Atlas Shrugged: They Just Didn’t Care

The most unintentionally hilarious sex scene ever.

A More Diverse Humanism Is a Stronger Humanism

Humanism is supposed to be a philosophy that appeals to and benefits all human beings.

Poetry in a Changing World: Fiona Sampson at Clementi House, 15 June

"But is it useful?" Join us for a lecture by Professor Fiona Sampson.

How to listen to the universe

The detection of gravitational waves is the most important development in astronomy since the invention of the telescope.

Changing Minds Takes Empathy (and Civility)

You can't change someone's mind until you understand the reasons why they believe as they do.

The fundamentalist Christian preacher who became an atheist

After 19 years as a self-proclaimed "extremist", Dan Barker renounced his faith – and he wants everyone to know about it.

Atlas Shrugged: The Nth Doctor

The all-new (again), all-different (again) cast of Atlas Shrugged.

The Summer 2016 New Humanist is out now!

Who wants to live forever?; why poems are good for the rational mind; how Russia fell back in love with Stalin; listening to the universe; and more...

Learn morality from the religious? No thanks

In the last New Humanist, moral philosopher Peter Singer said "it’s worthwhile to make common cause with people of various religions". Here, a reader responds.

Who Died and Made You King of Atheism?

We deserve better than yet another bunch of celebrity white guys declaring themselves our leaders.

Poetry: Seamus Heaney

The Skylight 
— by Seamus Heaney

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.
But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.


About Seamus Heaney:  The Wiki article, The Poetry Foundation

My Impressions:

  • Enjambment: In poetry, lines with broken syntax are called “enjambment“. Enjambment is in stark contrast to rhyming couplets or other rhyming patterns — which most of our minds have been raised on. Enjambment has always been aesthetically painful to me — perhaps like Jazz or Sitar music is to others, whereas I love both of those. Nonetheless, over the years, I have slowly gotten to the point where I don’t let poetic enjambment bother me — mind you, I still don’t love it, but it won’t stop me from appreciating a poem. Yet in Heaney’s “The Skylight” I actually appreciated his enjambment — I am not sure why. It is fun to have something outside of one’s familiarity finally stir one’s heart.
  • Skylights: I hold an ambiguous aesthetic relationship with skylights too. But in this poem, I felt the author surrendering aesthetics for the other, the lover, and falling slowly and trustingly into her/his influence — a sort of healing.
  • Jesus Healing: The final reference to Jesus-healing-story, was a perfect fit: a hole in a roof and a healing. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the story is shared in the synoptic gospels Mark 2  and Luke 5 while Matthew 9 has a bit of a different story of Jesus healing a paralytic lying on a bed.
  • Biblical Literacy: Biblical references may have rung true to many readers decades ago, but Biblical literacy is down. Yet perhaps in Heaney’s Ireland, it may have been much higher. Just as knowing the Bible helps with Western literature, in Eastern literature you may need knowledge of the Mahabharata (Indian) or the Shahnameh (Persian) or the I Ching (Chinese) to mention a few. There is too much to know out there.  I even get lost in conversations with others because I don’t watch TV shows or know sports. But it is fun when we understand allusions because they give depth to a story.  Learning about the unfamiliar and relaxing into their unknown aesthetics can be healing, eye-opening and enriching.

Extremists in Bangladesh are widening their net

More than 20 people have been violently murdered since 2013, with radical elements empowered by government inaction.

How Catholic Hospitals Flout the Law

I’ve often written about the life-endangering refusal of Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, even when a pregnant woman is facing sepsis or hemorrhage and nothing can be done to save the fetus (see here, here and here). Now the ACLU in partnership with MergerWatch has released a new report, Health Care Denied, that reveals the [Read More...]

‘Faith Schoolers Anonymous’: Whistle-blowers’ shocking details about life in UK ‘faith’ schools

2016 05 13 LW v1 FSA launch memeIn a series of shocking revelations marking the launch of Faith Schoolers Anonymous, a new service for pupil whistle-blowers, bloggers from a range of ‘faith’ schools have shared their experiences of the education they received. Their accounts reveal instances of abuse, discrimination, and flagrant violations of the law. The site, which launches today, describes itself as ‘a platform allowing anyone who has encountered a problem at a faith school to share their experience’ and also offers a confidential whistleblowing service allowing people to report or get advice on particular incidents that occur within their schools. Posts featuring experiences from within a variety of settings have already appeared on the site, including private Muslim schools, illegal Jewish yeshivas, and fundamentalist Christian schools.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which along with a number of former ‘faith’ school pupils is supporting the site, has called on more people to come forward with their stories.

