Atlas Shrugged: The Passion of Eddie Willers, Part II

Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter X And now, the crowning infamy. The last time we saw poor, tragic Eddie Willers, he’d set out on a suicide mission to restore Taggart service in California – technically against Dagny’s wishes, but she didn’t make more than a feeble effort to dissuade him. Now, at the very end [Read More...]

Wales Humanists engage in upcoming elections

The Senedd debating chamber. Copyright Keith Edkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Where do the parties stand on key issues of concern to humanists? Today Wales Humanists are publishing a table giving an overview of their views on issues of concern to their members and supporters, ahead of the upcoming National Assembly for Wales election.

Wales Humanists put 7 questions to the various parties last month, and has produced the table by drawing on these responses, the parties’ manifestos, and other sources.

The questions asked were:

  1. Would you support non-religious worldviews such as Humanism being taught equally alongside religions in schools?
  2. Would you support fully inclusive admissions with no religious selection in all state-funded schools, including faith schools?
  3. Would you support making a high-quality, comprehensive personal and social education and sex education curriculum statutory in Welsh schools?
  4. Would you support an end to the archaic policy of reserving seats for Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords?
  5. Would you support the legalisation of humanist marriage in Wales, which has been hugely popular in Scotland since its legalisation in 2005?
  6. Would you oppose any moves in Westminster to weaken our human rights settlement, including pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights – which is essential in protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms?
  7. Would you support the legalisation of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or are permanently and incurably suffering, in order to protect their right to autonomy and self-determination?

Northern Ireland Humanists has similarly been asking questions of the parties, and the two groups have also been encouraging their supporters to contact their candidates. Meanwhile, in London, LGBT Humanists organised a hustings with representatives of the six biggest parties.

Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists Coordinator, commented: ‘Respecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are key ways in which humanists seek to embody their values, and that means exercising their voting rights. We hope that this table will enable our members and supports to make a fully informed decision when choosing who to support in the upcoming assembly election, as well as to engage in the democratic process more generally.’

Notes

For further information, please contact Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists Coordinator on 07881 625378, or Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Wales Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association. 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.

Northern Ireland Humanists engage in upcoming elections

The Parliament Buildings in Belfast. Photo: Robert Young.

Where do the parties stand on key issues of concern to humanists? Today Northern Ireland Humanists are publishing a table giving an overview of their views on issues of concern to their members and supporters, ahead of the upcoming Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Northern Ireland Humanists put 8 questions to the various parties last month, and has produced the tables by drawing on these responses, the parties’ manifestos, and other sources.

The questions asked were:

  1. Would you support an end to religious discrimination in the employment of staff in all state-funded schools?
  2. Do you think we should get rid of faith-based religious education in state schools, and instead treat all major religious and non-religious worldviews equally?
  3. Would you support making high-quality, comprehensive relationships and sexuality education part of the statutory curriculum in Northern Irish schools?
  4. Would you support legalising abortion in a similar way to how it is legal in Britain?
  5. Would you support the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland?
  6. Would you support the legalisation of humanist marriage in Northern Ireland, which has been hugely popular in Scotland since its legalisation there?
  7. Would you oppose any moves in Westminster to weaken our human rights settlement, including pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights – which is essential in protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms?
  8. Would you support the legalisation of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or are permanently and incurably suffering, in order to protect their right to autonomy and self-determination?

Wales Humanists has similarly been asking questions of the parties, and the two groups have also been encouraging their supporters to contact their candidates. Meanwhile, in London, LGBT Humanists organised a hustings with representatives of the six biggest parties.

Boyd Sleator, Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator, commented: ‘Democratic participation is a vital part of ensuring we are a society that is compassionate, ethical, and evidence-based society. We hope that humanists across the UK will take up matters of shared concern with their candidates, and that our research will equip voters with the knowledge they need to make a fully informed decision.’

Notes

For further information, please contact Boyd Sleator, Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator on 07470 395090, or Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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.

Humanist weddings continue to surge in number, bucking national trend

Humanist weddings are extremely popular, but the Government continues to delay giving them legal recognition in England and Wales.

Humanist weddings are increasingly popular, in spite of a more general decline in the number of marriages.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for legal recognition to be given to humanist weddings across the UK, as new national marriage figures in England and Wales show that marriages overall have declined in number at the same time as non-legal humanist weddings have surged in popularity.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has announced that the number of marriage ceremonies in England and Wales declined by 8.6% in 2013. Meanwhile BHA-accredited celebrants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland performed 26% more weddings in 2013 than in 2012 – growth that has continued since, with 87% more being performed in 2015 than 2012.

