Posts Tagged ‘ European Commission ’

Newsline – 4 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).

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In this week’s Newsline

  • Teacher Discrimination: NSS reports Government to European Commission
  • Are British Evangelicals retrenching over claims of victimisation?
  • New study of chaplains shows little benefit to clinical outcomes
  • Church-state confrontation over gay marriage could be solved with disestablishment
  • Chris Patten and the BBC
  • Pope visit to Scotland – add another £880,000 to the bill
  • Humanists join church campaign to get RE in baccalaureate – report
  • Secular anger as Pope is invited to address European Parliament
  • Lawyers attempt to prosecute pope in International Criminal Court
  • German Catholic Church offers abuse victims “insulting” 5,000 euros each
  • No religious opt-out from providing morning-after pill for Irish pharmacists
  • Secularist of the Year approaches – have you got your ticket?

Teacher Discrimination: NSS reports Government to European Commission

The National Secular Society has formally complained to the European Commission accusing the British Government of eroding legislative protection from religious discrimination for teachers.

The NSS argues that UK legislative protection for non-religious teachers falls short of the standards required by the European Employment Directive. If the Commission finds that the Government has breached the Directive, and fails to put the deficiencies right, it could result in it being taken to the European Court of Justice.

The NSS has complained about the loss of the long-standing protection for community school teachers who do not partake in worship or teach religious education. There are 13,000 community schools and the loss occurs when they transfer to academy status, as will become “the norm”, according to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The NSS also complains that under the current Education Bill, the government reserves the right not to extend similar protection to non-religious teachers in 2,500 faith schools currently controlled by local education authorities when they transfer to academies.

The Society’s charges of incompatibility are backed up by advice from the Head of Public Law of Beachcroft LLP, prominent city solicitors specialising in education law.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “As the number of people who participate in Christian worship continues to decline, it is vitally important to maintain protections for the non-religious and those of other faiths. The protections at risk could affect 100,000 teachers in positions that are totally funded by the taxpayer. The Government must live up to its moral and EU obligations and retain these protections, not just for existing staff, but those who come after them. The Society will be using every endeavour to persuade the Government to make these changes in the forthcoming Education Bill.”

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have also accepted a complaint from the Society and we expect them to make representations to the parliamentary committee considering the Bill.

The Society has also written to the leading teaching unions to inform them of its concerns.

The Society was compelled to complain to Brussels after the Department for Education rejected a request to take remedial action in the Education Bill, currently before Parliament.

The Society has complained to the Commission in a similar way before over employment discrimination by organised religions. It resulted in the previous government being required to take action. The European Commission invited the NSS to make this complaint after receiving copies of the NSS’s legal advice and correspondence with the Department.

Are British Evangelicals retrenching over claims of victimisation?
Editorial by Terry Sanderson

It seems there is at last a realisation among at least some of Britain’s evangelical groups that the repeated failure of court cases claiming that Christians are being persecuted and discriminated against in Britain is proving counterproductive.

The Evangelical Alliance (EA) has made some astonishing comments about the High Court judgment involving Pentecostal Christian foster parents Owen and Eunice Johns who felt unable to take anything other than a literalist biblical line on homosexuality to those entrusted to their care. The EA’s statement opens with the sentence “It is not true that Christians are being prevented from fostering and adopting children in spite of increasing evidence that they are being marginalised in public life.”

The EA goes on to say that it doubted “the wisdom in bringing such cases to the High Court in the first place. While there is no doubt that equality laws appear increasingly controversial in the way they seem to disproportionately impact against Christians, there is a clear need for a more cautious and strategic approach when deciding to take matters to court.”

The EA’s Head of Public Affairs, Don Horrocks — in a clear pop at the extremist Christian Legal Centre, which originates many of these cases — said: “It is counterproductive to provoke the courts into unnecessary and unhelpful rulings – especially when a case is weak and evidence is lacking. There may also be risks that Christians will be viewed as deliberately engineering conflicts with the courts or pleading privileged treatment.”

