Monday, January 17, 2011

Newsline 14 January 2011

Begin forwarded message:

From: "National Secular Society" <>
Date: January 14, 2011 11:47:01 AM EST
Subject: Newsline 14 January 2011


Now's the time to join the NSS and help the push to separate religion from politics. Go to

14 January 2011


In this week's Newsline
Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
Catholic Education establishment spooked by NSS criticism
Higher Education survey questions on religion are biased, says NSS
NSS calls for reinstatement of referee who joked about the pope
Suffolk Council proposes removal of "faith school" transport subsidy
Government not minded to change Act of Settlement
Belgian report shows that hundreds of abusive priests went unpunished
Debaptism accelerates as revulsion at Church abuse heightens
Self-proclaimed "Catholic activist" gets leading role in human rights organisation to promote the pope's agenda
Too much religion in teachers' training college – report
Rise of religious fundamentalism is affecting all our lives
Islamists rule by religious terror in Pakistan
Alcohol restricted as Islamists tighten their grip on Turkey
Secularist of the Year – your nominations invited
It's a New Year and time to renew your membership
NSS speaks out
Be first with the news with What the Papers Say
From the web
Letters to Newsline

Quotes of the week 
"What the church hierarchy needs to remind itself of, as it seemingly makes a mad dash to join the coalition's cut-price Big Society, is that it could be colluding in the process of impoverishment."
(Paul Donovan, The Tablet)

"We in the United States have learned the positive effects of religious freedom. This freedom recognizes the fact of pluralism, and the danger of forcing participation in a religious community because it is established by a state or even a majority within a state."
(Tim Muldoon, Patheos)

"The belief that any Muslim individual can spontaneously take violent action in order to "protect Islam" is also becoming ever more widely accepted in Pakistan – independent of the activities of jihadist groups."
(Quilliam Foundation report into the murder of Salmaan Taseer)

"'Tolerance' in Pakistan now seems beyond reasonable hope. The Islamists aren't an enemy of the state - they virtually are the state."
(Editorial, New York Post)

"Pope Benedict's aggressive move to garner the wayward Anglican daughter of the church back into Rome's fold advances the Vatican's strategy to dominate global Christianity."
(The Trumpet)

Essays of the Week
Only religious thugs love blasphemy laws
(Nick Cohen, Observer)

A stranger in my own land
(Anonymous, Standpoint)

Christian homophobes should not be criminalised
(Peter Tatchell, Harry's Place)

The rise of religion is almost all at its extremes
(Richard Phelps, Guardian)

Catholic Education establishment spooked by NSS criticism
The National Secular Society's continued criticism of "faith schools" seems to have spooked the Catholic Education hierarchy, which this week hit back saying that we were "quite small but very noisy" and "have friends in Parliament."

The comments came from the Bishop of Nottingham, the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, who chairs the Catholic Education Service, as he launched "new research" showing that Catholic schools are the best thing since sliced bread – as though any research from the Catholic Education Service would come to any other conclusion.

Bishop McMahon said the discussion about whether faith schools should receive state funding had been continuing "for a very long time".

Referring to the NSS, he said: "You always feel a little bit got at, because that is the nature of these groups. They get more publicity than their numbers deserve. When you ask parents, they want their children to go to faith schools. That is why we are well supported. 

But the Bishop omitted to mention that the NSS is not alone in opposing the growing and disproportionate influence of religion in state schools. Teaching unions, education specialists and academic researchers as well as campaigners have all called for either the abolition of faith schools or a root and branch reform of them, and the removal of collective worship from assemblies.

They recognise the dangers of sectarian education, the injustice of discriminatory admissions procedures (although this is less of a problem in Catholic schools than it is in some others), the probable illegality of religious discrimination in the employment of teachers – and all carried on with public money.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "Distracting attention from awkward issues by attacking critics is a familiar tactic of the Catholic hierarchy. But they can't escape the serious questions that need to be asked about faith schools and the disproportionate influence of religion in our education system. The unease about this extends well beyond the NSS and is shared by teaching unions and education specialists as well as many parents. Simply trying to dismiss those who ask awkward questions doesn't make the questions go away.