A range of personal stories from former pupils on the campaign site demonstrate the appalling level of education provided at these schools, as well as the misinformation and indoctrination that often accompanies it. One former member of the Charedi Jewish community described his illegal, unregistered school as having ‘crippled its students by denying them the education which they had a right to receive and preventing them from flourishing into active members of society’, and a member of the Jehovah’s Witness community posts on the site that ‘I was left totally unprepared for the real world… and my choices were severely limited’.

The incredibly conservative views on same-sex relationships espoused by such schools are also a notable theme in the testimonies posted on the site so far, views which often appear to manifest themselves in shocking and illegal disciplinary policies. One former pupil of a private Muslim school, for instance, reveals that ‘The school expelled students who were accused of being gay’, and another from a fundamentalist Christian school tells of how ‘identifying as gay can typically result in (at best) punishment and (at worst) expulsion and/or public shaming’.

The launch of the site comes in the midst of what appears to be increasing recognition of the threat posed by certain types of ‘faith’ school to both the rights of children and to the Government’s plans to tackle segregation. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly raised concerns about the prevalence of illegal, unregistered religious schools in England in recent months, and new legislation aimed at cracking down on madrassas and other religious ‘out-of-school settings’ has been consulted upon by the Department for Education.

Commenting on the launch, a former pupil at an illegal Charedi school said, ‘A lot of good work has been done in recent months to bring attention to the plight of children still trapped in illegal religious schools, as I once was, and that momentum has to be built upon if these places are to be shut down once and for all. Faith Schoolers Anonymous will be a vital tool in ensuring that the desperate experiences of these children stay on the agenda and do not go on being ignored.’

Aliyah Saleem, co-founder of Faith to Faithless and a contributor to the site, added, ‘As a pupil at a Muslim private school, my childhood was characterised not just by a poor education, but also by a total lack of basic freedoms. I wish something like Faith Schoolers Anonymous had existed back then, and I know it will help the many young people in a similar position who need an outlet to talk about their experiences.’

Another contributor to the site, campaigner and former pupil of a fundamentalist Christian school Jonny Scaramanga, said ‘Public discussion about “faith” schools focuses too much on the rights of parents and religious groups. I am excited about the role FSA can play in shifting the debate to centre on what is best for children, who have the most at stake here. We are giving a voice to students who have been harmed by faith schooling, so that their stories can be given the consideration they deserve.’

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘The reason we’re launching this site now is to try to provoke a much greater awareness not only of the problems that arise within individual religious schools, but also of the problems that such schools, by their very nature, create. We acknowledge, of course, that there are plenty of “faith” schools out there in which problems of the kind described in some of the blogs do not arise, or do not arise to the same extent, but it remains the case that there are a huge number of people out there who have experienced indoctrination, misinformation, discrimination, neglect, and abuse during their childhoods as a result of the extensive freedoms and pervasive lack of oversight that “faith” schools of all kinds enjoy.

‘For the sake of the children still experiencing these problems, and for those who have all of this ahead of them, these stories need to be told, and we would encourage anyone who has had experiences of this kind to get in touch.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on or 020 73243078

Visit the Faith Schoolers Anonymous website:

Read the testimony of a former pupil at a private Muslim school:

Read the testimony of a former pupil at an Accelerated Christian Education school:

Read the testimony from a former pupil at an illegal Charedi school:

Read more about the BHA’s work on faith schools:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Atlas Shrugged: Take Our Word For It

Show, don't tell.

Peers critical of Government ban on BHA helping parents challenge unlawful school admissions

In a debate in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, parliamentarians once again voiced their opposition to the Government’s proposed ban on civil society organisations raising concerns about schools’ unlawful admission arrangements. The British Humanist Association, whose joint report with the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) published last year revealed that virtually all religiously selective schools in England were failing to comply with the School Admissions Code, says parents and children ‘will be the only ones to lose out’ if the ban goes ahead, and has called on the Government to reverse its decision.

Limits on who will be allowed to object to school admissions arrangements were proposed earlier this year by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who claimed that the move was designed to ‘stop vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups’. However, after over 60 questions were tabled in Parliament on the issue by MPs and peers from a range of parties, Schools Minister Lord Nash was forced to admit that the overwhelming majority (87%) of the BHA’s and FAC’s objections to the admission arrangements of religiously selective schools had been upheld.

Indeed, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, to whom objections to school admission arrangements must be submitted, found at least one violation in every school that the investigation covered. These violations included schools directly discriminating on the basis of race and gender, failing to properly prioritise children in care, and unlawfully asking for information that they did not need, such as parents’ countries of origin, their medical history, or whether or not they spoke English as a second language.

