Posts Tagged ‘ sectarianism ’

Newsline – 7th October 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

  • Community school enters partnership with Church 
  • NSS challenges Church expansionism into education 
  • Scottish Minister to meet bishop as bigotry row escalates 
  • NSS and BBC blamed for anti-Christian political correctness 
  • Study supporting gay conversion challenged 
  • Churches challenge plans for gay marriage

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N.B. We apologise for the missing audio newsletter for the past 3 weeks.  We had a small problem with our blog audio files which has now been fixed


Newsline – 9th September 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

Listen to the AUDIO VERSION by clicking the play button below

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

In this week’s Newsline

  • Daily collective worship – why is it still a legal requirement in England? 
  • Dorries defeated 
  • One Law for All – and it isn’t canon law 
  • The Brownie Guide Promise – time for change 
  • Richmond Borough Clash on Catholic School 
  • NSS urges action on religious discrimination in the succession to the throne 


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Newsline – 15th July 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

  • Trevor Phillips makes another big mistake – and gay people may have to pay the price 
  • Christianity should dominate all lessons, even maths, says bishop 
  • Lords meeting raises awareness of sharia law abuses 
  • Faith school bus passes scrapped in Coventry 
  • BBC devotes yet more time to religion 
  • End sectarian character of monarchy in Scotland, says NSS 
  • Catholic Church in Germany agrees to open files for abuse investigation 

Trevor Phillips makes another big mistake and gay people may have to pay the price – Editorial by Terry Sanderson

The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, has been giving out mixed messages about the present campaign by extremist Christians to undermine the equality legislation.

A couple of weeks ago he issued a report saying that on the one hand Christians were finding their rights restricted by “too narrow” an interpretation of the law. On the other hand there were Christian activists who were bringing these cases not to gain justice but to obtain political influence.

And on yet another hand, he didn’t want to see the rights of gay people trampled by the granting of special legal privileges and exemptions to religious people. So, out of that mish-mash of contradiction, we have to make some kind of sense.

It all came to a head when the EHRC announced this week that it will seek to intervene in several ridiculous cases taken to the European Court of Human Rights by the Christian Legal Centre. You will remember that this case claims that religious believers are suffering legal disadvantage in Britain.

The EHRC issued a statement that was another masterpiece of confusion. In it, it said:

Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims. If given leave to intervene, the EHRC will argue that the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.

It will say that the courts have set the bar too high for someone to prove that they have been discriminated against because of their religion or belief; and that it is possible to accommodate expression of religion alongside the rights of people who are not religious and the needs of businesses.

The Commission is concerned that rulings already made by UK and European courts have created a body of confusing and contradictory case law. For example, some Christians wanting to display religious symbols in the workplace have lost their legal claim so are not allowed to wear a cross, while others have been allowed to after reaching a compromise with their employer.

As a result, it is difficult for employers or service providers to know what they should be doing to protect people from religion or belief based discrimination. They may be being overly cautious in some cases and so are unnecessarily restricting people’s rights. It is also difficult for employees who have no choice but to abide by their employer’s decision.

The Commission thinks there is a need for clearer legal principles to help the courts consider what is and what is not justifiable in religion or belief cases, which will help to resolve differences without resorting to legal action. The Commission will propose the idea of ‘reasonable accommodations’ that will help employers and others manage how they allow people to manifest their religion or belief.

For example, if a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.

Well, let’s look at the four cases that are being brought to the European Court of Human Rights:

The first is that of Nadia Eweida. If you believe what you read in the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph about this woman, you would assume she is a poor, downtrodden little Christian lady, bullied and traduced by her monolithic, anti-religious employer, British Airways. But that isn’t the case. If you take the trouble to read the employment tribunal judgment on this case, you can see that it is Ms Eweida who is, in fact, the bully. Read the untold parts of the story .

Trevor Phillips calls for “reasonable accommodation” for religious beliefs, similar to that granted to disabled people at work. Well, Ms Eweida was given everything she asked for by BA, and more. She can wear her cross over her uniform – BA changed its uniform policy to accommodate her. She was even offered compensation, but still she insists on taking the case further. Having acceded to every demand, what further accommodation could BA have made?

Similarly, with the case of nurse Shirley Chaplin who was suspended from her job for refusing to abide by uniform regulations and take off a necklace that happened to have a cross on it.

If you depend on newspaper reports for your information, it seems cut and dried – a clear case of discrimination. But if you take the trouble to dig a little deeper and read the whole story (including the details that the Mail and Telegraph conveniently left out) you will see that the health authority for which Mrs Chaplin worked had said that there was a risk that if nurses wore dangling jewellery, it could pose a threat to health and safety. It didn’t matter if it was a cross or a lucky pixie that was attached to the chain, the result would be the same if a patient grabbed it and refused to let go.

The health authority asked her, as a compromise, to wear the cross pinned to her uniform as a broach. But not our Shirley – oh no, she wanted a confrontation. And very soon she was being paraded in the press as the latest victim of religious persecution.

When her case came to an employment tribunal it was thrown out in its entirety. There had been no discrimination, direct or indirect. There had been no banning of crosses, only dangling jewellery. But you’d never know that from reading about it in the papers.

The health authority had tried to find a “reasonable accommodation” but Shirley was fighting for something bigger – a privilege for Christians to do as they please at work.

Also on the list for Europe is the case of Lillian Ladele, the registrar in Islington who refused to carry out civil partnership ceremonies because she said they were against her religion. Ms Ladele — a public servant — was refusing to provide the service she was employed to provide to the whole of the community.

It was argued that she should have been given an exemption and her colleagues assigned to do civil partnerships, thereby avoiding conflict.

If that had been done then the principle would be established that it is OK to deny services to gay people because you don’t like them. Ms Ladele said it was because of her religious conscience, but it seems like a very selective conscience when you consider that she raised no objection to re-marrying divorcees or those who had become pregnant while unmarried – indeed, she had been in that situation herself.

Gary McFarlane, the counsellor for Avon Relate who refused to offer his services to gay couples — clearly contradicting the organisation’s equal opportunities policy which he had signed up to abide by — is another case in point. How do you accommodate such obdurate bigotry without totally compromising the rights of other people?

None of these cases has any merit. They have been repeatedly thrown out of English courts or tribunals. And yet the Equality and Human Rights Commission intends to intervene to say that the courts have interpreted the law too narrowly! The very organisation that should be supporting the judicial decisions, that were made on rational grounds, in full possession of the facts, is trying to undermine them.

Naturally the gay community, seeing itself on the front line, was alarmed at the possible implications of all this for their hard won rights. Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, put out a statement requesting more reasoning as to why the EHRC intended to do this. The NSS also issued a statement and spoke on Radio 5 Live and LBC.

The EHRC then issued a further “clarifying statement” about what they were doing. Unfortunately, it just made things worse.

It was in a question and answer format:

Q. Why did the Commission make applications to intervene in these four cases?
These four cases were already before European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) before the Commission considered intervening and it is our expectation that all four are highly likely to be heard together because they involve the same legal question.

Commissioners on our Regulatory Committee took the view that, given our role as the National Human Rights Institution and equality regulator, it was not appropriate for these important cases to be heard without our input into the complex equality and human rights issues, including to ensure the principle of ‘reasonable accommodation’ is considered by the court.

We recognise that our stakeholders have important practical experience of how these issues affect the workplace and we intend to seek the views of our stakeholders before making submissions to the ECtHR . We will therefore be contacting our stakeholders as soon as we receive notification from the Court that our intervention is permitted for their views in the anticipated 3 week period during which we prepare our submissions. 

Q. Who is the Commission supporting?
The Court does not permit interventions to support one party or to comment on the facts. In our role as an intervener in existing legal proceedings, we do not support either party in a case but simply seek to aid the court with the benefit of the Commission’s policy input and interpretation of the law.