"We won't be deflected from our concerns about faith schools. We all have to pay for these schools, but only some of us can access them. Most religious schools are discriminatory in employment and admissions against those who don't share their faith. And in some cases they are a severe threat to community cohesion. That is unjust and no amount of sniping at the NSS will change that." 

Higher Education survey questions on religion are biased, says NSS
By Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director
Late last year the NSS received a number of complaints from people expressing concern about a survey of students and employees in Further Education in relation to religion and belief. 

The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) had commissioned the survey from the University of Derby. The survey aims to help gather data to assist institutions with the implementation of religion and belief provisions in the Equality Act 2010. These provisions include the Public Sector Equality Duty which the Society opposed in respect of Religion and Belief during the passage of the Bill. At the extreme it could lead to quotas for people of a particular religion or belief.

The substance of our concerns was that the questions in the survey were one-sided in that they were biased towards believers. Examples of the questions include: 

The content of my course is presented in a way which is sensitive to my religion or belief;
The teaching of my course is conducted in a way which is sensitive to my religion or belief; 
Views or opinions expressed as part of my academic course sometimes conflict with/challenge my religion or belief.

We contend that the questions themselves could instil a sense of victimhood where none exists and could, in doing so, worsen tensions rather than relieve them, which is the stated objective.

Above all, the opportunity for those questioned to answer "respondent's religion should be irrelevant/religion should be irrelevant in this matter" was not given.

The NSS is becoming increasingly concerned about the growing intrusion of religion into academe.

I was once told by Professor Steve Jones that 30% of students did not believe in evolution; I thought he was pulling my leg, but now I realise with dismay that he was correct and that the problem is growing, doubtless due to increasing religious influence. I suspect that the 'halal only' culture in so many university refectories is another symptom.

We approached the ECU with our complaints and they responded (in part) that the "survey element of the project is not intended to be representative of the general HE population", whereas we think this expensive survey could have been a lot more representative if the questions had been more carefully and even-handedly written.

We also told ECU that we had been in dispute with the University of Derby in 2000 on similar grounds over a survey it had conducted for the Home office. Our complaint at that time had been formally endorsed by the (then) Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield, but in the Times Higher Education the professor concerned vigorously refuted the accusations of bias in the 2000 study and said it had been through a "rigorous process of peer review".

The ECU maybe thought it was getting its own back by apparently seeking to smear us in its quote to the Times Higher Education: "assuming that a religious academic wouldn't be able to conduct robust and unbiased research raises several equality issues in itself". The professor, as the paper quotes "was a Baptist minister for 13 years" but we have never suggested that anyone should be excluded from such work on the basis of their religion or belief. All we are asking for is objectivity. 

NSS calls for reinstatement of referee who joked about the pope
The National Secular Society has called on the Scottish Football Association to reinstate Hugh Dallas, a referee who was sacked for distributing an email containing a joke about the pope.

The appeal came after the SFA reinstated three of five people it had sacked after they sent a joke email linking the pope to child abuse. The cartoon was being widely circulated on the internet at the time of the pope's visit in September last year.

The Catholic Church then stepped in, claiming it was "deeply offended" by the cartoon. Its media officer in Scotland, Peter Kearney, wrote to the SFA saying that the email was "totally unprofessional, gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland and an incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism".

Two days after the letter was sent, it emerged that Hugh Dallas, the respected former Fifa official, who officiated at the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1999 Uefa Cup final, had left his position at the SFA.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: "We agree that sectarianism is a real issue in Scottish football, and unconditionally condemn it. But when the pope visited Britain in September there was a great deal of controversy surrounding his involvement in covering up child abuse in the Church. There was a huge amount of material circulating on the internet at the time, including many satirical cartoons. This was one of them.

"The idea that making jokes about the pope should be a sacking offence is quite worrying. It represents a repressive mindset that seeks to punish any criticism, however well justified. We hope that the SFA will not permit the Catholic Church to bully it like this every time someone indicates that they don't like some of the things that the Church does. Mr Dallas should be reinstated if all his dismissal was about was this image."