The Christian Institute, itself no stranger to bringing these kind of cases to court, similarly raised doubts about the reaction from some Christians and Christian apologists in the newspapers to this latest judgment. He felt they had misrepresented it. He said “Much media reporting on this issue, and even some comments by Christians, have, in our view, been wide of the mark. The impression has been given that the High Court has ruled that Christians who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong cannot foster children. This is not true. No such ruling has been made.”

This rebuke from fellow evangelicals to the Christian Legal Centre and its scary leader, Andrea Minichiello Williams, may represent a rethinking of evangelical tactics.

But their media supporters have yet to get the message that these relentless but empty claims of discrimination and persecution are actually strengthening the equality laws rather than weakening them.

The new approach seems to be to attack the equality laws directly and try to get them repealed. As Andrew Carey of the evangelical Church of England Newspaper put it: “A review of human rights legislation must be the next step to halt the divisive and marginalising effects of these competitions between minority rights. Christians must increasingly make the case for such a review.”

But this is another hopeless cause. Given that the laws are based on European Directives, there is little that our domestic parliament can do to change them short of opting out of the EU completely.

Ms Minichiello Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, who helped Mr & Mrs Johns bring the case, of course thought that this judgment represented the end of the world for Christians. She said it would “restrict the number of people seeking to foster”.

But she was immediately contradicted by Katie Harris, Derby City Council specialist services director for children and young people, who said: “The ruling will make the situation clearer, which is what we were seeking. But we don’t imagine it will reduce the number of people wanting to foster and don’t have any one else on our books in a similar position. This case is quite exceptional because we have foster carers from a range of Christian denominations, other faiths, and people with no faith, who have been able to work with us to meet the diversity and equality standards required. We were right to take the position we did as proven by the ruling – we couldn’t ignore the Johns’ position on homosexuality.”

The former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali — as blinkered as Andrea Williams, if not more so — commented that the judges were wrong to claim that this is a secular country. Mr Nazir-Ali seems not to know the difference between a ‘secular country’ and a ‘secular state’. The latter is a formal structure that enshrines secularism constitutionally. So, England, by virtue of its established church, is not a secular state. But it is most certainly a secular country in that religion plays little part in the lives of most of its citizens.

The former bishop continued: “However, what really worries me about this spate of judgments is that they leave no room for the conscience of believers of whatever kind. This will exclude Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews from whole swathes of public life, including adoption and fostering.”

A writer on the Conservative Home blog stated this misconception even more baldly: “The law in Britain now, straightforwardly and unambiguously, excludes Christians from many occupations.”

Catholic commentator Cristina Odone took this paranoia to new heights in a blog in the Daily Telegraph with the headline “Christianity isn’t dying, it’s being eradicated” in which she states that the judges in the Johns’ case: “declared that we live in a secular state, and that the Johns’ religious convictions disqualified them from raising citizens of that state.”

Unsurprisingly, Melanie Phillips in the Spectator similarly ludicrously overstates the case, calling it a “secular inquisition against Christians.” Tellingly, the article is illustrated with an engraving of the real inquisition, with a sinister priest presiding enthusiastically over the torture.

No-one in this country is torturing Christians. Perhaps Melanie Phillips should concentrate her fire on Pakistan, where real persecution is taking place.

Another over-the-top Christian apologist, the blogger Archbishop Cranmer, even went so far as to claim: “If Christian morality is harmful to children and unacceptable to the state, how long will it be before our children are forcibly removed from us, lest they be ‘infected’ with Christian moral beliefs?”

It is clear that the leaders of the evangelical movement are ahead of their propagandists. They have come to realise that, in the end, frequent false cries of “Wolf!” results in nobody taking any notice when the real wolf puts in his appearance. Now it is time for them to ask their journalistic friends to tone down the bombastic rhetoric.

Let us hope also that Andrea Minichiello Williams and deluded Barrister Paul Diamond can be reined in so as to save the legal system much time and money having to rule on these ludicrous cases.

As this case made a strong and unambiguous argument for a completely secular legal system, we urge you to read more about the judgment on our website.
See also: The Christians who are proud to be prejudiced
Would you pass the fostering test?

New study of chaplains shows little benefit to clinical outcomes

A study of NHS trusts in England has shown that £29m of healthcare money was used to pay for hospital chaplains in 2009/10. The study revealed that many of the country’s best hospitals spent the lowest proportion of their expenditure on chaplaincy services and concluded that the NHS wastes millions every year on services that have no clinical benefit.

Statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.

English NHS Trusts were asked how much they spent on hospital chaplaincy services using the Freedom of Information Act. The proportion that trusts spent on chaplaincy was compared to how well it performed on national quality ratings. The results showed huge variations in the proportions that similar hospitals spend, and that if all NHS Trusts brought their spending into line with the best trusts, savings of £18.5m a year would be made. £18.5m p.a. could pay for 1,000 nursing assistants or a brand new community hospital every year.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “Tax payers will be shocked to learn how much healthcare money is diverted into paying for chaplaincy services. The cash-strapped NHS should spend its money on front line services. It has been common knowledge for well over a year that massive cuts were on the way and it was recently reported that the NHS is to lose 50,000 jobs, including doctors and nurses. Yet our study showed that chaplaincy costs rose by 7% in the last year. This study shows that massive savings can be made immediately with no impact on clinical care. At a time when the NHS is under financial pressure, every hospital will want to use this benchmarking information to bring their chaplaincy costs into line with the best in their field.

“The National Secular Society is not seeking to oust chaplains from hospitals, but their cost should not be borne by public funds, especially when clinical services for patients are being cut. Many priests or their equivalents in other religions offer their services voluntarily, and this should become the norm. Alternatively, we have proposed that chaplaincy services should be paid for through charitable trusts, supported by churches and their parishioners. If churches really support ‘the big society’ then they will stop siphoning off NHS cash to fund chaplains’ salaries.”

About the study:

All 227 English NHS provider trusts responded to an FOI enquiry asking how much they spent on chaplaincy services in 2009/10.

The study compared the percentage of each trust’s total income spent on chaplaincy services to the trust’s performance on Standards for Better Health and the Standardised Mortality Rate (the national quality benchmarks for 2009/10). Statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.

Applying the practice of the most efficient trusts to the whole NHS showed that from the total £29m spend, £18.5m savings could be made every year.
Read the study in full: Costing the heavens: Chaplaincy services in English NHS provider Trusts 2009/10 (pdf)

Our Director, Keith Porteous Wood, was a resident guest in an hour long phone-in earlier in the week on Radio 5 Live. It was clear that the public are on our side, particularly if they are asked whether chaplains or front line staff such as doctors, nurses or cleaners should be subject to job cuts. And even Daily Mail readers thought so, by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

We hope Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust will bear this in mind when, as part of its money-saving efforts, it is preparing to cut 10% of its staff. We wonder if the 8.5 chaplains that cost the Trust more than £400,000 in wages alone will be included in this cull?

Church-state confrontation over gay marriage could be solved with disestablishment

A major confrontation between the Church of England and the Government is brewing over gay marriage and civil partnerships.

The government intends to implement a House of Lords amendment to the Equality Act that would allow churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings to host civil partnership ceremonies should the faith group so wish. The amendment is entirely permissive and no organisation will be forced to allow gay couples to hold ceremonies on their premises.

The equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has said that gay couples will not be able to sue churches that refuse to participate.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury has told a group of influential MPs at a private meeting that the Church will strongly resist any attempt to give gay couples the equivalent of marriage. A government consultation on the issue is to begin in April.

Both the prime minister, David Cameron, and his deputy Nick Clegg, favour opening civil marriage and civil partnerships to all couples, whether straight or gay. The government also privately hopes that religious ministers will be allowed to conduct gay marriages in the same way that they officiate at straight marriages.

When challenged by Simon Kirby, the conservative MP for Brighton Kempton, Dr Williams said he would not countenance weakening the church’s teaching on marriage or for its stance to be dictated by Government ministers.

“I hoped he might be more measured in his response and reflect on the cases for both sides of the argument more evenly, but he was very one sided,” Mr Kirby told the Sunday Telegraph. “Public opinion is moving faster than the Church on this issue and it is increasingly in danger of getting left behind. Obviously it is a difficult issue for the church, but it has many gay men and women who want to be treated the same way as everyone else,” he added.