The purpose of our intervention is to explain that the law should consider how it may give better respect for religious rights within the workplace than has hitherto been the case, without diminishing the rights of others. We want to change the view that there needs to be an either/or situation. The spotlight and focus is placed too frequently on conflict in place of dialogue that could help identify other acceptable workable solutions.

The accommodation of rights is not a zero sum equation whereby one right cancels out or trumps another. We believe that if the law and practice were considered more widely, then in many situations there would be scope for diverse rights to be respected.

Our view is that careful, sensitive and balanced treatment and consideration is discouraged by the approach taken by the courts to date. In turn, this hinders the development and dissemination of better practice amongst those with duties. We believe that where possible ways should be found within the law of promoting the resolution of disputes at an early stage, without protracted, costly, complex legal proceedings that irretrievably damage relations between the parties.

Q. Does this intervention reflect a new approach to the Commission’s work to ensure equality and prevent discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation?
Certainly not. We do not and will not licence discrimination and we continue to believe in the importance of taking action to eliminate it. For example, we will continue to support the appeal to the Court of Appeal to defend the rights of the gay couple who were not allowed to share a double room at a hotel on behalf of civil partners Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy.

There is not — and cannot be — any change in the Commission’s role as the NHRI and equality regulator with responsibility for preventing discrimination against people on grounds of sexual orientation, a responsibility that we aspire to fulfil to the best of our ability.

We would like to reassure our stakeholders that under no circumstances would the Commission condone or permit the refusal of public services to lesbian or gay people.

This “clarification” does nothing to allay the fears of those who see their own rights about to be sacrificed on the altar of religious demands. And if the European Court upholds this appeal, it will have ramifications for the whole of Europe. Religion will have taken one more step to dominating and dictating our shared culture.

The EHRC and Trevor Phillips have made a serious mistake with this, and we call on them to withdraw this intervention application without delay.

Christianity should dominate all lessons, even maths, says bishop

Church schools should apply a “Christian perspective” to all aspects of the curriculum including mathematics, the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham has said.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler said Christian values should affect all areas of teaching and not just religious education in Church of England schools:

“The way maths is taught is by and large assuming a capitalist economics which we may have questions of,” he told members of the General Synod meeting in York. “We need to explore different models from a Christian perspective of how we approach all the curriculum, not just RE.”

He added that he had been “deeply disturbed” recently by his own 17-year-old daughter’s drama classes:

“She is great at it, it has been fantastic to watch but the moral content has been deeply dubious and there are plenty of choices that could have been made which were different,” he said. “Whilst doing all the work on RE, we must, must, work on the whole curriculum.”

Bishop Butler’s call was backed by Kenneth Shorey, a General Synod member from Hook, Hampshire who previously worked as a mathematics teacher:

“I think if I was going back now I would be choosing a different set of examples, not simply teaching percentages of profit and loss or earning – and if it was saving it might be for some overseas project rather than a new dress or a new bike,” he said. “You can challenge the materialism and consumerism that underpins the values of society.”

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:

“Ideology, in this case religious ideas, being drummed into children at every opportunity is what we criticise North Korea for. Taxpayers should not be paying for this brainwashing in what is often the only school in a neighbourhood.”  

Lords meeting raises awareness of sharia law abuses

Lord Carlile QC has expressed concern over the lack of awareness of lawyers and judges of the major human rights implications of sharia law. He was speaking at a presentation to peers on Wednesday about the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill being tabled by Baroness Cox and launched last month jointly with the NSS.

Lord Carlile said a major obstacle to progress was the growing enthusiasm for alternative dispute resolution, partly driven by the massive cuts in legal aid. He saw this leading to a loss of rights and that this was a major concern in the area of family law, particularly in cases of violence.

Lord Carlile emphasised that the rule of law is absolute and indivisible and that the introduction of sharia would result in structural inequality. He observed that while peers had highlighted sharia’s inequalities against women, no mention had been made of gay people. He was adamant that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (fair trial) could not possibly be met by sharia courts.

He echoed peers’ concerns that rape within marriage is not regarded as illegal in sharia and in practice victims are denied the protection to which there are entitled under UK law because of “cultural sensitivity”, as the DPP often declines to prosecute. He added that Judicial Review could be applied for in such cases and is an effective public law remedy.

He too shared concerns about the potential encroachment of sharia “courts” into areas under this jurisdiction of the criminal and family law courts.

Speaking from the platform were Bishop Nazir Ali and Keith Porteous Wood (who, unusually, is in agreement with the bishop on this subject) and Finula Murphy of victim support agency Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO). Lady Cox spoke highly of the One Law For All campaign, which the NSS also supports. She indicated that a date for the Second Reading of the Bill has not yet been set.

Keith Porteous Wood noted that the Muslim representative in a recent discussion in Parliament about the use of the Arbitration Act to enforce sharia decisions had given the impression that he had no problem with stonings of women in Muslim countries. (He had also said that the superiority of sharia over man-made laws was so self evident it was not necessary to debate.)

Keith added that he had been heartened by how positively the Bill had been received both by the press and by peers. He was pleased that the supporters had been from moderates and a broad political base; although he warned of the danger of the moderate Bill being hijacked by religious extremists or fascist groups.

Keith also noted that in the last few weeks alone there had been calls for a parallel sharia legal system in Australia. He revealed he had spoken out against such ideas at a meeting of lawyers and academics sponsored by the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels – a gathering devoted to the “incorporation of Sharia law in the UK”. His dissenting voice had been very much in the minority, even after he reminded delegates that the jurisprudence Europe had built up on Human Rights in the last 50 years was the envy of the world, something the adoption of sharia would totally undermine.

He concluded by observing that the elected chamber had lacked the courage to tackle Sharia. He urged peers to support Baroness Cox’s Bill, in essence seeking to put a Human Rights wrapper around Sharia when being enforced by UK law.

It was also felt that tribunals strayed into areas that are the jurisdiction of criminal law, and by doing so protect offenders from prosecution and criminal records. 

Faith school bus passes scrapped in Coventry

Free school bus passes for children travelling more than three miles to faith schools or single sex schools in Coventry are to be scrapped. Coventry City Council’s Labour-run cabinet is expected to approve the changes next Tuesday following a public consultation.

The cut will save the council up to £240,000 a year. The average cost of a yearly school bus pass is £250.

Also facing the axe is free transport to Catholic schools where children have attended the relevant feeder primary school. The plan faced opposition from parents and the Catholic diocese, with some arguing it was discriminating on religious grounds. The changes will be introduced from September 2012 for all new applicants. But those pupils who have already qualified for bus passes will not be affected until they leave their secondary school, or their family moves home.

BBC devotes yet more time to religion

The BBC’s annual report, published this week, reveals that the amount of broadcast time devoted to religion has risen yet again.

On BBC1 there were 98 hours of religious broadcasting last year (as opposed to 97 the year before). On BBC2 the amount of religion rose from 37 hours to 50 hours. On BBC4 it fell slightly from 40 hours to 37 hours. On BBC Radio 1,181 hours were devoted to religion (compared with 1,173 the year before).

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

“It seems the churches’ constant moaning about being neglected by the BBC has paid off again. The thousands of hours of broadcasting time devoted to religion is quite disproportionate to the number of those who want it. No doubt the chorus of whinging will start up again soon to achieve another increase next year.” 

End sectarian character of monarchy in Scotland, says NSS

In a letter to Scottish MPs the National Secular Society has stated that the additionally protestant character of the monarchy in Scotland should be ended.

In addition to being Supreme Governor of the Church of England and swearing the coronation oath to maintain the protestant reformed religion in the UK, a new monarch also swears to maintain Protestantism and Presbyterianism in Scotland.

The letter, from Norman Bonney, the NSS’s council member for Scotland, was also sent to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Prime Minister.

In the letter, Professor Bonney explained that one of the first acts of a new monarch, according to the 1707 Act of Union, is to swear to uphold Protestantism and Presbyterianism in Scotland. 