Except for the Minister responding to the debate, Baroness Evans, every peer who contributed to the debate was critical of the Government’s proposals. Shadow Education Spokesperson Lord Watson described the ban as ‘a clear case of shoot the messenger rather than address the problem’, while All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Secretary Baroness Massey labelled it as ‘counterproductive’ and ‘a nonsense’. Echoing these comments, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Lord Storey commented that far from being ‘vexatious’, it was thanks to the BHA and FAC ‘that many wrongs have been righted’, and APPHG member Lord Desai added that the BHA’s work on admissions was ‘for the good of the education system’. Former APPHG Chair Lord Taverne also contributed, stating that ‘the complexity of some schools’ admissions policies seems designed to confuse and mislead.’

The BHA’s Campaign Manager Richy Thompson said, ‘The message in Parliament last night was clear. Schools that seek to bend admission rules to manipulate their intakes must be held to account. The report we published last year may be an inconvenient truth for the faith school sector, but the Department for Education’s decision to back the law breakers, punish the whistleblowers, and seemingly ignore the rights of children altogether, is nonsensical. We’re glad that those speaking in last night’s debate agree and we will continue to push not only for the ban to be reversed but also for a fairer and more transparent admissions system to be introduced.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman on or 020 7324 3078

Read the full debate:

See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Department for Education acknowledges 87% of objections to school admissions labelled ‘vexatious’ by Education Secretary were upheld by adjudicator’:

See the BHA’s previous news item ‘Parliamentarians and wider public denounce Government move to ban BHA from raising concerns about schools admissions’:

Read the BHA’s letter to the Secretary of State:

Read the Secretary of State’s response:

Read the Department for Education’s press release announcing the proposed ban:

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Government moves to ban organisations from exposing law-breaking schools unfairly restricting access to children and parents’:

Read the BHA’s comment piece in the Independent ‘Is Nicky Morgan on the side of children or faith organisations’:

Read the BHA/FAC report ‘An Unholy mess: How virtually all religiously selective schools are breaking the law:

Read the FAC’s briefing on the report:

The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief. The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations. We hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But we all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socio-economic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

Supporters of the campaign include the Accord Coalition, the British Humanist Association, Professor Ted Cantle and the iCoCo Foundation, the Association of Teachers and LecturersBritish Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Campaign for State Education, the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, the Christian think tank Ekklesia, the Hindu Academy, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrat Education AssociationLiberal Youth, the Local Schools NetworkRichmond Inclusive Schools Campaign, the Runnymede Trust, the Socialist Educational Association, and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief

Boy told he can’t ride bus to school with other children because he doesn’t go to church

A pupil in Telford has been told that he cannot ride a council-run bus to school along with his classmates because ‘he’s not Catholic’, it has been reported. The bus serves the Holy Trinity Academy in Priorslee, which was opened in 2015 jointly by the local Roman Catholic and Anglican dioceses, and despite the bus being operated by Telford and Wrekin Council, it is not open to children at the school who are either not religious or belong to a minority religion. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has once again called on the exemptions in the Equality Act 2010 allowing for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of school transport to be scrapped.

Speaking about the situation, the father of the boy involved stated that the ‘the bus stops two minutes from the front door’, ‘but he was told that because he’s not Catholic, even though he goes to the school, he can’t use it’. A spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said ‘Transport assistance is offered to pupils who are baptised Catholics and pupils whose families are faithful and regular worshippers in a Church of England Parish Church or other Christian affiliated churches if they live over the three-mile distance criteria for secondary aged pupils.’

Remarkably, discrimination of this kind is entirely legal, as the provision of school transport by local authorities is exempted from equalities legislation. The BHA has previously raised concerns about this exemption with the Department for Education, stating in their response to a 2014 consultation on the issue that ‘Providing one group of parents extra choice over others is unfair, and the nature of the discretionary spending likely causes religious and ethnic segregation’.

The BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said, ‘Discretionary transport for children attending “faith” schools is unfair, discriminatory, and also completely unnecessary. Religious families are already given greater choice of schools than non-religious families as a result of the religious discrimination permitted in school admissions, and this is only exacerbated by the provision of free transport for the religious. On top of that, all the evidence tells us that very few parents actually send their children to a “faith” school for reasons of religion, so this kind of provision is entirely unnecessary too.

‘Ultimately, of course, we do not think it is appropriate for any state body to provide funding for a service which incentivises parents to avoid inclusive and integrated schools in favour of discriminatory and divisive schools. This will only serve to entrench religious segregation in our education system, and we would encourage any council providing free transport to do so in a fair and non-discriminatory way.’


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA calls for an end to “faith” school bias in school transport provision’:

Read the BHA’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation on home-to-school travel and transport:

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

God’s Endorsement Isn’t Worth Much

Either he can't control the outcome of a primary or he delights in endorsing multiple candidates and watching them fight it out.

"Princesses do have hair on their legs"

A Q&A with stand up comedian Sara Pascoe.

Seeing afresh: John Berger on Portraits

Berger’s ability to bring topical issues into a sharper focus by looking at them through the prism of art never fails.