A spokesman for Dr Williams said: “The Church still believes on the basis of Bible and tradition that marriage is between a man and a woman and does not accept that this needs to change. Civil partnerships now provide legal securities for same-sex couples, but this does not, in itself, alter what we believe to be unique about marriage. The Church of England is opposed to all forms of homophobia and would want to defend the civil liberties of homosexual people, and to welcome them into our churches.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “The Church of England fiercely defends its established status, but this seems to be becoming increasingly inconvenient as its doctrines come into conflict with modern thinking and knowledge. If the Church wants to act independently, it should do so from a position of independence – not privilege. It claims that its raison d’etre and the justification of its privileges is that it is the national church, open to all citizens. It can no longer claim this and then refuse to provide services to a section of the community of which it doesn’t approve.

“The time for the Church to be disestablished is long overdue. Such a move would be of great benefit not only to the state, but to the Church itself.”

Chris Patten and the BBC

Lord (Chris) Patten — the man who rescued the Pope’s visit from the Catholic Church’s incompetence — is mooted to be the new chairman of the BBC Trust. Lord Patten, like Mark Thompson, the BBC’s Director General, is a high profile Catholic. This has spurred several members of the NSS to contact us asking what the consequence of this could be.

Looking at speculation about the appointment, there seems more concern about his politics than his religion.

Right-wing commentators believe that Prime Minister David Cameron, who is convinced that the BBC’s coverage of the Tory party is biased against them, will want Lord Patten to use his influence to improve matters. They don’t hold out much hope of this because Lord Patten is considered to be on the left wing of the Tory Party.

But will he be able to do as Mr Cameron wants and bring a more sympathetic view of the Tories to the BBC? The Daily Telegraph doesn’t think he will be able to directly order the BBC to start broadcasting pro-Conservative propaganda. “The chairman of the BBC Trust has a powerful position,” the paper wrote, “but Patten won’t be able to interfere with day-to-day editorial decisions. Where he’ll be able to make an impact is by commissioning reports on, for example, how the BBC covers business or reports on religion. He’ll then be able to force programme-makers to absorb the lessons.”

So, it is clear that Lord Patten will be able to influence the BBC’s coverage of religion if he so desires, but we will have to wait and see whether that is part of his agenda.

Pope visit to Scotland – add another £880,000 to the bill

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Strathclyde Police spent £649,203, employing 1,116 police officers to cover the Pope’s visit to Glasgow last year. Glasgow City Council spent £801,000 on the visit.

The total cost of the Pope’s one-day visit to Scotland for policing alone was £1.2 million, including the £649,000 spent by Lothian and Borders Police. The Government will reimburse £100,000 to Lothian and Borders Police and £150,000 to Strathclyde cops.

Edinburgh City Council shelled out £292,727 on non-police costs as its contribution to the religious jamboree.
See also: Scottish police anger at hole left in its budget by Pope visit

Humanists join church campaign to get RE in baccalaureate – report

The Church of England Newspaper reports on its front page today that the British Humanist Association and the European Humanist Federation are supporting a campaign from the churches to force the government into including Religious Education in the new English Baccalaureate.

At a debate about Professor Trevor Cooling’s report Doing God in Education held at the Royal Society for the Arts in London, Dr Joyce Miller, associate fellow of the Warwick Religion Education and Research Unit, announced that everyone involved in RE is opposed to the government’s proposal to omit the subject from the new performance measure. Dr Miller is a Buddhist.

Dr Miller’s position was supported by David Pollock, President of the European Humanist Federation and Andrew Copson of the BHA. Mr Pollock told The Church of England Newspaper that RE should be part of the baccalaureate, provided that it is taught critically, with regard for the historical context, and with all religions and the relationship between them being studied. He also said that the views of humanists and those without any religious beliefs should be studied in the curriculum.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, told the Church of England Newspaper that humanists believe “all pupils in all types of schools should have the opportunity to consider philosophical and fundamental questions and that in a pluralist society we should learn about each other’s beliefs, including humanist ones”.