“Such a measure is unnecessary in contemporary Scotland and can only contribute to continuing sectarian divisions”, he said. “Elizabeth II swore this oath in 1952. It would be most inappropriate for her successor to do the same. An opportunity to correct this ancient legal provision is now available during the current consideration at Westminster of new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Parliamentarians should seize this opportunity to modernise this aspect of the constitution of Scotland.” 

Catholic Church in Germany agrees to open files for abuse investigation

News magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that Germany’s Catholic Church is planning to launch a large-scale investigation into possible sexual abuse committed by clergy.

According to the magazine, the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN) will be granted access to the personnel records for the past 10 years for all 27 German dioceses. In addition, records will be made available for nine dioceses dating back to 1945.

Church employees will be investigated by a team of KFN experts, consisting of retired prosecutors and judges, who will look at the records. Additionally the alleged victims of sexual assault will be given a questionnaire to fill in details about the incident. Following these stages, a second round of in-depth interviews will be made with offenders.

The unanimous decision for the full inquiry was made at the German Bishops’ Conference on June 20, according to Der Spiegel .

The investigation will determine how such abuses came about, how the church has dealt with them in the past, and what conclusions can be drawn to prevent new cases.

In another study, a group headed by renowned Essen court psychiatrist Norbert Leygraf will examine 50 cases of clergy who are under suspicion of sexual misconduct. This group will focus on the psychological side of the cases.

Following a spate of allegations of sexual abuse that rocked the Catholic Church in 2009 and 2010, the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference was criticized for their slow response. In March, it agreed to a pitiful, indeed insulting €5,000 (£4,400) payout for victims of sexual abuse. 

Newsline – 24th June

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

  • Education Bill – NSS meets minister
  • Vatican promises report following pressure from NSS Executive Director
  • NSS warns of free speech implications of Scottish football hate bill
  • Catholic adoption agency ordered to stop discriminating against gays is denied further appeal
  • Nottingham Secularists complain about “healing church” claims
  • Despite protests, Hampshire cuts “faith school” transport subsidies
  • Trevor Phillip’s Thoughtless Intervention

Education Bill – NSS meets minister

As the (English) Education Bill progresses through the House of Lords, NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood and campaigns manager Stephen Evans this week held talks with schools Minister Nick Gibb MP and his ministerial team. The intensive round table meeting focussed on legislation or proposed legislation which discriminates against teachers who are regarded in religious schools as being of the “wrong faith” or not having a religion.

Keith Porteous Wood commented:

“It was a constructive, productive and cordial meeting. We used as the basis of our discussion legal opinion backing up the key amendments we have had tabled by honorary associates. The Minister and his team listened carefully to the points we made, and we gave them a great deal to think about. Mr Gibb is already aware that we’ve formally complained about a number of issues in this area to the European Commission as being in breach of an EU directive; and Brussels is clearly taking them seriously.”

The dialogue with the ministerial team will continue as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Keith said:

“We would like to put on record our thanks to honorary associate peers for their tireless enthusiasm and magnificent help in putting down amendments to the Bill – on teacher employment, collective worship, school transport and cohesion.” 

Vatican promises report following pressure from NSS Executive Director

The Vatican has at last given an indication that it will submit a report to the United Nations this autumn on its treatment of children.

The “Holy See’s” envoy in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said on Monday “From what I’m able to say it’s that (in) September or October it will be presented.”

The Holy See has been challenged on two occasions at the United Nations Human Rights Council by NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood about its failure to produce the report. Now his goading appears to have paid off – even though the report is 14 years overdue and has been promised before and not materialised.

The report was originally due to be submitted to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1997, but failed to appear year after year without explanation. Under pressure from Keith — acting as a spokesperson for the International Humanist and Ethical Union — Tomasi said last year that the report’s release was imminent. But he arrogantly told reporters in Geneva on Monday that “imminent, in the tradition of the Church, it’s a very long time.”

Human rights groups have urged the Vatican to explain in the report its role in the cover-up of child abuse committed by Catholic clergy.

Keith commented:

“The first time I made this challenge to the Holy See in Geneva, they issued a rebuttal trying to shift the blame on to others. It was an almost unbelievably callous response which caused an international controversy. On the second occasion Signor Tomasi wisely kept silent, but it is clear that our insistence that they produce this report is making them explain themselves, something the Vatican is not used to doing. Of course, we have yet to see the report, but if it doesn’t arrive by October, we will once more want to know why.”

Mr Porteous Wood said he hoped the Vatican would be honest about its failings in the protection of children from abuse by its priests. “However, having seen other documents on this matter from the Vatican, I suspect that they’ll manage not to even mention their own role in a massive international cover up.” 

NSS warns of free speech implications of Scottish football hate bill

Alarmed at the Scottish parliament’s determination to rush through an ill-considered bill to challenge sectarianism in football, the NSS made a submission to the Parliament’s Justice Committee pointing out potential threats to freedom of expression.

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill 2011 risked proscribing “robust debate” the NSS said.

In its submission the NSS wrote:

“It is essential that the prosecution threshold always includes intention, not just likelihood. We do not think that material on its own should be deemed threatening; in order to secure a conviction, persons should need to have been threatened. Similar concerns were recognised by late freedom of expression amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act in England. Alex Salmond voted for these in England; but so far there is no equivalent in the Scottish Bill.”

Following a torrent of objections to the Bill from religious and secular groups, the Scottish government has now said further consideration will be given to it and that it will probably not be decided upon until the end of the year. A few hours before this announcement, the Government was saying that it would be enacted “within weeks”.

In a letter to the Scotsman, Norman Bonney, the NSS spokesman in Scotland, appealed to the Justice Committee to ensure that adequate time was given “to consider in depth the complexities of challenging sectarianism in contemporary Scotland.”

NSS member Alistair McBay, also writing in the Scotsman, said religious groups will inevitably use the Bill as it stands to suppress wider, legitimate opposition to their agenda.

“Indeed, it has already begun,” he wrote. “Representatives of the Catholic Church in Scotland, an institution that famously branded singing and doing the Hokey Cokey a “faith hate crime”, has recently suggested that sectarianism is in part fuelled by newspapers which publish articles and letters from those who object to Catholic faith schools. It is already seeking to use the sectarianism debate to suppress legitimate alternative views of how children in Scotland should be educated.”

In an editorial, the Scotsman said:

“Such a rush to law was guaranteed to result in a morass of unintended consequence. Christine Grahame, the SNP convener of the parliament’s Justice Committee, showed courage in challenging the executive — particularly in the current adulatory atmosphere — and in expressing her misgivings over the inadequate time allowed.”

Catholic adoption agency ordered to stop discriminating against gays is denied further appeal

The First Tier Tribunal (Charity) has rejected the Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) adoption agency’s latest appeal, stating that there were no “errors of law” in its judgment that the adoption agency could not discriminate against same-sex couples wishing to use its services.

Principle judge Alison McKenna confirmed in a recently-released decision paper that the First Tier Tribunal (Charity) would not grant permission for Catholic Care to appeal to the next stage in the legal hierarchy, the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber).

Catholic Care argued during the March hearing that, if it were not permitted to discriminate against same-sex couples, it would lose its funding from the Catholic Church, which would force it to close down its adoption service. The charity, which is based in Leeds, has facilitated about five adoptions a year in recent years.

The tribunal’s decision says the charity argued in its application for an appeal that “no reasonable tribunal could have failed to mention the charity’s evidence to the effect that a saving to the public purse would be achieved by the availability of the charity’s voluntary funding [from the church]”.

It says Catholic Care also argued that “in so far as a same-sex couple would suffer a demeaning effect by not being able to use the charity’s adoption services, the discrimination would emanate from the church and not from the charity. The Equality Act 2010 gives no right to complain about discrimination emanating from the church.”

In the document, Alison McKenna, principal judge of the charity tribunal, wrote: “I have concluded that the grounds of appeal before me do not identify ‘errors of law’ in the decision.