The number of humanist weddings performed in Scotland has grown exponentially since their legal recognition as marriages, reversing the overall decline in the number of marriages in Scotland. In 2010 Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) performed more marriages than the Catholic Church, and in 2013 it performed more than double. It is expected to have overtaken the Church of Scotland in 2015 to become the largest provider of belief-based weddings. Humanist marriages in Scotland were legalised in 2005, since which time the number of such weddings has gone from about 50 per year to well over 4,000.

Humanist marriages are still not legally recognised elsewhere in the UK. In England and Wales, the UK Government is currently considering whether such recognition should be given. In Northern Ireland there is no Government consideration of the issue. The BHA is today calling for legal recognition across the whole UK.

BHA Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo commented, ‘The UK Government says it is in favour of marriage as an institution. If that is true then there is one easy, legitimate step it can take to massively boost the number of couples getting married, and that is extending legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales.

‘We will be continuing to work to see the Government make use of its power to extend such recognition as we know that such a change would be overwhelmingly popular, simple to introduce, and grant the same freedoms to humanist couples that are already enjoyed by religious couples.’

Wouldn’t it be great to start your married life with a ceremony that really means something? To tell your friends and family what your relationship means to you, and why you are choosing to get married?

Many of us who aren’t religious are looking for a wedding that is more flexible and personal than a civil or register office ceremony.

Humanist, non-religious wedding ceremonies may not yet have full legal recognition in all parts of the UK, but they do give you the opportunity to mark your marriage where you want, when you want, and how you want. You can find out more on the Humanist Ceremonies website.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around marriage laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

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.

Black hole blues

For a century, scientists have tried to solve the riddles posed by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Ofsted Chief alerts Education Secretary to gender segregation in private religious schools

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

The Chief Inspector of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has written to the Education Secretary to raise his concerns about the gender segregation of staff and governors within private religious schools in England. Specifically, Sir Michael notes that his inspectors ‘continue to find that staff are being segregated because of their gender in Muslim independent schools’, echoing concerns he raised in a letter to Nicky Morgan last year. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned against the segregation caused by ‘faith’ schools, both outside the gates and within, has welcomed Ofsted’s intervention.

The letter reveals that Ofsted inspectors carried out three emergency inspections of ‘independent faith schools’ in the last month. In one such school – the Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School in Luton in– inspectors reported that at their meeting the school ‘insisted on segregating men and women through the use of a dividing screen across the middle of the room’, and evidence was also found that male and female staff are segregated during whole-school staff training sessions’. Indeed, just last year the school was also criticised by Ofsted for, among other things, introducing a design and technology curriculum which ‘limits girls to activities on knitting and sewing’.

Stating that ‘any form of segregation, without a good educational reason, is likely to lead to an inadequate inspection judgement’, Sir Michael claimed that the introduction in 2014 of more robust independent school standards in relation to British values was clearly having little impact, and, in fact, such values were being ‘actively undermined’ by some ‘faith’ school leaders and governors.

This is the third time in recent months that the Ofsted Chief Inspector has written to Nicky Morgan about ‘faith’ schools. In November and December last year he wrote two ‘advice letters’ to raise concerns about the prevalence of illegal, unregistered religious schools in England, one of which revealed that ‘clear evidence of segregation’ was found by inspectors in a Muslim school in Birmingham, ‘with separate classrooms for boys and girls.’ The letters stated that such schools were teaching ‘misogynistic’ material and ‘failing to prepare [children] for life in modern Britain’.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘If schools are doing the best for their pupils, they should be promoting equality and integration rather than espousing discriminatory and deeply damaging notions of gender difference and inequality. Such segregation not only runs entirely counter to the values that schools are obliged to promote, but it also violates the aims of equalities legislation and is likely to foster very unhealthy gender stereotypes in the minds of pupils. We welcome Sir Michael’s intervention on this and we hope the Education Secretary will take the necessary action to ensure similar practices are not taking place in other schools.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter ‘Segregation in independent faith schools’: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519478/260416_HMCI_to_SoS.pdf

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s previous letter to the Education Secretary from December 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484458/151211_HMCI_to_Secretary_of_State_advice_note_on_3_unregistered.pdf

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to the Education Secretary from November 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unregistered-schools-ofsted-advice-note

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/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.