This is the text of the letter that that NSS sent to the SFA:

We believe the sacking of SFA staff because of a light hearted joke over the Pope was disproportionate. We are pleased you have reinstated some of them and call on you to reinstate the remainder. We note that the sackings appear to have followed the Catholic Church reportedly urging "Scottish football's governing body to sack Dallas if it was proved he had passed on a 'tasteless message' relating to the Pope's visit to Scotland".

The Church is in no position to lobby and deprive others of their jobs over such a trivial joke, given its own misdemeanours, conducted on a much larger scale for so long and so widely. It is a matter of public record that the Catholic Church itself has not sacked, nor indeed reported to prosecuting authorities, thousands of its own employees it knew to have abused children in its care. Had it done so, rather than moving these employees to unsuspecting parishes to abuse again, many more victims' lives would have been spared damage.

We reject the suggestion that Mr Dallas' reinstatement would not be "not in the public interest" and hope this is not code for not wishing to upset the Church. The time when the Church could command such draconian actions has long past, and for you not to reinstate all the remaining employees would be an injustice to them and seriously risks showing the Association not to have acted impartially and proportionally. 

Suffolk Council proposes removal of "faith school" transport subsidy
Suffolk County Council is the latest authority to propose the abolition of subsidised transport services to "faith schools". The Council is launching a consultation about plans to overhaul home to school travel arrangements for Roman Catholic pupils. Transport is provided on buses, trains and taxis at the Council's discretion.

The move could save local taxpayers £160,000 a year by removing transport arrangements for Catholic pupils. Families currently pay £130 a term for the scheme.

The Catholic Church is, of course, outraged at the prospect of the removal of this privilege for their school pupils. Hugh O'Neill, headteacher of St Benedict's Upper School, in Bury St Edmunds, says the proposal by Suffolk County Council to withdraw the scheme would hit parents financially and be a further blow to Catholic education in the region. He said: "We're of the strong opinion it is a misguided and unfortunate plan. It has a huge impact on parents."

Cllr Graham Newman, portfolio holder for schools and young people's services, said: "If you're in the position where you've got to make savings, you have to look at things which are discretionary. I'm aware of the issues it will create for our very valued faith schools." 

Government not minded to change Act of Settlement
The Act of Succession, which bans Catholics from succeeding to the British throne, was discussed in the House of Lords this week. Lord Dubs suggested that the law was discriminatory and said, given that there was a bar on Roman Catholics, it was odd that there is no bar against Jews, Muslims, Hindus or even atheists.

This is the text of the exchange:

Lord Dubs: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals to amend the Act of Settlement to afford equal rights to the Throne for daughters of the Sovereign and Roman Catholics.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government do not have any plans to amend the Act of Settlement.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as a country, we oppose discrimination on grounds of gender or religion? It is curious, to say the least, that we allow such discrimination to continue in the succession to the Throne. Does he also agree that, given that there is a bar on Roman Catholics, it is odd that there is no bar against Jews, Muslims, Hindus or even atheists? Does he further agree that the matter is of some urgency? If His Royal Highness Prince William and his bride have children, it would be invidious to change the arrangements then. The time to do it is surely now.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I might agree with many of the propositions that the noble Lord has put forward, but as the previous Administration recognised, we are dealing with Acts of Parliament that govern not only us but a number of countries where the Queen is Head of State. For that reason, we have been proceeding with extreme caution.

The Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the central provision for the establishment of the Church of England is that the Sovereign, as Supreme Governor, should join in communion with that church? Does the Minister agree that, unless the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to soften its rules on its members' involvement with the Church of England, whose orders it regards as null and void, it is hard to see how the Act of Settlement can be changed without paving the way for disestablishment, which, though it might be welcome to some, would be of great concern to many and not just to Anglicans or, indeed, to other Christians?