“In the circumstances, I conclude that there is no power for the tribunal to review its decision in this case and I have also, for the same reasons, concluded that permission to appeal should be refused.”

However Catholic Care does still have the right to ask the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) directly for permission to appeal.

Catholic Care has been fighting in numerous hearings since 2008 to overturn the Charity Commission’s ruling that it cannot change its charitable objects in order to prevent same-sex couples from using its adoption services. 

Nottingham Secularists complain about “healing church” claims

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint from Nottingham Secular Society president Dennis Penaluna. The complaint concerned a leaflet produced by St Mark’s, Woodthorpe – a Church of England church. It claimed that their god could cure anything: MS, Depression, Cancer, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Phobias, Arthritis … or any other sickness – although no mention was made of HIV.

The ASA has agreed with the Nottingham Secular Society that St Mark’s was making unsubstantiated claims, and has instructed the church to remove references in its leaflet, to “… healing sickness and the list of medical conditions.”

Dennis Penaluna told Newsline that he was delighted, but not surprised, with the ASA decision.

“Basic common sense and rational thought have won through.” He went on to warn though that “Happy Clappy Healer Sects” like these were springing up all over the country and must be stopped. “Their ridiculous and very dangerous claims can and must be challenged.” 

Despite protests, Hampshire cuts “faith school” transport subsidies

Despite heavy pressure from religious groups, Hampshire County Council this week made a final decision to scrap transport subsidies to religious schools. The Council hopes to save up to £800,000 per year.

The County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Roy Perry, approved the removal of most discretionary allowances, including funding transport to faith schools. He said:

“I do respect the work faith schools are doing and the right of parents to choose faith schools. If parents want to send their children further away to a faith school that is their choice. I welcome that, but it has to be at their expense.” 

Trevor Phillips’ thoughtless intervention

Editorial by Terry Sanderson

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, headed by Trevor Phillips, has issued a report on religious discrimination (Religious Discrimination in Britain) which struggles hard to find evidence for any large-scale discrimination on religious grounds.

Even though it manages to extend to 105 pages it fails to convince us that religious discrimination is a big problem in this country.

The report was commissioned from Paul Weller, Professor of the Inter-Religious Relations Society, Society Religion and Belief Research Group at the University of Derby (sic) whose methods the NSS has criticised before.

Professor Weller is very much of the opinion that more research is required in this area and more reports need to be written. He needs to prove that religious discrimination is a major problem. Does that mean he’ll have to keep pushing the sort of biased questionnaire we criticised previously ?

Launching the report, Trevor Phillips gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph in which he contradicted himself several times, gave mixed messages which left everyone thoroughly confused and, in some cases, deeply insulted (suggesting, for instance, that all afro-Caribbean Christians are homophobes).

He says:

“The thing I’ve become anxious about in recent times is this – there is certainly a feeling amongst some people of belief that they are under siege, that they are often disadvantaged, that they are looked at and considered in some way different and their faith makes them less worthy of regard,” he said.

“There is a view that says religion is a private matter and it’s entirely a choice. I think that’s entirely not right. Faith identity is part of what makes life richer and more meaningful for the individual. It is a fundamental part of what makes some societies better than others in my view.

“I understand why a lot of people in faith groups feel a bit under siege. They’re in a world where there are a lot of very clever people who have a lot of access to the airwaves and write endlessly in the newspapers knocking religion and mocking God. The people who want to drive religion underground are much more active, much more vocal. There is no doubt there’s quite a lot of intolerance towards people of faith and towards belief. There’s a great deal of polemic which is anti-religious, which is quite fashionable. People can sometimes think we’re part of that fashionable mocking and knocking brigade. We’re not that.”

So, are we to take from this that Trevor Phillips thinks religion is beyond criticism? That it is wrong to disagree and argue with what are, sometimes, ridiculous religious claims? Is it wrong to criticise believers who behave intolerantly towards others just because they say they are doing it from religious motivation?

Mr Phillips hasn’t thought this through. His opinions are confused because later he goes on to criticise those evangelical Christians who are presently bringing one court case after another claiming discrimination where there is none. He says, quite rightly, that they are not doing this to defend against discrimination but to gain political influence.

The NSS has been telling him this for the past decade.

Mr Phillips also says:

“Our business is defending the believer. The law we’re here to implement recognises that a religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a fulfilled human being and plays an important part in our society. Religion or belief is as much part of our identity as other characteristics such as race, gender, or being a parent. People should not be penalised or treated in a discriminatory way because of it.”

Where does Mr Phillips get the idea that “religious or belief identity is, for the majority of people in Britain, an essential element of being a human being”? A survey for the Home Office showed that Britons regard religion as only the ninth most important aspect of their life (out of ten). Everyday lived experience should tell him that what he is saying is a load of tosh. And the idea that those who don’t have a religious faith are somehow “not fully human” is a gross insult.

We agree that his job is to defend the believer. The individual believer. We don’t want to see individuals being treated unfairly because they belong to a particular religion (or because they don’t have a religion).

But it is not his job to defend their beliefs or protect them from being questioned, criticised and even mocked.

Where has Mr Phillips been during the endless arguments about religious threats to freedom of expression over the past decade? He seems to have missed them and is taking us right back to the beginning with his ill-considered pronouncements.

If someone is sacked simply because they belong to a particular religion, then the NSS will defend their rights. If they are sacked because they claim their religious beliefs will not permit them to carry out their duties in their entirety, to the detriment of others, then we will oppose them.

If this is the best Trevor Phillips and Professor Weller can come up with, then perhaps it is time they both considered their positions.

Newsline – 22nd 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

  • Bishop admits that church schools succeed because of selection
  • NSS calls on PM to remove bar on Catholics in royal succession
  • Sectarianism in Scottish football runs deep
  • Christian group seeks to take over library from council
  • Opposition grows to Catholic school in Richmond
  • Vatican looking for new ally in ambition to dominate European Union
  • Sex allegations against clergy cost US Catholic Church $2.34 billion since 2004

Bishop admits that church schools succeed because of selection

The National Secular Society says that the Church of England’s new head of education, the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard, is the first high-profile Anglican to admit that Church schools get their league-topping results by using privileged admissions criteria to select the best pupils.

Mr Pritchard is likely to set the cat among the pigeons this week by telling the Times Education Supplement that he would like to open up church schools to more non-Anglicans – reserving only 10 per cent of places for the children of church-goers.

By doing so, he said:

“We may not get the startling results that some church schools do because of getting some very able children, but we will make a difference to people’s lives.”

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

“The Church has repeatedly denied that the strict selection criteria that are applied in some schools are the reason they perform so well. We are told that it is because of the ‘Christian ethos’. Now the cat is out of the bag and the Bishop of Oxford lets us know that the Church is fully aware of why their schools perform so well.”

Mr Sanderson said:

“It is astonishing that we are even having this discussion or that this is an issue at all. It is scandalous that state schools, paid for by the taxpayer, can refuse to admit children on the grounds of their parents’ religion or purported religion. In no other area would this kind of blatant religious discrimination be permitted.”

Mr Sanderson did concede that it was a step in the right direction, but he expressed doubt on whether any dramatic changes would be made in the near future, if at all. He said that voluntary aided schools control their own admissions policies and the church would not be able to force them to comply.

“Parents who access these schools won’t be too thrilled to see them opened up to the community at large,” he said. “We’ve all heard of pushy, non-religious parents suddenly becoming regular church-goers in order to get a letter from the vicar that is the open sesame to the local church school.

“The Church of England’s main focus these days is education, and if they give up their admissions privileges, their schools will become just like all the other schools in this country, and the resources that they hog to themselves will have to be more equally shared out.”

Mr Pritchard told the TES:

“I’m really committed to our schools being as open as they can be. Every school should have a policy that has a proportion of places for church youngsters… what I would be saying is that number ought to be minimised because our primary function and our privilege is to serve the wider community. Ultimately, I hope we can get the number of reserved places down to 10 per cent.”

