Saturday, February 12, 2011

Newsline 11 February 2011

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There is far too much religion in our education system. Support the NSS's campaigns to curb the growth of "faith schools". Join us today. Go to 

11 February 2011
In this week's Newsline
Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
Education Bill threatens to intensify discrimination in faith schools
Gove's "free schools" are opening the doors to extremists
Gove stands firm on religious education in baccalaureate
Multi-culti: Is Mr Cameron going to be like his predecessors – all mouth and no action?
Church urged to challenge "new atheists" and "secularisation process"
Teaching unions furious as Church of England plans to hog resources in Lancashire as they convert high schools to academies
Scrap parliamentary prayers, says MP
Secularist of the Year
Radio 4 overdoes religion, but the BBC Trust can't quite bring itself to say so
New Bradlaugh biography shines
NSS speaks out
Letters to Newsline

Quotes of the week 
"Islamists believe that Islam is a Nation and no other entity deserves respect. Mr Cameron's 21st-century version of One Nation Conservatism is a full-on rejection of that."
(Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph)

"Religious extremists are not only a small group of people associated to Islam. Instead, intolerant views and verbal threats by some Roman Catholic extremists that I have received rival any monopoly by Muslim radicals."
(Father Alberto Cutie, Huffington Post)

Essays of the Week
At last, the Islamist's appeasers may be on the run
(Nick Cohen, Observer)

Cameron's message is clear: Muslims are not wanted
(Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Independent)

Will Ireland ever break the grip of the Catholic Church?
(Russell Shorto, New York Times)

Education Bill threatens to intensify discrimination in faith schools
The National Secular Society has warned that thousands of teaching posts in schools in England that are currently open to those of all faiths and none are in risk of being reserved for teachers 'of the faith'. The provisions are contained in a clause in the Education Bill which started its passage through Parliament on Tuesday.

At present, Voluntary Controlled (VC) "faith" schools (currently controlled by local authorities) are limited to reserving one fifth of their teaching posts for religious staff. Often in practice many less are reserved. But the Education Bill gives the Secretary of State the discretion to reserve all teaching posts in Voluntary Controlled schools that convert to academies. Those staff in existing posts will presumably be protected. But if the Minister exercises his discretion on any significant scale, the pool of discrimination-free posts is likely to diminish as existing staff leave. The Bill does not specify any criteria to be met for the Minister to exercise the discretion. It is likely that religious groups will put huge pressure on the Minister to exercise this power.
There are 2,500 Voluntary controlled "faith" schools, around 15% of primary schools in England.
Stephen Evans, Senior Campaigns Officer at the National Secular Society said: "Given the Government's determination that academies are to 'become the norm', the large number of VC schools, and the likely pressure on the Minister to exercise the discretionary power, the potential for discrimination against non-religious teachers increases dramatically.
"When VC schools convert to academy status, religious groups are vested with 100% control of the governing body, rather than the minority position they have now. This gives clear potential for religious organisations to increase the religiosity of these schools and strengthen the 'religious ethos'.
In November 2010, the Chief Schools Adjudicator criticised faith schools, suggesting that some of them cherry-picked wealthier pupils through points-based systems that benefit families heavily involved in church activities. Yet the Education Bill removes the requirement for local authorities to report on the admissions criteria of schools and to establish an admissions forum. The Bill also weakens the power of the school adjudicator, who will no longer be able to modify school admissions arrangements in response to a complaint.
Speaking during the Bill's second reading, Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan) said "I am not at all convinced by the fairness of the new school arrangements and I am particularly concerned about admissions forums. Ministers are reviewing the code with a view to slimming it down so, with the abolition of admissions forums and the watering down of powers for the school adjudicator, we simply do not know which standards, if any, schools will be held to for admissions."
Barry Sheerman MP (Labour, Huddersfield), the former Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families, said "The Select Committee worked very hard to persuade the former Government to change the powers of adjudicators and allow them to be called in more easily because we found that many schools, such as faith schools, were evading their responsibilities in terms of fairer admissions policies."
Under the proposed legislation, the role of Ofsted will also be diminished. 'Outstanding' schools (20% of schools) will generally be exempted from routine Ofsted inspections. Nor will the inspectorate any longer be expected to report on whether schools promote community cohesion. Despite concerns over the potential divisiveness of free schools, which will be extremely attractive to faith groups, including minority faiths, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has stated that he regards the school's duty to promote community cohesion as "entirely peripheral."
Despite the NSS's representations, the Bill leaves Collective Worship compulsory in all schools and it also allows discriminatory school transport provisions to continue which privilege religious (or purportedly religious) parents sending their children to faith schools.
The provision of Sex Education and Religious Education, which will not be covered in the Government's curriculum review, also remains untouched by the new Bill. Speaking in the Commons Michael Gove announced that he would not be accepting any amendments that made the curriculum any more "prescriptive or intrusive".
The Secretary of State for Education introduced the second reading of the Education Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday. The Bill passed with a vote and will now be considered by a Public Bill Committee.
Read the House of Commons debate in full
See also: Campaigners claim bill gives Church power to prejudice  
Gove's "free schools" are opening the doors to extremists
In the latest indication that the Government's "free school" programme is opening the education system to religious extremists, an evangelical church is planning to bring creationism into the classroom by opening its own school.