Lord McNally: My Lords, that intervention shows the wisdom of proceeding with extreme caution on these matters.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, shortly after joining this House more than 10 years ago, I introduced a Private Member's Bill that was torpedoed very effectively by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley and which sought to prevent the heir to the Throne marrying a Roman Catholic? The then Government used exactly the same argument, saying that it required countries in which the Queen is Head of State to pass legislation and that they would take the matter forward. It is more than 10 years since that commitment was made. What progress was made and what was done?

Lord McNally: My Lords, ... we are talking about an Act that is 300 years old and that has served this country not too badly when one considers the 60 years of religious and communal strife that went before it. Therefore, although 10 years seems a long time, there have been consultations. I thought that, at least in this House, talking of progress in terms of centuries would be much appreciated. As is known, the previous Administration initiated discussions among Commonwealth countries. Those discussions are proceeding under the chairmanship of the New Zealand Government and we will continue to keep the matter under consideration.  

Belgian report shows that hundreds of abusive priests went unpunished
Only 16% of priests involved in 134 cases of child abuse in the Belgian Catholic Church have been prosecuted, a new report shows.

The report, which was handed to the Government in December, was reported in the daily Le Soir this week. It details 134 cases of alleged abuse by priests over several decades.

The report, compiled by the secretary of Belgium's episcopal conference, Etienne Quintiens, indicated that ninety priests are still alive involved with 134 cases of alleged child sex abuse. A further 50-odd complaints not yet on the list have been lodged since a church-backed commission last September revealed nearly 500 cases of abuse by priests and church workers since the 1950s, including 13 victims who committed suicide.

The church document shows either the church or the judiciary received complaints in 70 per cent of the cases.

"Globally, less than one abuser out of six was inflicted the maximum penalty available to the bishop: definitive suspension. And even fewer, 16 per cent, were effectively condemned by the judiciary," Le Soir said.

The situation differed from one part of the country to another, with no judicial action at all in the Hasselt diocese, though the church transmitted 90 per cent of alleged cases to prosecutors, while in Ghent, 73 per cent of alleged cases were prosecuted and sentenced.

The largely Catholic country of 10 million is still reeling from the 2010 revelations as the new year begins, with fresh allegations of abuse in institutions run by nuns.

The former head of Belgium's Roman Catholic Church last month denied before a parliamentary panel that top bishops "consciously" covered up abuse cases. Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who was quizzed for hours by Belgian MPs, expressed his "horror" at the reports but said "there was no drive to consciously cover up the sexual abuse or deny it".

Daneels, who led the Church between 1979 and 2009, said perpetrators should "pay damages as established by justice" but refused to say if the church itself should pay victims.

His successor, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, on Tuesday opened the door to possible compensation. "It's not excluded that we voluntarily show solidarity with these people," he said in an interview on the Flemish television network VTM.

See also: American diocese tries to buy off victims to avoid scandalous court cases

Debaptism accelerates as revulsion at Church abuse heightens
A record number of Austrians turned their back on the Catholic Church in 2010 according to the Church's own news agency Kathpress. It said the abuse scandals were the main motivation for the rise in people jumping from the Catholic ship.

The number of Catholics who left the Church in Austria increased to 87,400, up 39 per cent compared to 2009 figures. "The main reason is the considerable rise of secessions after the Church abuse cases became public, with numbers reaching a record since 1945," the agency said.

Amid a wave of revelations about mostly sexual abuse by clergy across Europe, more than 1,000 people contacted Austrian help lines last year to report cases. Prosecutors have been notified of some 100 cases so far, and around the same number have received compensation from the Church. 

The Church claims there are 5.5 million Catholics in Austria – that is, 5.5 million people who were baptised as babies and are still claimed as "Catholics".

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the organisation Friends of Secular Morality, which assists people in resigning from the church, says that it has helped 1,700 people leave during 2010, compared with 380 during 2009. See a report about it.
Read the almost unbelievably arrogant response to the debaptism phenomenon from the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Washington

Self-proclaimed "Catholic activist" gets leading role in human rights organisation to promote the pope's agenda
The new president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has appointed an Italian, Massimo Introvigne, as OSCE representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The job is to have a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions. The new president is the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, Audronius Azubalis.