Half of the 4,800 Church of England schools are voluntary aided, meaning they control their own admissions policies. He said that schools should not “collect nice Christians into safe places” but should serve the wider community.

The Bishop’s comments come ahead of the publication of new guidelines on admissions due in the summer.

The Bishop’s proposals are likely to face stiff opposition from others involved in education within the Church. Revd Clive Sedgewick, director of education for the dioceses of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds said there would be resistance from some parents who have come to regard Church schools as almost like a private education without the fees.

In an editorial in the TES, Gerard Kelly said:

“The vast majority of faith school funding is provided by taxpayers, who come in two varieties – the religious and the non-religious. Whatever the precise proportions, it is generally accepted that services paid for by taxpayers should be available to all. Except when it comes to faith schools. Here, believing taxpayers often take precedence over non-believing ones. One hundred per cent discrimination for the remarkably cheap price of 10 per cent contribution to building costs.

“This is patently unjust. Church leaders may retort that non-believing taxpayers have access to 80 per cent of schools that are non-faith. But that isn’t the point. Can you imagine a non-faith school refusing to admit a church-going pupil because there was a school for her sort locally? The Bishop has taken a principled stand. But it is time the state was equally brave and told faith schools to open their doors.”

NSS calls on PM to remove bar on Catholics in royal succession

The National Secular Society has written to The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister calling for Parliament to debate the removal of discrimination against Catholics in royal succession.

The letter from the Society’s Executive Director, Keith Porteous Wood, opened by welcoming steps being taken towards the removal of the discriminatory primogeniture provisions in respect of the heir to the throne. However, he pointed out that “It is unacceptable that any change in this area could be made without removing the equally inexcusable prohibition on the sovereign marrying a Roman Catholic.”

He continued:

“If consultation is to take place with Commonwealth leaders over primogeniture, it is unthinkable not to include the question of discrimination against Catholics, and indeed the former Government undertook to do this, two years ago. The question was discussed during the Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill introduced by Dr Evan Harris. The then Lord Chancellor concluded that debate with the phrase ‘I shall certainly ensure that soundings are taken among Commonwealth Heads of Government.’  We call upon you to confront this indefensible discrimination that would be illegal in every other situation by submitting it to the will of Parliament at Westminster. Positive feedback has already been given by senior representatives of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. As all legislation has to be interpreted in the light of the Human Rights Act, the Government may care to seek advice as to whether, as it seems, succession determined free of discrimination on grounds of sex or religion would already be lawful without any legislative changes.”

Later in the week, Mr Cameron was challenged on the Today programme by Evan Davis to explain his approach to the discrimination against Catholics and women in the royal succession. He replied that he supported the necessary changes “in principle”. But he warned that:

“The Queen is not only the Queen of the United Kingdom, but of many other jurisdictions, so discussions have to take place between the UK Government and other governments around the world and also the Palace to bring this about. So it will take time.”

John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, said that he agreed with the need to change the rules on primogeniture: “New Zealand supports that view.” But he cautioned: “I don’t know whether those changes will happen any time soon.”

Government sources in Canada and Australia have warned however that there is no political appetite in those countries for changing the royal succession, for fear it reopens the debate on republicanism and leaving the Commonwealth.

Permitting Catholics to inherit is expected to pose more of a constitutional and diplomatic problem than permitting females to inherit. Downing Street has said in the past that changing that rule would be “difficult and complex”.

The Act of Settlement was passed by Parliament to settle the royal succession on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant heirs — the ancestors of the Windsor dynasty — and to exclude any claims by the deposed King James II, a Catholic, and his heirs. Along with the 1689 Bill of Rights, it remains one of the main constitutional laws governing the UK and the Commonwealth.

Changing it is fraught with difficulty. The British monarch is the head of state of 16 Commonwealth countries. The Act of Settlement cannot be altered in any realm except by that realm’s own parliament and, by convention, only with the consent of the other 15 realms, as it touches on the succession to the shared throne.

Sectarianism in Scottish football runs deep

After parcel bombs were sent to high-profile officials and fans of the Celtic football team, NSS council member Norman Bonney and Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood accuse the state of playing its own part in perpetuating sectarianism in Scotland.

Norman Bonney writes:

The disciplinary difficulties with the European football authorities that currently face Glasgow Rangers Football Club with respect to sectarian chanting of its supporters in European games were claimed by Glasgow Celtic manager Neil Lennon at the weekend to be deeply rooted in Scottish society and to be passed down at home from generation to generation – a view supported by The Scotsman in an editorial on Saturday 16 April 2011. However, the problem is more far-reaching than this. Parliamentarians and church leaders need to examine and amend the very structure of the Scottish state.

A new monarch is required by law, as one of his or her first acts, to swear an oath to maintain and preserve the protestant religion and the Presbyterian form of church government in Scotland.

This ancient legal requirement, part of the Acts of Union of 1706/7, reflects the religious divisions of over 300 years ago, and should be abolished.

Unless this happens the next monarch will find that he (or she) is contributing to the continuation of sectarian religious divisions in Scottish society and the state.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg should also consider the removal of this UK constitutional provision alongside plans announced this weekend to remove gender discrimination in succession to the throne.

Removal of the Scottish oath is entirely a UK matter and relatively simple compared to the new measure being considered by the Deputy Prime Minister since it does not require the consent of the other Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is head of state.

Keith Porteous Wood says sectarian schooling also plays a part in perpetuating hostility between Catholics and Protestants. He writes:

Catholic schools were established, mainly in the 19th century, because the appalling treatment of (mainly poverty stricken immigrant Irish) Catholics by the indigenous largely Protestant population. No one is suggesting that the Catholic sectarian schools in Scotland are teaching sectarianism, but few will think that it is a coincidence that the epicentre of these difficulties, west central Scotland, is the very area where the Catholic Church is most opposed to integration with mainstream “non-denominational” schools.

They are even obstructive about joint campuses. A statement from North Lanarkshire Council in 2004 set out the requirements of the Catholic Church in respect of joint campuses, including the following: “separate non-pupil entrances and receptions; separate staff rooms; provision of separate libraries; avoidance of crossover of staff and pupils through self-contained design of the schools to preserve the identity of both schools; … and pupils in each of the joint campus schools will have their own separate entrances.”

This bunker mentality by the Church, which in my view is doing its flocks no service, may also be a panic reaction about its own survival evidenced by plummeting mass attendance. In North Lanarkshire this dropped by 40% in just 18 years between 1984 and 2002, the latest figures available. In the same area, attendance at the Church of Scotland, while less than half that of the Catholic Church, has declined much more slowly: by less than a quarter. While I suspect that the Catholics are on balance more victims in this sectarianism, the integration of schools — into ones with no confessional teaching — must be made an absolute priority in strife-torn areas. As with multi-religious/multi-ethnic/multicultural areas south of the border, a prerequisite to integration is children from the whole community being educated together.

Christian group seeks to take over library from council

As the cuts in the public sector deepen we are seeing more and more incursions by religious groups into services that were once considered the responsibility of local authorities. Last week in Perivale, west London, a Christian group offered to run the local library, which the Council was proposing to close as part of its economy measures.

At a meeting of local residents, Philip Edwards, pastor of Hope Community Centre, responded to the council’s request for volunteers to help run the libraries at reduced cost. Mr Edwards said:

“The library is open 33 hours a week at the moment. We could open it as a library for at least 25 hours from Wednesday afternoon to Saturday and we could use it the rest of the week.”

Indeed, the church is at present holding its services at Horsenden Primary School, so a nice little council-owned property that could be used for that purpose would be very welcome. It is significant that the group does not propose to open the library on Sunday – not for library purposes, anyway.

Pastor Edwards said:

“We want to be in the community, I realise that people are nervous of any religious group taking it over. We want to go along and change things in society for good. If we can do something together, let’s do it.”