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, notes that the subject will still have to be taught by law but has expressed fears that, if RE does not form part of the baccalaureate, schools will not give it high priority. She believes there will be less incentive to employ specialist teachers. She also fears that “we could go back to the days when anyone was considered suitable to teach RE”.
See also: Catholic leader supports RE in baccalaureate
Lady Warsi supports RE campaign

Secular anger as Pope is invited to address European Parliament

News that the President of the European Parliament, Jercy Buzek (Christian Democrat) has invited the Pope to address the parliament has been greeted with dismay and anger by secularists in Britain and Europe.

Dutch MEP, and NSS honorary associate, Sophie in ‘t Veld, has written to Mr Buzek protesting on behalf of the European Parliamentary Platform for Secularism in Politics. Ms ‘int Veld says:

“The plenary session in this assembly discusses and decides policies for all 500 million European citizens, regardless of their belief, faith or religion. It is wholly inappropriate for plenary meetings to be used as a podium for religious messages.

“The European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics has repeatedly invited you, as President of this House, for an exchange of views on the implementation of Treaty article 17, regarding the relation between the EU institutions and churches and non-confessional organisations. So far you have not found the opportunity to attend one of our meetings, and you recently cancelled a date that had been set well in advance.

“In view of your invitation to the Pope, we feel it is even more urgent to have a debate on the place of churches and religious organisations within the EU institutions.

“The European Union has to defend the rights of every citizen, regardless of their religion or belief. Freedom of religion is an individual right, it is not a collective privilege. Freedom of religion can only be safeguarded if the EU institutions do not favour certain groups over others. All beliefs and convictions must be heard, including secularist voices.”

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, added: “If the Pope is invited to speak at the European Parliament it will represent a slap in the face for the tens of thousands of victims of child abuse committed by Catholic priests and covered up by the Vatican hierarchy. I have twice challenged the Holy See to fulfil its obligations under the European Convention of the Rights of the Child at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and there has yet to be any action.

“To treat the Pope as an honoured guest after he has presided over two decades of institutionalised cover-ups of this criminal activity is grossly insulting. He should be made to answer for his sins, not lauded for them.

“We consider that inviting the Vatican — Europe’s last remaining theocracy — to the heart of the European Parliament to be undesirable and unhealthy. The Catholic Church already exerts far too much influence in the EU. This should be discouraged and curtailed rather than encouraged in this way.”

But William Oddie, the rather extreme Catholic commentator, saw things very differently in an article in the Catholic Herald.

See also: Berlusconi engages in a spot of gay bashing to please the pope
“Holy See” tells UN committee: Girls must be denied abortion rights

Lawyers attempt to prosecute pope in International Criminal Court

Two lawyers from Germany are trying to prosecute the pope at the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity. Christian Sailer and Gert-Joachim Hetzel, based at Marktheidenfeld in the Pope’s home state of Bavaria, last week submitted a 16,500-word document to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, Dr Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Their charges concern “three worldwide crimes which until now have not been denounced… (as) the traditional reverence toward ‘ecclesiastical authority’ has clouded the sense of right and wrong”.

They claim the Pope “is responsible for the preservation and leadership of a worldwide totalitarian regime of coercion which subjugates its members with terrifying and health-endangering threats”.

They allege he is also responsible for “the adherence to a fatal forbiddance of the use of condoms, even when the danger of HIV-Aids infection exists” and for “the establishment and maintenance of a worldwide system of cover-up of the sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests and their preferential treatment, which aids and abets ever new crimes”.

They claim the Catholic Church “acquires its members through a compulsory act, namely, through the baptism of infants that do not yet have a will of their own”. This act was “irrevocable” and is buttressed by threats of excommunication and the fires of hell.

It was “a grave impairment of the personal freedom of development and of a person’s emotional and mental integrity”. The Pope was “responsible for its preservation and enforcement and, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of his Church, he was jointly responsible” with Pope John Paul II.

Catholics “threatened by HIV-AIDS… are faced with a terrible alternative: If they protect themselves with condoms during sexual intercourse, they become grave sinners; if they do not protect themselves out of fear of the punishment of sin threatened by the church, they become candidates for death.”