Introvigne's predecessor, the Italian Mario Mauro, was a politician. In contrast, Introvigne is a Catholic activist, author, and sociologist from a grassroots Catholic movement, Alleanza Cattolica (Catholic Alliance), where he was the No. 2 for years. Its proclaimed goal in public life is to spread the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Introvigne has been engaged for years in denouncing the persecution of religious minorities, especially in recent weeks Christians. 

The OSCE is the largest organization in the field of international security and promotion of human rights. Its members include all 56 countries of Europe (including the Holy See, which is a founding member) and ex-Soviet Central Asia, plus the United States and Canada, with a special partnership with other Mediterranean countries (including Turkey, Morocco and Israel), Asia (including Japan and South Korea) and Australia. Its growing importance was confirmed by the OSCE summit in December 2010 in Astana, Kazakhstan, attended by numerous heads of State and Government and other authorities, including Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Hillary Clinton, Russian president Medvedev and the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi.

Too much religion in teachers' training college – report
The Irish Teaching Council has issued a report saying that students in one of Ireland's largest teacher training colleges spend too much time studying religion.

The Teaching Council — the professional body for teachers — said the time allocated for religion in the college was four times that for science.

While the report welcomed the fact student teachers have access to the Certificate in Religious Education on an optional basis, it was concerned at the amount of time allocated to religious education within the Bachelor of Education (B Ed) programme, in the context of the overall number of contact hours available.

It recommended the college authorities address "some inconsistency in the balance of time allocated to various programme components... For example, attention should be given to the fact that subjects such as science, social, personal and health education (SPHE), geography and history are currently allotted 12 hours each, as compared with the 48 hours each allotted to other subjects such as visual arts, religious education."

The report is certain to revive controversy regarding the huge influence of the Catholic Church in teacher training. Some have questioned whether State-funded teacher-training colleges should still require all students to complete a course in religion.

The certificate in religious studies is a compulsory requirement of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference for teachers working in Catholic-managed primary schools. These comprise more than 90 per cent of schools in the Irish system.

Last year a County Cavan teacher who lost the offer of a permanent post after she failed to furnish a Catholic religion certificate was awarded more than €12,000 by the Equality Tribunal. The tribunal found a Co Cavan school had discriminated against her on the grounds of religion when she applied for a permanent post. 

Rise of religious fundamentalism is affecting all our lives
Editorial by Terry Sanderson
If you want to see the effect on daily life of allowing religious fundamentalists to take hold of too much power, you only have to look at what is happening in Israel. Julian Kossoff in the Daily Telegraph gives an overview of the ghastly bigotry that has become common currency for the people of that country blighted by religious bigotry.

He tells the story of Alvi Cohen, a former Liverpool footballer who was killed in a motorcycling accident. Mr Cohen had an organ donor's card in his wallet, because transplantation was something he supported. Mr Kossoff wrote:

His family agreed that his organs should be donated before he was taken off his life-support machine, but several so-called "miracle worker" rabbis objected. They told the family that taking his organs while his heart was still beating was murder according to Jewish law. The family succumbed to the pressure, even though potential recipients had been told organs had been located for them.

Ah yes, you might say, this is Israel, a religious state where orthodox Judaism is rising in influence and certifiable rabbis make idiotic religious laws that, in turn, make other people's lives intolerable. But this week the Guardian revealed that our own Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has also declared that organ donation is unacceptable, so long as the heart is beating (albeit only because a machine is doing the pumping). Even if the would-be donor is brain dead and beyond revival, Mr Sacks argues it is against Jewish law to take organs until the heart has stopped beating.

Whether or not Sacks has felt forced to make this pronouncement, he has understandably upset the British Medical Association, which says that organs are much more likely to be of use if blood is still being pumped through the body. It has urged Mr Sacks to reconsider his advice. But when rules are laid down by God, they can't be changed.

But they can be got around.