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

“The prospect of some evangelical group taking over a library raises all kinds of issues. Not only the fact that they intend to install their church rent free on the premises, but we do not know what kind of censorship policy — overt or covert — they would operate. Churches are for praying and saving souls, not running civic services. Let’s hope the residents of Perivale can find some other way of keeping their library open.”

Opposition grows to Catholic school in Richmond

After it was revealed that the counselling and welfare of school children in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames had been handed over to an anti-gay Catholic group, a new row has erupted over the establishment of a Catholic school in the borough.

Despite a poll by the local paper showing 63% of residents opposed the creation of the proposed Catholic secondary school, the local council has supported the plan.

At a packed public meeting, Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, said that the Pope’s speech to youngsters in Richmond last year made him realise “how sad it was” they had no Catholic secondary education in the borough.

He said: “I thought this is a long standing aspiration of this Council and community and it would be great if, in memory of the papal visit and in answer to those aspirations, we could do something.” He said:

“I am not a Catholic, but the challenge and the spirituality of the present Pope are of enormous contemporary relevance. He has put forward arguments which need to be listened to by people.”

But the newly formed Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign said it was disappointed no councillors spoke on behalf of residents who oppose the policy. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for education and schools on the council, councillor Malcolm Eady, pledged his group’s support for the policy, but said he would be surprised if the Government offered funding.

The Inclusive Schools Campaign said the majority of its supporters were parents and included two school governors, along with religious and non-religious residents. Group member Jennifer Singer said:

“Given high demand for places among residents, Richmond’s new schools must be open to all children.”

Lord True said he hoped to announce details of the council’s plans by the summer.

But the Catholic Church is turning out its big guns to push its claims. The Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, stepped in to the argument, saying:

“I fully support the desire and aspirations of parents in Richmond for a Catholic secondary school. I understand that this is a matter which has been the subject of plans and wishes over a number of years, and that the local authority is keen to have, and is supportive of, such a project.”

What the Archbishop did not reveal was that when he was Archbishop of Wales he had said that gay people living in relationships should not be permitted to be teachers. In 2005 he told Wales on Sunday:

“It’s not just about somebody being a good teacher – it’s more than that. Someone living a life in manifest contradiction to the Church’s doctrine would not, in my view, be suitable to be employed by the Catholic Church. It would not give the right example to staff or pupils. When it comes to Catholic teaching, we expect teachers in all our schools to uphold the Catholic ethos. If someone is living a lifestyle which is in conflict to the moral teaching of the church then there is a real difficulty.”

Jeremy Rodell, chairman of the South West London Humanists, countered:

“Our campaign against this school is not anti-Catholic, we are saying the proposal is unfair and discriminative for taxpayers, including the 90 per cent who are not Catholic. To have to fund a school which is socially divisive against most people in the area and provides privileges to a small minority, that just seems completely wrong.”

Vatican looking for new ally in ambition to dominate European Union

The Vatican is supporting the ambitions of Croatia to become a full member of the European Union on the assumption that this overwhelmingly Catholic country will be an ally in the pope’s desire to see Europe once more under Catholic control.

“Affirming that Europe does not have Christian roots would be the equivalent to pretending that a person could live without oxygen or food,” the pope said in a message welcoming Croatia’s new ambassador, Filip Vucak, to the “Holy See”.

Mr Ratzinger also said that “irritating voices contest the reality of Europe’s religious roots with surprising regularity. And he urged Croatia, where nearly 90 per cent of the population is claimed as Catholic, not to be afraid to insist that the EU respect “its cultural and religious identity”.

Croatia hopes to become a full EU member in 2013 or 2014 after the expected passage of a national referendum later this year. The pope will reinforce his influence by visiting the Croatian capital of Zagreb on 4–5 June.

The pope told Mr Vucak:

“I am sure that your country will be able to defend its identity with conviction and pride, avoiding the new obstacles that, under the pretext of a misunderstood idea of religious freedom, are contrary to natural law, the family and — quite simply — morals.”

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

“Here we have the Vatican’s classic techniques of manipulation and control all summed up in a couple of sentences. The pope talks of Croatia’s ‘religious identity’ as though it was a foregone conclusion because 90% of the population were baptised as babes in arms. There is no reason not to think that the abandonment of the Catholic Church that is happening in other parts of Europe isn’t also happening in Croatia.  He talks of ‘natural law’. But in Vatican-speak ‘natural’ is whatever the pope decrees is natural. And when the pope involves ‘the family’, gay people had better watch out. And, as for morality – well, I wonder if the Church in Croatia — which has an iron grip on the country — is being more successful at covering up priestly child abuse than other societies? And as for the ‘irritating voices’ he complains of – that, presumably, would be anybody who dares to disagree with him.”

Sex allegations against clergy cost US Catholic Church $2.34 billion since 2004

In 2010 alone, the clerical abuse scandal cost American dioceses $123.7 million, according to an annual report released on April 11 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Only 70% of those funds were allotted to settlements ($70.4 million), therapy for abuse victims ($6.4 million) and support for offenders ($9.9 million). The rest was spent on attorneys’ fees ($33.9 million) and “other costs” ($3.1 million).

The clerical abuse scandal cost religious institutes an additional $25.9 million in 2010. These expenses brought the total cost of the clerical abuse scandal to American dioceses and religious institutes between 2004 and 2009 to $2.344 billion: $2.021billion for dioceses and eparchies, and $0.323 billion for religious institutes.

In addition, American dioceses spent nearly $21 million in 2010 on safe environment programs and background checks.

The report found that 428 new credible allegations of child sexual abuse were lodged against 345 diocesan priests or deacons in 2010. Only seven of the 428 allegations involved those who are currently minors; the other allegations were made by adults who allege they were abused as minors. In all, 74 abuse allegations since 2004 have involved those who were minors in the year of the allegation.

Of the 428 new credible allegations, 82% involved male victims, with 20% of victims under the age of ten.

“Two-thirds of new allegations (66 percent) occurred or began between 1960 and 1984,” the report continued. “The most common time period for allegations reported in 2010 was 1970–1974. This is approximately the same time pattern that has been reported in previous years, with most allegations reportedly occurring or beginning between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.”

“Of the 428 new credible allegations reported in 2010, 71 new allegations (17 percent) were unsubstantiated or determined to be false by 31 December 2010,” the report added. “In addition, 25 allegations received prior to 2010 were unsubstantiated or determined to be false during 2010.”

Thirty of the allegations involved abuse that allegedly took place in 2010, rather than in a previous year. Following investigation by law enforcement, eight allegations (27%) were determined to be credible, seven (23%) were determined to be false, three (10%) remained under investigation, and 12 (40%) were determined to be boundary violations, not sexual abuse. Examples of boundary violations cited in the report included “kissing girls on top of the head, inappropriate hugging, and an adult patting a minor on the knee. In all cases civil authorities were called, and an investigation was conducted; also in all cases the civil authorities concluded there was no sexual misconduct.” Twelve (40%) of these 30 allegations involved foreign priests.

Only 72% of religious communities responded to a request for information by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. According to these surveys, male religious communities received “77 new credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor committed by a priest or deacon of the community, all of which are alleged to have occurred prior to 2010.” 77% of the victims were male; 19% were under age ten.

Newsline – 15th 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

  • NSS intervenes in school transport decision
  • NSS urges MEPs to support labelling of religiously slaughtered meat
  • Protest at creationists in CofE school
  • Government reinforces its support for religious schools
  • Britain will never be a unified nation until people are freed from religious labels
  • Catholic agency commissioned to give advice on contraception and abortion in Richmond schools
  • Faith-based welfare arrives

NSS Intervenes in School Transport Decision

Durham County Council has held talks with a group of Catholic leaders who are trying to persuade councillors to drop their plans to cut cash subsidies for transport to religious schools.

After the 45 minutes behind-closed-doors meeting at Durham’s County Hall the “faith leaders” said they had raised hopes that some kind of deal could be reached. Stephen Hughes, Labour MEP for the North-East and a Catholic, said: “I think we’ve hit the mark.”

