Court’s view, particularly having regard to the principle of neutrality … It cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities”

The Italian Government had argued that the crucifix is not a religious symbol at all, but a symbol of tradition and culture. The court did not accept this “reasoning”.

Massimo Albertin, Mrs Lautsi’s husband, said that the family was disappointed and “disillusioned” by the ruling, saying it showed that the court didn’t respect the secular principles on which Italian society is built. “Freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, freedom of choice are fundamental principles and in this case they weren’t respected,” Albertin said. A self-described atheist, Mr Albertin said he didn’t think the family had any further recourse, saying the ruling showed “the Vatican is too strong for individuals.”

So what happened in the months between the unanimous finding last year and the utter turnaround this year by another chamber of the same court?

The final reasoning in the Grand Chamber judgment is indeed strange, not to say strained. Some commentators have asked whether the long delay between the two judgments was caused by the judges struggling to come up with some reasoning that would not sound too bizarre as to why they had completely changed their minds.

And we will never know what kind of pressure went on behind the scenes, except that we do know the Vatican went into overdrive to ensure that the original decision was overturned, calling in its reactionary friends to support it.

Nor should we forget also that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has problems of its own with growing opposition to its judgments throughout Europe. There is much pressure in this country, for instance, for the Government to entirely withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and establish its own Bill of Rights. When the ECHR ruled, for example, that prisoners should have the right to vote, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it made him feel physically sick.

The Grand Chamber must also have been aware that Italy had signalled that it had no intention of obeying the ban on crucifixes, anyway. Italy would have paid the fine and then totally ignored the ruling, as it has done in other cases. That would have further undermined the court’s authority, effectively rendering its judgments meaningless.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) – (a branch of US televangelist Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice), was elated. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) also hailed the ruling. (Both groups had filed briefs urging the court to uphold the crucifixes.)

The ECLJ’s Director, Grégor Puppinck, said:

“This strong political movement counteracts the attempts of radical secularists to use human rights against Christianity.  These radical secularists, by rejecting Christianity, utilize the culture of human rights to de-Christianize Europe in the name of respect and tolerance of non-Christians. Behind a discourse of tolerance, religious pluralism serves as a pretext to marginalize Christianity and could eventually impose on the European civilization exclusive secularism. The objective of this radical secularism is to introduce secularization of society in order to promote a certain cultural model in which the absence of value (neutrality) and relativism (pluralism) are values in themselves supporting a political project that is supposed to be both “post-religious” and “post-identity”; in one word “postmodern.” This political project has a claim to a monopoly as a philosophical system.”

But this is not an opinion shared by all evangelical Protestants. Many of them recognise that the crucifix (as opposed to the cross) is a specifically Catholic symbol and this verdict upholds the special place that Catholicism has in Italian affairs.

The Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches called the ruling “a decision that does not fully realize a secular state” and “baggage from a society dominated by Catholic culture”.

They added: “Crucifixes will continue to be present in schoolrooms and courtrooms, but for the minorities who won religious and civil rights 150 years ago, such as the evangelical churches, these crosses do not convey a common sense of belonging.”

Of course they don’t, which is why the Vatican is cock-a-hoop over the decision.

Some non-Catholics — Christians of other denominations, atheists and those of other religions — have already recognised that this decision makes them into second-class citizens. And it is at this point, when it is too late, that they suddenly recognise the value of secularism.

The judgment is an undoubted blow to secularism and a reminder of Vatican power. It will do little or nothing, however, to help the Vatican realise its stated goal: the re-evangelisation of Europe for the Catholic Church. Mass attendance remains in freefall, even in Italy.


Funding for police religious groups ends

The Home Office has announced that, as from 1 April, it will no longer fund minority police groups such as those established by Muslims, Christians and gays.

The National Association of Muslim Police received £90,000 between 2008 and 2010 and the Christian Police Association £15,000 in the past five years.

The Gay Police Association was handed £102,000 in 2009 and £51,000 last year. Also the National Disabled Police Association got £46,000 in 2010. And in 2006 the National Black Police Association received £180,000.

Zaheer Ahmed, president of the National Association of Muslim Police, said cutting funds would deprive the police of “important religious and cultural voices” and could see policing thrown back to the 1970s.

A Home Office spokesman said:

“The Government is committed to equality and supports the development of a diverse police service, but we must tackle the deficit and the Home Secretary has been clear that forces must bear their share of the cuts.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said:

“The police must be ready to serve the whole community without fear or favour. So, if there is one institution that must avoid sectarian bias and religious empire building, it is the police. The rise of these minority groups within the force has been a dangerous development, and we are very pleased that the funding has come to an end, albeit on grounds of cost rather than desirability.”

Mr Sanderson pointed to the cases of Muslim police officers refusing to guard the Israeli embassy and a demand from Christian police officers that beat bobbies should hand out Christian tracts when patrolling High Streets on Saturday evening.