In several areas of North London, where Jewish populations are concentrated, there are eruvs — areas designated by a wire boundary — where senseless and highly inconvenient Shabbat restrictions can be disregarded (no pushing prams, no turning on lights, no carrying of anything). This eruv arrangement is very handy — even if completely barmy — because it allows you to impose stupid rules on yourself which you can then disregard because you've attached some wire to a pole.

Let us hope that the BMA can persuade Rabbi Sacks to find some similarly crackpot way around the rules that he has imposed on his followers. After all, one day it may be one of them or their children who are desperately in need of a kidney or liver or heart.

NB: Since writing this, Lord Sacks has tried to "clarify" the situation – but has actually simply confirmed what he said in the first place.

Islamists rule by religious terror in Pakistan
Appearing on the Today programme on Wednesday, the 21 year old daughter of slain Pakistani governor Salmaan Taseer said she had taken up her father's campaign against the country's notorious blasphemy law.

While Muslims around Pakistan celebrated the death of her father, Shehrbano Taseer said: "My father's stance has been misrepresented and has been misquoted because he simply said these laws are being misused and they target the poor, the dispossessed and the voiceless. He said it's a man-made law and these things should be debated in parliament. That has been misconstrued into saying that he has been blasphemous."

This brought an instant and violently threatening response from Shadab Qadri, head of the Sunni Tehreek Islamist party. He said: "We read the statement of the slain governor's daughter in a newspaper. She should refrain from issuing such statements and must remember her father's fate," he said.

His organisation has also offered legal support to Mr Taseer's killer and financial help to his family "as he performed a great duty in the name of Islam".

We pay tribute to John Cryer MP for proposing this Early Day Motion at Westminster about the death of Salmaan Taseer:

That [the UK House of Commons] condemns the assassination of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer; notes his courageous calls for the abolition of Pakistan's blasphemy law and equally courageous demands for clemency for Asia Bibi; further notes with concern the role of religious fundamentalism; and hopes that all countries will, in the future, move towards the tolerance that should be the hallmark of the secular state.

We urge every Newsline reader with a UK MP to write to their MP (e.g. by WriteToThem ) to ask them to support this motion (no. 1245).

See also: Pakistan's blasphemy law is perfect weapon in sectarian warfare
Death threats proliferate for Muslim MPs in Pakistan

Alcohol restricted as Islamists tighten their grip on Turkey
The Islamist Turkish government has placed new restrictions on alcohol that will ban its advertising at sports events and limit sales to licensed shops and restaurants.

An official from the ruling AKP said that the moves were to protect young people from alcoholism and did not have "an ideological dimension". But opposition spokesmen said it was the result of an "oppressive mentality" seeking to control Turkey and targeting non-religious lifestyles."

One small wine-maker told the BBC that, under the new regulations, he could no longer promote his wines via the internet, could not recommend wines to go with certain food, nor hold wine-tasting events.

For Turkey's top basketball team — which bears the same title as the beer-maker Efes Pilsen — the changes mean finding a new name.

Turkish Prime Minister, and self-declared Islamist, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly voiced his disapproval of alcohol consumption. Last year he said he could not understand why people drank wine when they could just eat the grapes. 

Secularist of the Year – your nominations invited
Nominations are coming in now for this year's Secularist of the Year. If you would like to propose someone who you think might deserve the £5,000 Irwin Prize, then please let us know, with a few words explaining why you think they have contributed something substantial to the secularist cause during the year. Closing date for nominations is 31 January 2011.

The prize will be presented on Saturday 19 March at a sparkling party in London. The awards will be preceded by a three course meal with aperitif and coffee or tea and great entertainment. Tickets are £45, the same price as last year despite the VAT rise (a special £15 rate is available for students). You also get the opportunity to socialise in convivial surroundings with members from around the country and some of our prominent honorary associates.

You can book securely online or by post at NSS (SoY), 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (please state the names of all your party and whether any have special dietary requirements). 

It's a New Year and time to renew your membership
January is the month when NSS subscriptions fall due. We hope that you'll stick with us as an important year of activism and change lies ahead and we need everybody aboard. If you have a Standing Order of £5 a month or more, your subscription is included, if you joined after September 2010, your subscription is good until January 2012.