Repost: The Republican Stupid-Party Spiral Dilemma

[Author’s Note: I wrote this in late 2012. In light of recent developments, I thought it was worth reposting. The success of Donald Trump seems to show that classic Christian conservatism isn’t as necessary an ingredient to the Republican coalition as I once thought – but in just about every other respect, these trends have [Read More...]

BHA announces new, low-cost £79 tickets to Annual Conference 2016

The British Humanist Association (BHA) today announced new ‘Conference Extra’ tickets for its 2016 Annual Conference in Birmingham over the weekend of 10-12 June. Priced at just £79, or £49 for students, these ticket provide reduced-cost entry to all the highlights of the summer weekend in Birmingham.

Conference Extra delegates will join the almost 400 other delegates throughout the weekend, making Annual Conference 2016 the BHA’s biggest ever. The new no-frills Conference Extra tickets allow delegates to attend all sessions in the Main Hall throughout the weekend, experiencing the weekend’s highlights and joining in at the heart of the action.

For £79, ticket-holders will hear from BHA President Shappi Khorsandi, BHA Vice President A C Grayling, Alice Roberts, David Aaronovitch, Peter Tatchell, and many, many more famous names from across the fields of journalism, the sciences, and the arts. 

Announcing the new ticket options, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,

‘In 2016, the BHA Annual Conference comes to the world-class International Convention Centre, on the banks of the beautiful canals of Birmingham, home of the Midlands Enlightenment.

‘I’m delighted that these new, cheaper tickets will allow so many more to attend this incredible weekend event, helping to make this year’s Conference our biggest to date – and a fitting way to celebrate the BHA’s 120th anniversary.’

Conference Extra tickets are available to purchase now from just £79, or £49 for students .

Notes

2016 04 25 v1 IS [AC2016] Book Today

The British Humanist Association (BHA) 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.

 

More individuals hacked to death in Bangladesh as Islamists broaden their hit list

Xulhaz Mannan.

Two more individuals have been hacked to death by Islamists in Dhaka today. Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, and Tanay Fahim, another LGBT activist, were murdered and a third person injured after three men posing as couriers entered Mannan’s apartment and attacked them.

The murders follow on from the death at the weekend of Rezaul Karim Siddique, an English professor at Rajshahi University, who was killed with machetes by Islamic State militants while walking home from work, ostensibly for ‘calling to atheism’. It does not appear that Siddique was in fact an atheist.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its shock at the latest killings, which represent an escalation of violence and a broadening of targets following a spate of similar murders of humanist bloggers. The BHA has called on authorities to urgently take action to prevent further attacks.

Tanay Fahim.

The murders started in 2013, when bloggers Ahmed Rajib was murdered in a machete attack in his home, and Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed. Both appeared on a list of 84 bloggers produced by Islamists, who demanded they be arrested for blasphemy.

Then in February 2015 Avijit Roy, the founder of the Mukto-Mona (‘Freethinker’) humanist blogging platform, was hacked to death with machetes in the streets of Dhaka, and his wife Bonya Ahmed was gravely injured. In March, Washiqur Rahman was killed within 500 yards from his house in Dhaka by assailants with meat cleavers. In May, Ananta Bijoy Das was killed on his way to work in Sylhet by Islamists with machetes and cleavers. In August, Niloy Neel was brutally murdered in his home.

Rezaul Karim Siddique.

In November, Islamists attacked two publishing houses with machetes and guns. Roy’s publisher Faysal Arefin Dipon was murdered, while three others were injured. Then in April this year student Nazimuddin Samad, who had made humanist posts on Facebook, was hacked to death in Dhaka while walking home from class.

Commenting on the latest attack, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘These latest killings represent a continued tragedy for Bangladesh, and a broadening of the range of targets that Islamists are pursuing. It is clear from the frequency of the attacks that they are feeling increasingly emboldened to strike with impunity, in the face of a Government and police service that is not doing enough to prevent them.

‘We urge the Bangladeshi Government to do more to prevent a recurrence of such attacks, and the UK Government to do all it can to help. Because while words cannot be killed, individuals can be, and this bloodshed has to stop.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

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.

Religiously selective schools that shun poorer pupils celebrated on DfE award shortlist

The BHA is part of the Fair Admissions Campaign.