But the National Secular Society has now intervened and said that such subsidies are discriminatory, unjust and long overdue for the axe. In a letter to Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, wrote:

The National Secular Society has been researching the costs incurred by local authorities in providing subsidies for transport to religious schools. Our latest Freedom of Information request on this issue showed Durham County Council to have the second highest school transport costs of around a hundred authorities checked. The average was less than £400,000 but for Durham the cost was over £2,000,000.

These huge subsidies provided to pupils at religious schools amount to religious discrimination. Although all taxpayers have to contribute towards the £2,000,000 cost, only a very small proportion can access this money. In all parts of the country including the North East (as we know from complaints), this has led to gross discrimination – such as children attending the same school and travelling on the same bus being treated differently. Some have to pay the full fare while those whose parents purport to be religious being funded fully by the taxpayer.

Although the Catholic leaders reported in the Northern Echo to have been granted special access to the Council have a right to make their voice heard, it should not be heard any more loudly than anyone else’s.

School transport to “faith” schools is already discriminatory; because much longer, and hence more expensive, journeys are routinely paid for to such schools than to any others. Indeed, because of the distances involved, subsidies on journeys to Catholic schools are on average almost certainly the highest per pupil and, and even more so, per family (arising from the number of children being subsidised).

… The Council has to make huge savings. It should stand firm in its proposals to cut this objectionable discrimination and ensure that the money saved can help reduce the impact of other service cuts on the whole community.

Stephen Hughes said:

“We’ve made clear how disproportionate an impact stopping school transport would have on the faith community.”

Keith Porteous Wood responded:

“This is intensively selfish special pleading for even more privilege for those who purport to be religious. We also know that many of them are not – they simply pretend to be to get their children into religious schools because they think they perform better. The whole community is suffering because of these cuts, and the Catholic Church is going to have to take its share of the pain.”

The NSS wrote in similar terms to the leader of Surrey County Council which is also under intense pressure from religious interests after announcing cuts in “faith school” transport .

If you live in Surrey, the Council’s consultation is still open.

NSS Urges MEPs to Support Labelling of Religiously Slaughtered Meat

The National Secular Society has written to members of The European Parliament ENVI committee (Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety) urging them to support an amendment to food labelling legislation that would ensure meat from slaughter without stunning is accurately labelled.

The amendment, tabled by Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, restores the European Parliament’s first reading position which MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of last year, but was later dropped by the Council of Ministers.

The Committee is expected to vote on the latest amendments on Tuesday 19 April, ahead of reaching a second reading position in Parliament in July.

In a letter to European Parliamentarians Keith Porteous Wood said:

“An argument often put forward by religious groups against labelling of products from religious slaughter is that this proposal would be discriminatory and would cause prejudice. However, to uphold their objection is to discriminate against the majority of consumers, denying them any right of choice and deliberately misleading them about the source of their meat. We believe such concerns are not sufficient to deny consumers more accurate information.

“Another reason advanced against labelling is the potential loss of income to the kosher industry, making it uneconomic. This reason implicitly accepts two powerful arguments put forward for labelling: that a material proportion of those buying meat that is not pre-stunned would not do so if they knew its source and that the quantities involved are substantial. It glosses over two further — understandably unstated — ethically dubious underlying assumptions, that:

1. It is acceptable to mislead the public in this way, and the legislative process should be complicit in this deceit.

2. The necessity to subsidise the religious slaughter industry is more important than informing customers that meat they buy has been slaughtered in a way that they would not like and may consider unnecessarily cruel.

“The debate should, however, consider the impact on consumers in this regard, a significant number of whom would be alarmed to find that simply not buying or eating labelled halal and kosher meat does not mean that they have avoided it.

“As long as religious groups retain the privilege of an exemption from legislation aimed at ensuring animals do not suffer “any avoidable distress or pain”, we maintain it is only fair that consumers have the right to information that enables them to make an informed choice to avoid such products. We believe that the proposed requirement for non pre-stunned meat to be labelled fits with the current trend to inform consumers about the content and provenance of the food they buy.”

The NSS has also been in correspondence with James Paice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, who despite stating that he would like to introduce labelling to inform consumers whether or not meat has been stunned before slaughter, failed to support the amendment at the Council of Ministers which would have made this possible.

Protests at Creationist in CofE School

A mother has withdrawn her children from worship at a Church of England school in Exeter following a controversial visit by a creationist.

Laura Horner claims that Philip Bell, who runs the UK arm of Creation Ministries International, visited St Peter’s Church of England Aided School (i.e. controlled by the Church but paid for by the state) with the aim of evangelising his young earth creationist views. Among its beliefs are that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and dinosaurs roamed the English countryside in Tudor times.

Mr Bell spoke for an hour and a half to all 250 students in Year 11, who are preparing to take their religious education GCSE.

Mrs Horner claimed the visit was inappropriate because the views were presented as scientific. She said:

“Mr Bell is a full-time employee of a fundamentalist evangelising organisation. The school has failed in its duty of care to the students and promoted religious dogma in place of objective teaching.”

Mrs Horner, who has a son in Year 11 and a daughter in Year 10, is very concerned about the proportion of time given to school visitors that are not from the Church of England.

She told the Express & Echo newspaper:

“When we chose St Peter’s, we thought the children would receive a C of E education and format of worship. We have concluded that the school has more leanings towards the fundamental churches and their teachings rather than the C of E. I think it’s important children are exposed to a range of beliefs, but at a C of E school the emphasis should be on C of E. Reluctantly, we’ve made the decision to remove the children from worship at the school.

“I’m concerned about what will happen if the school becomes an academy and has free choice over its curriculum.”

Her son Jamie, 16, claimed some pupils were left “confused” about their beliefs.  He said:

“It felt like he was advertising Christianity. I didn’t get much out of his visit. Also, the school has various visits from baptist churches but not many from C of E churches. I think the school should have more C of E visits.”

St Peter’s headteacher Mark Perry defended Mr Bell’s talk. He said:

“Creationism is on the GCSE syllabus so we had a creationist come to speak about it. I think it’s a terrific way of teaching kids RE. No one was suggesting he was right or wrong. He gave his point of view and answered questions. His visit was followed up in the classroom where the pupils examined the arguments. It’s our duty to give children access to lots of points of view. It in no way compromises our position as a Church of England community.”

Government Reinforces Its Support For Religious Schools

The commitment and enthusiasm of the Coalition Government to sectarian schooling shows no sign of abating. In fact, a reply written to one of our members (Steve Taylor) from the Prime Minister’s office indicates that it is getting stronger and a statement in parliament from the Minister for Education is even more extreme.

Writing to David Cameron about his speech on multiculturalism, Steve Taylor had made the point that “faith schools” were surely one of the elements that reinforced barriers between communities. But responding on behalf of the Prime Minister, Catherine Else wrote:

This Government greatly values the contribution that faith schools make to the education sector by providing high quality school places and choice for parents.

In our coalition document The Coalition: our programme for government and again in The importance of teaching: Schools White Paper 2010, we stated that we want to offer parents and children a diverse education system consisting of a wide variety of providers.

Faith schools have been, and remain, an important element of that provision and this Government remains committed in their support for them.

Faith schools are no less committed to community cohesion than other schools. Indeed an independent report commissioned by the Church of England (26th November 2009) analysing Ofsted judgments on the extent to which schools promote community cohesion highlighted that, for secondary schools, faith schools have higher on average gradings than community schools.

The same is true for promoting equality of opportunity and eliminating discrimination – faith schools have higher gradings on average than community schools.

Abolishing faith schools would mean taking around a third of our maintained schools out of the education system, something which I think you would agree would not be practicable, particularly as the majority of the faith groups that established these schools provided the land and buildings in the first place at no cost to the public purse. It is also important to remember that faith schools are very popular with parents and that abolishing them would give parents less choice, not more, of high quality school places.