Otherwise, you can renew your subscription online or by post to NSS (Subs), 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.

Remember, the NSS receives no public funding, is not a charity and is completely dependent on the generosity of its members and supporters for its continued work in challenging religious privilege and working towards a truly secular society. And as well as your contribution through your subscription, we need to show the likes of the Catholic Education Service (see story above) that we are not an insignificant organisation of a few people, but a well-supported pressure group that has an important message supported by substantial numbers.

Why not renew your subscription now – and if you aren't already a member, please join. 

NSS speaks out
The NSS was under attack from the Catholic education hierarchy last week – to which we vigorously responded .

The Scotsman reported our appeal to the Scottish Football Association to reinstate Hugh Dallas (see story above ) and this was subsequently picked up b the BBC and the PM programme, who interviewed Keith Porteous Wood.

Our challenge to the "religious discrimination" report at Derby University was covered by the Times Higher Education Supplement .

The NSS had this brief letter (third letter) in the Guardian on Wednesday.

Be first with the news with What the Papers Say
Our What the Papers Say feature at the NSS website is updated daily with all the latest news and views from the world's media relating to secularism and allied topics. Make sure you visit it regularly to see how worldwide events are affecting the secular perspective and how religion is increasingly intruding into politics.

From the web
Seven in ten Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life -- one of the highest such responses in Gallup's 53-year history of asking this question, and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade. See the full result of the poll which contradicts the belief that America is the most religious nation on earth.

Non-Prophet Week: The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) is running a charity week around the UK from 7–13 February and would like the support of local NSS members both as groups and individuals. Part of the aim is to show that non-believers are as generous and committed as believers often claim to be. You can read more about it here and if you would like to get involved, you can find out the group nearest to you by contacting and they will put you in touch.

Leicester Secular Society has been bringing people together for 150 years to exchange views, listen to stimulating speakers, fight for equality and human rights, and to simply enjoy meeting one another. Since 1881 it has been based in Secular Hall, on Humberstone Gate. It has a wide range of events, including talks, debates and musical evenings. If you agree with its aims, please consider joining. In any case, it would be happy to hear from you and to meet you at one of its events. Details of its aims and events program can be found on its website .

Scottish Secular Group Meeting: Religious education and worship in non-denominational state schools. The recently established secular group based in Edinburgh invites you to join them for a discussion at 2pm at the Royal Overseas League, 100 Princes St, Edinburgh. The group will meet on the last Sunday of each month and can be contacted at .

Letters to Newsline
Please send your letters for publication to We want to publish as many letters as possible, so please keep them brief: no more than 250 words . We reserve the right to edit. Opinions expressed in letters are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the NSS.

From Jennifer Hynes:
We are led to believe that the numbers of Muslim converts, sorry reverts, is rising. Yet the global number of Muslims appears to have remained stable. What the researchers are loathe to study however are the numbers LEAVING Islam. And more, why are they leaving? There's a study I'd be interested in reading about.

From John Rushby-Smith:
Regarding the Bible's place on Desert Island Discs, methinks the protests are overdone. Not everyone would want Shakespeare either — some might even prefer a collection of Haynes Manuals — but the fact remains that both of the resident books represent towering achievements of English literature, especially if the Bible is the splendid King James' version. No-one, be they theist, atheist or secularist, would be the poorer for reading either. Great stories don't have to be believed and great literature doesn't have to be true. As someone who once spun discs for Roy Plomley, I submit that his brilliantly conceived DID — the archetype for every chat-show since — is far too soft a target to deserve the slings and arrows of secularist ire. TftD, however, is another matter...

From Eamonn Riley:
Following the decision of a number of leading rabbis in Israel to sign a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles — a move particularly aimed against Arabs — Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, among others, carried the following:

"Racism originated in the Torah," said Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, who heads the Ashdod Yeshiva. "The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted."

So now we know. Racism started with a religious text that has inspired not only religious Judaism, but Christianity and Islam too.