The Department for Education (DfE) has named three religiously selective schools on its shortlist of schools that are in the running for this year’s Pupil Premium Award, despite the fact that all three take far fewer children eligible for free school meals than they should given the local area they are situated in. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has criticised the shortlist and highlighted once again the appalling record of religiously selective schools in serving poorer families in their communities.

The pupil premium was introduced in 2011 to provide additional funding to state-funded schools so as to improve the attainment of pupils from poorer backgrounds, and the awards were set up to celebrate schools that make best use of this funding to ‘help disadvantaged young people reach their potential’. However, they only take into account the performance of the pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are in attendance at the school, and not the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that the school actually admits. Therefore a school could be highly socio-economically selective and still perform strongly.

In line with figures previously published by the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC) showing that religiously selective schools are, across the country as a whole, overwhelmingly less inclusive of children from poorer backgrounds than schools that don’t religiously select, the three religiously selective secondary schools on the shortlist were found to take an average of 12 percentage points fewer children eligible for free school meals (FSM) than would be representative of their local area. This compares to the broadly representative figures for the schools on the list that don’t religiously select, which on average actually take 2 per cent more children eligible for FSM than are in their area.

School name Religious selection School FSM eligibility Local area FSM eligibility Percentage difference
La Retraite RC Girls’ School All places 13.6% 32.09% -18.49%
Ripley St Thomas CofE Academy All places 4% 13.38% -9.38%
St Wilfrid’s RC College All places 13.9% 22.38% -8.48%
Healing Science Academy None 5.9% 8.22% -2.32%
Great Torrington School None 10.1% 10.28% -0.18%
Caroline Chisholm School None 3.1% 3.86% -0.85%
Maiden Erlegh School None 4.4% 4.30% +0.1%
St Albans Girls’ School None 6.9% 3.96% +2.94%
Selly Park None 38.9% 25.23% +13.7%

BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson commented ‘It is simply astonishing that out of all the schools in the country, the Department for Education has chosen to praise three religiously selective schools for the support they give to disadvantaged pupils, while ignoring the fact that all three of them take far fewer children from disadvantaged backgrounds than they should given the areas they’re in.

‘The Government urgently needs to review the criteria by which the Pupil Premium Awards are judged, and we can only hope that shortlisting these schools will not serve to disincentivise other schools from taking steps to become more inclusive in the future.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

See the FAC’s map showing religious and socio-economic selection in English secondary schools: http://fairadmissions.org.uk/map/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘Groundbreaking new research maps the segregating impact of faith school admissions: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/12/03/groundbreaking-new-research-maps-segregating-impact-faith-school-admissions/

In 2013 the BHA co-founded the Fair Admissions Campaign, which 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.

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/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.

Some Right-Wing Christians Enthusiastically Promoting a Form of Genocide

This article originally appeared on AlterNet. In 2014, Charisma magazine, a major media outlet for evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, published an open call to genocide. The article in question, titled “Why I Am Absolutely Islamaphobic” [sic] and written by Gary Cass, begins with the premise that “every true follower of Mohammed” wants to “subjugate and [Read More...]

BHA sounds alarm about shocking increase of religious influence through academies in response to Education Committee inquiry

In response to a House of Commons Education Committee inquiry on multi-academy trusts (MATs) in England, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has repeated its concerns about the rise of ‘faith ethos’ academies, and also warned that the conversion of over two thousand local authority maintained ‘faith’ schools into church-run academies could lead to an unprecedented increase in the number of school places subject to religiously discriminative selection criteria. Such schools will also be subject to a far greater level of religious influence in their governance as part of this process, the BHA states.

‘Faith ethos’ academies are academies and free schools that despite not being formally designated with a religious character, are nonetheless run by an organisation with a religious ethos. As such, that organisation is entitled to exert control in a range of areas on the basis of their religion, including religiously selecting governors, using a religious genuine occupational requirement in appointing senior staff, and putting a religious slant on various aspects of school life, including sex and relationships education and assemblies.

Concerningly, a school or academy can gain a ‘faith ethos’ at any time simply through a change in ownership or, when converting from being a local authority maintained school, by way of the trust that sponsors it having a religious character or ethos. The latter of these two scenarios is of particular concern in view of the recent proposals to require all schools to become academies, and examples of religious organisations ‘taking over’ schools with no religious character are already starting to appear.