There was also “strong suspicion that Dr Joseph Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of his church and as Pope, has up to the present day systematically covered up the sexual abuse of children and youths and protected the perpetrators, thereby aiding and abetting further sexual violence toward young people”.
Read the full charge sheet (pdf)

German Catholic Church offers abuse victims “insulting” 5,000 euros each

The Catholic Church in Germany has proposed paying victims of sexual abuse up to 5,000 euros (£4,200) each, in cases that can no longer be brought to court because too much time has elapsed since the alleged crime took place. In particularly serious cases, the church says a higher sum would be paid out. In addition, the church will pay for the cost of therapy for those abused by priests or other church employees.

But Matthias Katsch from the victims’ group “Square Table” rejected the proposal, calling the sum “insulting.” Katsch told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper it showed how “the richest church in the world was trying to distance itself from the affair.”

NSS member and RC abuse survivor Sue Cox added: “the amount they are offering them is just like saying ‘here’s a Kleenex, love, off you go’ – disrespectful and too easy.”

No religious opt-out from providing morning-after pill for Irish pharmacists

Unlike their English equivalents, Irish pharmacists are obliged to sell the Morning-After-Pill (MAP) regardless of their beliefs, or they could fall foul of the pharmacists’ Code of Conduct.

Last week, the Irish Medicines Board approved the sale of Norlevo, a new type of MAP, over the counter without the need for a prescription.

Questioned by the Irish Catholic magazine, The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) confirmed that under their Code of Conduct, pharmacists must stock the MAP or “take reasonable action to ensure that these medicines or services are provided”.

The Code makes no provision for the possible conscientious objections on religious or any other grounds.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland said that if a pharmacy did not have a supply of the MAP in stock at a given point in time, they would have to refer a customer to another pharmacy. On the issue of the lack of “conscience clause”, the PSI said “the Code is as it stands”.

Principle One of the Code of Conduct states: ”The practice by a pharmacist of his/her profession must be directed to maintaining and improving the health, wellbeing, care and safety of the patient. This is the primary principle and the following principles must be read in light of this principle.”

Interpreting Principle One, the guide to the Code says pharmacists must ”ensure that in instances where they are unable to provide prescribed medicines or pharmacy services to a patient they must take reasonable action to ensure these medicines/services are provided and the patient’s care is not jeopardised”.

A spokesperson for the PSI stated: ”The Pharmacy Act (2007) obliges pharmacists to practise under this code which places the health, wellbeing, care and safety of patients as their primary concern.”

In Britain, however, the Code of The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) does allow pharmacists with strong religious convictions to opt out of providing the morning after pill. This has resulted in several high profile cases of women who were outraged when they were refused the MAP by pharmacists on grounds of religious conscience.

The NSS and the Secular Medical Forum have taken every opportunity to oppose this, with the NSS making its first objection to the GPhC’s predecessor body in 2004.
See also: Is there a place for God in the Irish classroom?

Secularist of the Year approaches – have you got your ticket?

This year’s Secularist of the Year prize-giving ceremony is now only a couple of weeks away, and ticket sales will have to close shortly so that the venue can make appropriate catering arrangements. As the date approaches, there has been a surge in bookings, so if you’d like to be at this exciting and genial event, please order your tickets as soon as possible.

The nominations for the Irwin Prize are here and the winner will receive £5,000 and the Golden Ammonite trophy.

The presentation will take place at a glittering lunchtime event in London’s Soho on Saturday 19 March. After a welcome cocktail and a three course lunch (including tea or coffee), the prizes will be handed out. We’re also honouring our volunteers of the year and giving a special extra prize for outstanding achievement (this has previously been won by Ariane Sherine for her atheist bus campaign and Samantha Stein for her work on Camp Quest).

We are delighted to be able to announce that the winner of Secularist of the Year will be there in person to collect the prize. It will be presented by our special guest of honour, author and philosopher Professor A.C. Grayling. Several other honorary associates will be in attendance, as well as NSS members from around the country. It’s always a friendly and light-hearted event and will end early enough in the afternoon for those outside of London to make their way home in good time.

And while you’re enjoying your top-notch lunch, Neil Edwards (“Mr Trickman” himself) a leading “table magician” will be defying your skepticism with a mind boggling selection of sleight of hand illusions.

Tickets are selling fast, so you need to book quickly if you want to be there, you can book online or by post from NSS SoY, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Tickets are £45 each (£15 for students with identification). Please include the names of all your party, together with any requests for special dietary needs.

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