“None of these demands is acceptable from a police force that must show itself to be even-handed in all religious and racial situations,” Mr Sanderson said.


More evidence that religion on the way out

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion in all of them is likely to dwindle to next to nothing. Studying the statistics and applying a mathematical model indicates that the numbers of people defining themselves as non-religious has been climbing for over a hundred years.

The report, revealed at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, suggested that religion will all but die out altogether in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

One of the researchers, Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University said:

“In a large number of modern secular democracies, there has been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion. In the Netherlands the number was 40 percent, and the highest number was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60 percent.”

In all the countries studied, the data showed the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

The study also found that “Americans without affiliation comprise the only religious group growing in all 50 states.”

“In 2008 those claiming no religion rose to 15 percent nationwide, with a maximum in Vermont at 34 percent,” the study says.

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association in connection with its census campaign asked 1,900 adults if they belonged to a religion.

While 61% of respondents said they did belong to a religion, 65% of those surveyed answered “no” to the further question: “Are you religious?”

Among respondents who identified themselves as Christian, fewer than half said they believed Jesus Christ was a real person who died, came back to life and was the Son of God. Another 27% said they did not believe that at all, while 25% were unsure.

In Scotland, 42% of respondents said they did not belong to a religion, yet in a further question “Are you religious?” 56% answered “no”.

And a BBC poll carried out among 24,000 school children showed that when asked “What is your religion?” just under 34% of children surveyed said they did not have one. A third of children said they didn’t believe in God.

In a separate question — do you believe in a god or more gods? — just under 40% said they did but nearly 32% said they did not.


Judge says it’s OK for churches to abuse gays in advertising

A judge has overturned an Advertising Standards Authority ban on a church advert which railed against gay sex. The ad, by the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast, was published in 2008 in the Belfast News Letter ahead of Belfast Pride and was called ‘The word of God against sodomy’.

It contained verses from the Bible describing gay sex as an “abomination”, referred to “sodomy” and called gay people perverts. After seven people complained, the ASA ruled that the ad was in breach of its code of practice. The church then won the right to a judicial review.

This week, a judge ruled that the ASA’s decision violated the church’s rights to freedom of expression.

According to the BBC, Mr Justice Treacy said:

“The applicant’s religious views and the biblical scripture which underpins those views no doubt cause offence, even serious offence, to those of a certain sexual orientation. Likewise, the practice of homosexuality may have a similar effect on those of a particular religious faith. But Article 10 (of the European Convention on Human Rights) protects expressive rights which offend, shock or disturb. Moreover, Article 10 protects not only the content and substance of information but also the means of dissemination since any restriction on the means necessarily interferes with the right to receive and impart information.”

He added that it did not condone violence and was not likely to provoke it.

Rev David McIlveen, of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church, said he was delighted at the “landmark” verdict. Speaking outside the court with the Rev Ian Paisley, he said: “We want to make it clear we had nothing against the seven people who objected to the advertisement. This is a landmark now for future decisions. People can quote the Bible and that’s a freedom that we have sought.”

Recently the ASA banned an advertisement by the Antonio Federici ice cream company because it portrayed religious figures such as nuns and priests in a mildly suggestive manner. In that instance, ten Christians complained and that was enough to get the ads banned.


Academics given money to research ways of using the ‘Big Society’ to advance Catholic teaching

A Catholic grant making body is handing out tens of thousands of pounds for research into how the Catholic Church can exploit the ‘Big Society’ idea in order to further the influence of Catholic doctrine in society.

The Charles Plater Trust, whose chairman is the Archbishop of Westminster, has awarded its biggest grants to initiatives looking at how the Big Society can be understood “within Catholic Social Teaching.” The Plater Trust, which was founded after the £5.6 million sale of Plater College, Headington, Oxfordshire, awards grants every year to church-affiliated groups and this year had over £150,000 at its disposal.

Professor John Loughlin, of St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, was awarded more than £65,000 for an academic project looking at how the Big Society’s understanding of decentralisation relates to Catholic Social Teaching, while another grant of £52,000 was awarded to a joint initiative between the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, affiliated to the University of Cambridge, and Citizens UK to research into and offer help to asylum seekers and those navigating the immigration system within the context of the Big Society.

The final grant of more than £30,000 went to a Caritas Social Action Network project looking at “developing the Church’s response to criminal justice issues.


Have you remembered to renew your membership?

Membership subscriptions are due in January (for all those who joined before the previous September), so we hope that if you haven’t already done so, you’ll renew and stay with us.

We are in for a very interesting and potentially very productive year and it is vitally important that you keep up your support for the cause of secularism. You can renew online or by post to NSS Membership, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Many members are now setting up standing orders so that they can forget about renewals – it will be done automatically. More information .


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