Earlier this year, for instance, it was revealed that a Church of England-led Academy trust in Newcastle will assume control of four schools with no religious character if proposals go ahead for them to merge with a single voluntary-aided Church of England primary school. The merge means that the local Diocese will fill a majority of the seats on the board of the newly-created ‘mixed MAT’, despite there being only one ‘faith’ school in the trust. Furthermore, just last year it was announced that the Tauheedul Education Trust, which runs a number of Muslim Academies around the country, will gain control over three community secondary schools in Blackpool and Bradford that were ordered to convert to academies. Both situations have led to significant local opposition.

The BHA’s response also highlights the fact that ‘faith’ schools whose admission arrangements are currently set by the local authority will gain the freedom to make their own arrangements after they convert to academies. The vast majority of local authorities do not allow these schools to employ religious selection criteria in their admissions, but there are no protections in place to prevent them from doing so as academies, meaning that by 2022 – the deadline by which schools must have converted to academies – there will be over 2,000 more schools in England that will be free to religiously discriminate in their admission policies, equivalent to around 400,000 places. Such schools are also likely to go from being predominantly controlled by the local authority, to being governed by a religious organisation instead.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘Unless robust safeguards are introduced and the governance arrangements for mixed MATs are drastically changed, academisation will lead to a quite shocking increase in the level of religious influence in the education system. It simply not appropriate for a school with no religious character to be run by a religious organisation of any kind, especially given how open the churches have been about the pressing need for greater evangelism in schools in order to boost their numbers. The Government should absolutely not be facilitating the churches’ educational empire-building in this way, and we will continue to press it into introducing the safeguards that are necessary to protect our schools from this undue influence.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Faith Schools and Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read more about the Education Committee’s inquiry: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/multi-academy-trusts-15-16/

Read the BHA’s full response to the inquiry: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-04-05-FINAL-BHA-response-Education-Committee-inquiry-on-Multi-Academy-Trusts.pdf

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘Church of England diocese in “takeover” of primary schools with no religious character’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/03/10/church-of-england-diocese-in-takeover-of-primary-schools-with-no-religious-character/

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘DfE bows to churches’ demands for privilege and protection in face of full academisation’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/04/19/dfe-bows-to-churches-demands-for-privilege-and-protection-in-face-of-full-academisation/

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/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.

BHA mourns its patron, Lord Peston

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has reacted with sadness to the news that its patron, Lord Peston, had died aged 85.

Maurice Peston was a renowned economist who founded the economics department at Queen Mary College, London, where he retained the title of Emeritus Professor of Economics. He was also an advisor to numerous government departments and Secretaries of State for the Labour Party from the 1960s through to the 1990s.

Within Parliament, where he sat as a Labour life peer, Peston was an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. From his position in the Lords, he pressured government on many key issues to humanists and the BHA, including ‘faith’ schools and the teaching of creationism in state-funded schools. He also opposed the religious hatred clause in the Terrorism Bill (2001), signed Early Day Motions supporting voluntary euthanasia, rallied to make Darwin Day a national public holiday holiday, spoke out against religious biases in broadcasting (2006), and questioned the privileged position of ‘faith communities’ in policy-making, asking in 2003 ‘why a committee has been set up to consult “faith communities” on policy making, while non-religious people are not similarly consulted?’

In one memorable speech during the passage of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, he said:

To someone like me, who regards all religious belief as failing to meet even the most elementary epistemological and deontological criteria, there will not be a problem. This is especially so since I, for one, have never gone from philosophical disagreement to hatred. I say that despite my concern about the damage done to young minds by proponents of such anti-scientific idiocies as intelligent design

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented on the news by saying ‘Maurice Peston was an incisive intellect, a rigorous parliamentarian, and an invaluable supporter of the BHA. His death comes to us as an enormous loss, a loss to both Humanism and politics. Our sincere condolences go out to the Peston family at this difficult time.’

Notes

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.

The BHA has well over 150 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. The BHA’s President is the writer and comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who is supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Professor A C Grayling, and Polly Toynbee. For a full list of patrons, see https://humanism.org.uk/about/our-people/patrons.

 

Northern Ireland Humanists calls for integrated education to become inclusive of all faiths and none

Northern Ireland Humanists represents and campaigns on behalf of non-religious people in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Humanists represents and campaigns on behalf of non-religious people in Northern Ireland

In response to a call for evidence from the Department of Education in Northern Ireland on the growth and development of integrated education, Northern Ireland Humanists has argued that integrated schools should become fully inclusive, not just of those from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, but of those from minority religious and non-religious backgrounds too.

The review, which is due to be completed by the end of June this year, will assess the effectiveness of the current arrangements for integrated education and make a series of recommendations about how they can be improved upon in the future.