And then this exchange happened in the House of Commons during a session on Education Questions on 21 March .

David Wright (Labour MP for Telford): There are many Members in the House, including me, who believe that religious education provides an important moral platform for life. There is a feeling, however, that the Secretary of State has downgraded religious education in our schools. Will he get up and confirm that he has not done so?

Michael Gove (Minister for Education): I do not know where that feeling comes from. Speaking as someone who is happy to be a regular attender at Church of England services, and whose own children attend a Church of England school, I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the recent article that I penned for The Catholic Herald, a newspaper that is now required reading in the Department for Education. The article makes clear my commitment to faith schools of every stripe.

Britain Will Never Be A Unified Nation Until People Are Freed From Religious Labels

Editorial by Terry Sanderson

David Cameron has reopened the immigration debate this week with a speech that most political leaders make at some point in their career. It goes like this: “the voters are concerned about the level of immigration into the country. We recognise that, and this time we’re going to do something about it.”

At one point in the speech he says:

Real communities are bound by common experiences … forged by friendship and conversation … knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school run to the chat down the pub. And these bonds can take time. So real integration takes time.

That’s why, when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods … perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there … on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate … that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.

So what’s the reality of this need to integrate and what is the Government doing to encourage it?

The Guardian ran two stories last week that tell us something not only about the Guardian (which increasingly seems to think that Muslim separatism is not only acceptable but even desirable) but also about the way that “multiculturalism” continues to build dangerous barriers between the people of this country.

The first story concerned efforts to bring children from a Muslim school and a Catholic school together so that they could get to know one another.

This sounds like a worthwhile thing to do until you suddenly realise that they aren’t being introduced to each other as people but as “Muslimchildren” and “Catholicchildren”. The barriers between them that this is supposed to break down are actually being reinforced by this emphasis on their religious differences.

They are being taught to relate to each other almost as though they were inhabitants of different planets rather than as citizens of the same nation.

It is tragic that children have to be given such an artificial opportunity to interact with each other on the grounds that their parents have a different religion. The tragedy is that they would never encounter each other if these totally contrived meetings weren’t arranged.

And why wouldn’t they ever meet? Because they are separated not only by different economic circumstances, but by a foolish insistence that their titular religion marks them out as different.

Tackling the lack of opportunity and education that some minority communities experience is something for the politicians. But the lack of social unity is something that could — and should be — addressed in schools.

If state religious schools were outlawed, children would automatically encounter each other. There would be problems, there would be racism, there would be a long process of integration. But for all our sakes the process should be started – and quickly.

But as the letter from the Department of Education (reproduced in the story above) shows, the Government is wedded to the idea that schools based on sectarianism and religious separatism are a good idea. They intend to create more and more of them.

And the result? Well, let’s take a look at the other story from the Guardian.

In this, we read of efforts to create opportunities for “Muslim girls”. In this story the nouns “women” or “girls” seem to be inseparable from the adjective “Muslim”. What are these creatures “Muslimwomen” and “Muslimgirls”? Is “Muslim” a sort of inescapable genetic characteristic like race or gender? You’d think so from this.

The whole thrust of this article seems to suggest that these girls are incapable of functioning outside the “Muslim” world, as though they are unable — because of their involuntary designation as Muslims — to be anything else.

They all seem to want to be something more than merely “Muslimwomen” or “Muslimgirls” but at the same time they are not permitted to think of themselves as people with all the potential that being a person, an individual with a mind of their own, can bring.

Mr Cameron might well bleat about the failure of “state multiculturalism” but while his Government colludes in this increasing insistence on giving everyone an identity that is primarily, and on occasion totally, religious, we will never have even a semblance of unity in this country.

Catholic Agency Commissioned To Give Advice on Contraception and Abortion in Richmond Schools

In a move that almost defies parody, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames has awarded a contract worth £89,000 to the Catholic Children’s Society to “help and support students in the borough’s schools.”

Councillor Stephen Knight, leader of Richmond’s Liberal Democrat group, was quick to point out at a meeting on Tuesday that pupils who want advice on issues such as homosexuality or sexual health may be reluctant to ask a group that “requires counsellors to uphold the Catholic ethos”.

Councillor Christine Percival, cabinet member for education, youth and children’s services at Richmond Council, said Catholic Children’s Society staff were accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and its application for the job was “way better than anyone else’s”. She added: “I have no concerns that they will not carry out an excellent job.”

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

“What on earth was the council thinking about in appointing such a partisan and dogmatic organisation to provide counselling and support services? The Catholic Children’s Society went so far as to dump its adoption service because of the Government’s insistence that they consider gay couples as adopters. So what kind of reception would a gay child get if it came to one of their counsellors for advice? What sort of advice would a specifically Catholic agency with an instruction to uphold Catholic teaching tell a girl who came to them for contraceptive advice? Surely the council could have found a non-sectarian service that wouldn’t pose these sorts of problems?”

Mr Sanderson said the Council should think again about this decision and ask why it was made in the first place.

Faith-Based Welfare Arrives

The Government has been telling us long enough that it intends to hand over more and more welfare and support services to religious groups and now it has made a start.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the Eaves Housing charity that pioneered specialist services for victims of sexual trafficking, providing refuge and therapeutic support for hundreds of abused and exploited women has had its funding withdrawn. Its work has been handed to the Salvation Army with a Government contract of £6m.

Abigail Stepnitz, national co-ordinator for the Poppy Project said that, according to their calculations, the new contract would reduce funding by 60% per victim. This meant it would be impossible to offer anything more than a limited service to victims, many of whom need intensive psychological support, she said.

“We are concerned for the women in our care. We really do not know how we are going to be able to offer appropriate care for these women.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said Eaves Housing “had done a very good job” in recent years, but the Salvation Army had put in a stronger bid for the contract, which has been widened to provide support for trafficked men as well as women. “Eaves are upset and it’s not great for them, but it’s much better for victims of trafficking,” said the spokesperson.

The Salvation Army, which states that one of its main charitable aims is “to reach people with the Christian gospel through evangelism”, said its religious underpinning was not a factor.

“We are a faith-based organisation and we are motivated by our faith, but it’s really important that we provide holistic care for all those who come under the auspices of our care.”

The Poppy Project was held up as an exemplary project in a study by the analysts New Philanthropy Capital in a 2008 report. It said:

“Many of the experts that NPC consulted felt it was important that trafficked women be given support from specialist, women-only organisations with a track record in working with victims of extreme sexual violence and therefore have a deep understanding of what women need.”

In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Liz Kelly, Co-chair, End Violence Against Women Coalition and Vivienne Hayes, Chief executive, Women’s Resource Centre, wrote:

We are deeply concerned that this appears to be an ideological move to award public-sector contracts to religious groups in order to bring them into the “big society”, rather than an evidenced decision based on the interests of such women. There is a wealth of evidence to show that women who have experienced violence want a specialist service that understands their needs.

We question how the government will ensure that religious organisations will not discriminate against women and make moral judgments about their situations and needs. How will the government make sure that human rights standards to which they are committed are fulfilled? For example, how will the Salvation Army respond to lesbians or women who need abortion advice?

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:

“The awarding of this contract is not only a means of saving money, it is also an ideological gesture towards the so-called faith communities which have been putting immense pressure on the Government to hand over services to them. We have no idea whether the Salvation Army will run this service in a non-evangelical manner – we have to take their word for it and wait for complaints. It is entirely wrong to put such a sensitive service, which will also have to serve the needs of women who are not Christian, into the hands of such an evangelical organisation.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, warns that human trafficking could increase substantially during the Olympic Games in 2012. She said London could become a “magnet” for traffickers unless ministers launch an urgent crackdown.

She said:

“The Government must wake up to the risk that traffickers will seek to profit from the 2012 Games and take action to make sure this event does not make the situation worse.”

The Government has only recently opted-in to the EU Human Trafficking Directive—which seeks to combat the trade in sex slaves.

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