From Peter Arnold:
Most of the people reading this are likely to believe that there is no reliable evidence for the existence of anything supernatural. I wonder how many followers of religions may be beginning to believe the same while remaining loyal to their organisation. I can think of a few loyal Anglicans who love the poetry, mediaeval architecture and choral music, and enjoy the pleasure of exploring possible meanings among the metaphors. They remain loyal to a tradition but remain relatively open minded, even sceptical.

This is not a serious problem in democratic society but encouraging an open mind is quite a problem elsewhere.

I have been attending a Quaker Meeting for forty years, gradually discarding all the improbabilities until I became atheist. I have seen no reliable evidence for the supernatural or miracles or angels or fairies but plenty of evidence that religious organisations are commercial and political, and given to encouraging anxiety in order to sell their products.

From Sue England:
Schools should be required to allow faith organisations to establish voluntary clubs according to an article in the Guardian .

I put the below on a thread run on the Guardian today, following a comment piece by The Church Mouse. This person is described only as an Anglican and is allowed to post anonymously, despite the fact that on some of the belief threads there is always much sly winking and self congratulatory banter amongst religious regulars, who obviously know who it is.

Its argument (well, it's a mouse) was that we would abolish compulsory school worship, but then religious groups would be allowed into schools to run clubs, which would then hold services. "Mouse reckons that the law should be changed to end the mandatory worship requirement. Instead, schools should be required to allow faith organisations to establish voluntary clubs." On the point that RE taught about religions and their ideas, it argued children had to experience worship to understand religion properly. "I would say that you could learn the facts of what happened in the second world war without being bombed, but you could not learn what it felt like to be there." A very interesting comparison to make, is it not?

I posted:

Dawkins alert! Dawkins alert! Child abuse, child abuse.......
"I would say that you could learn the facts of what happened in the second world war without being bombed, but you could not learn what it felt like to be there." Religious wants children to experience the real feeling of being bombed! Would it actually include the bomb splinters or even death. I've been run over by a car, do I want anyone else to experience what I went through, so they understand road safety and why not to drive when drunk?

Anybody know who "Church Mouse" is?

From Martin Bridges:
In response to the question in the letters some weeks back as to whether North Tyneside Council were employing an 'Ethics and Spirituality' consultant, I finally received this rather odd response from Chief Executive John Marsden:

"I can confirm that the article in Private Eye is based on mis-information. We have not engaged an Ethics and Spirituality Consultant (a fee of £45,000 per annum). The Council has a team of school improvement advisers who provide advice to schools to improve the quality of education. One such adviser is employed directly to meet the local authority's statutory duties to promote the teaching of citizenship in schools. Alongside this the school improvement adviser is working to develop the teaching of ethics, philosophy and critical thinking in the curriculum. The work is completely externally funded. The terms and conditions are in line with national terms and conditions for education advisers."

From Alan Rogers:
I don't usually listen to Thought for the Day but since I was making a two hour drive to Cardiff to discuss hospital chaplaincy with the Royal College of Nursing it happened to be playing on my car radio.

Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim chaplain of the University of Cambridge, favoured me with a few platitudes drawn somewhat artificially from the life of The Prophet and his followers – supposedly in connection with the Tucson, Arizona shootings. I think he was trying to say we should be respectful and courteous to each other. With supreme irony, his few minutes of access to the airwaves was immediately followed by an item on the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who dared to question a death sentence for blasphemy. Many Muslims celebrated last week's murder and marched in support of Mumtaz Qadri, the police officer who fired a volley of bullets into his back. I don't think we need lectures on good political manners from the chaplain, who might have better used the time he was so generously given to explain how his co-religionists can applaud the murder of a politician who simply expressed a humane point of view.

From Robert Shipman:
I recently heard the phrase "zombie carpenter" used on Radio 5 Live, as in "At that school they tell the children Zombie Carpenter stories". The host Chris Addison (7 Day Sunday, Sundays 11.00am) continued his commendable rant with "You may think I can't say that on air but anyone who objects should be in church".

I highly recommend the programme. Mr Addison should surely be allowed on Thought for the Day. And that phrase, whether he coined it or not, made me laugh and deserves to be more widely used.

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