Defined in law as ‘the education together at school of Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils’, integrated education was introduced in 1989 and seeks to enrol equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children, while also looking to include children from other backgrounds as well. However, given that, as the consultation document states, ‘integrated schools are not secular but are essentially Christian in character’, there is some way to go before even these schools can be said to be fully inclusive.

Northern Ireland Humanists’ response states that only catering for Protestant and Catholic communities ‘excludes the growing number of non-Christian and non-religious people in Northern Ireland’, adding that the ethos of integrated schools should be secular in nature, taking ‘no view on the truth or merit of any one religion or worldview over another’ but rather seeking ‘to imbue children with a sense of our shared values, common humanity, and the importance of mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance for those of different religions and beliefs.’

There are currently 63 integrated schools in Northern Ireland, but whilst Government guidelines state that the schools are expected to enrol at least 30% of their pupils from the ‘minority community’ in their area (i.e. Catholic or Protestant), over half of integrated schools currently have fewer than 30% enrolled. Pupils from neither of the ‘main traditions’ are referred to as ‘others’ in the documentation, and according to the Department’s figures, in nearly all integrated schools – 61 out of 63 – such pupils make up at least 10% of numbers, demonstrating that the schools have become a popular choice among the minority religious and non-religious communities of Northern Ireland.

Boyd Sleator of Northern Ireland Humanists commented, ‘Integrated education clearly represents the future of schooling in Northern Ireland, and we support the steps that are being taken to ensure that schools are places of integration and diversity, rather than segregation and division. If this ambition is to be realised, however, such schools need to be inclusive of all children, not just those from Christian backgrounds, and this will only increase in importance as Northern Ireland becomes more and more diverse. That’s exactly what we have set out in our response to this consultation, and we hope the Government will give it careful consideration.’

Notes

For further information or comment please contact British Humanist Association Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read Northern Ireland Humanists full response: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-04-13-FINAL-BHA-response-Review-of-integrated-education.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. 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.

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New on the Guardian: Civil Rights and Corporate Power

The American corporate sector is becoming more liberal-friendly territory than ever, and it has the potential to split the conservative coalition that’s prevailed in our politics for decades. That’s the topic of my new piece on the Guardian, Businesses are powerful allies on LGBT rights. The left should embrace them. This column expands on my [Read More...]

Motivations: Soldiers & Religious Laymen

Why do common soldiers fight in wars? Do they fight for all the lofty ideals their governments broadcast?

For a couple of years I had a part-time weekend job of interviewing American soldiers who returned from battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. My mission: to diagnose any lasting medical issues of the soldiers and get them to the appropriate specialist for further management. But the main focus of my job was to screen for traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and suicidal or homicidal ideation.

So, as you can imagine, my interviews (lasting between 10 minutes to an hour for each soldier, depending on their issues) could be very personal. And besides hearing horrible stories of the psychological impact of war,  I would also hear stories of why the soldiers joined the American volunteer armed services, why they stayed and accepted return deployment or why they left.

Patriotism, freedom, democracy and national security were almost never a reason. Instead, needing a job, needing money for education, escaping their town and seeking adventure were far more common. I don’t have statistics to back me, but that was my impression.

Well, apparently the reasons of soldiers for enlisting and remaining in the armed services has been studied by many people. I am listening to a course on “The American Civil War” which reminded me of this issue. As you can imagine, reasons for going to war vary widely — there is no one reason, but from the Civil War to World Wars I and II, soldiers’ reasons for joining are often not the same ones that the government tries to inculcate.

Thinking about this issue today, I was reminded about  writing I’ve done about the reasons the average lay religious believers belong to their mosques, temples, churches, synagogues and such? Is it because they believe the dogmas and rhetoric of their religious professionals? No, far less than we’d imagine. I wrote an article here addressing that issue for Christians: “Most Christians Don’t Believe“.

All of this is complicated — our minds aren’t homogenous — we hold multiple contrary beliefs and motivations simultaneously and are usually unaware of our own motivations. Instead, our minds make up reasons for us AFTER we make a move. Reasons to protect us from ourselves and make us acceptable. Soldiers and Lay Believers alike may echo the reasons that others like to hear for why they joined, but with very little effort and exploration, the inconsistency of their stories and the other more simple, earthy, practical reasons become clear. We often present ourselves as noble. We make ourselves the heroes of our stories.


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