The Everyday Champions Church has sparked controversy after applying to open a new free school in Newark, Nottinghamshire, next year. The church, which believes the Bible is an "accurate" depiction of God's word, and that God is the "creator of all things", is hoping to open the new 625-pupil school in September 2012.
According to the church, the proposed Everyday Champions Academy will possess a "Christian ethos that permeates everything that happens throughout the school".
Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church leader and the driving force behind the free school bid, at first told the Times Educational Supplement that creationism would be taught across the curriculum, should the school be given the green light. "Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school," Pastor Morgan said. "It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory."
The church website carries a video that states: "If creation is true, there is a purpose to life. If evolution is true, there is no purpose to life." It adds that "if creation is true, then man is a fallen creature and we need a saviour. If evolution is true then man is an evolving creature and we don't need any saviour".
When he realised that there were possible negative implications for his plans, Pastor Morgan rowed back on his bullish statement and issued a "clarification". He said: "I wish to clarify the subject of Creationism in relation to our science curriculum. Department for Education guidelines state that they do not expect creationism and intelligent design to form part of any science curriculum developed by any state funded school that has the freedom to develop their own curriculum. However, they would expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any such science curriculum. Creationism will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory. We believe children should have a broad knowledge of all theories in order that they can make informed choice."
The TES report continued: "But the plans were criticised by the National Secular Society, which has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to keep creationism out of science lessons. Executive director Keith Porteous Wood said: The Secretary of State should emphasise that in regards to science, schools should teach the accepted theory of evolution and that any biblical teachings should be left to religious education. If creationism were taught in a science environment, there is a danger that it would be taught with the implication that it is the real explanation and that the scientific version was 'only a theory'."
This follows the news that a Muslim school is being planned in Bradford with connections to an imam who advocates completely separatist education.
Mr Gove says that he has created a "due diligence unit" aimed at screening out "extremist" sponsors for free schools and academies, but he has also said that the teaching of creationism won't automatically rule out a sponsor. Speaking last week, he said: "It will be the responsibility of the due diligence committee to monitor all applications for new schools. And to monitor existing arrangements in existing schools to make sure there are no risks of extremism taking hold.
"We're going to ensure that we have the resource here to help local authorities and others to deal either with a small group of governors hijacking a school or a group who are promoting a school who are inappropriate, whether they be religious extremists or political extremists."
Keith Porteous Wood commented: "We need a definition of 'extremism' which will be applied to school sponsors. By most people's standards, schools that spend half their day teaching Koranic studies or who force their girl pupils to wear elaborate Islamic garb as the mandatory school uniform would qualify as 'extreme'. But there are schools already operating in the state system where this happens."
Mr Wood said that what sponsors say they will do on their applications and what they actually do when they have the school under their control won't necessarily be the same thing. "The due diligence unit must monitor schools when they are up and running to ensure that extremism is not introduced after all the assurances have been given at the initial stage." 
Gove stands firm on religious education in baccalaureate
The Education Minister Michael Gove shrugged off criticism in the House of Commons this week that religious education was not to be one of the subjects to be studied as part of the new English Baccalaureate.

Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North asked the Minister whether he planned to include religious education in the humanities section of the English baccalaureate.
Mr Gove responded: "Religious education did not count towards the humanities element of the English baccalaureate in the 2010 performance tables, because it is already a compulsory subject. One intention of the English baccalaureate is to encourage wider take-up of geography and history in addition to, rather than instead of, compulsory RE".
Not to be put off, Caroline Nokes asked whether the Minister thought exclusion of RE from the baccalaureate would "dramatically reduce the number of students studying the RE full course at GCSE and have a knock-on and detrimental effect on the number of candidates for religious education teacher training?"
Michael Gove replied: "The decision to include geography and history in the humanities section of the English baccalaureate will mean that those subjects, which have seen a decline in the number of students pursuing them, will at last see an increase, alongside modern foreign languages. As the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) pointed out, the English baccalaureate is intended to be a suite of core academic qualifications, which every child can be expected to follow alongside other qualifications, whether vocational, RE or others."
Another Christian MP, Paul Maynard (Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys) also challenged the Secretary of State for Education, saying: "While I entirely accept the Secretary of State's point that RE is compulsory, it is not obligatory to sit the GCSE. Does he agree that the very many faith schools where RE is compulsory are thereby penalised in the calculation of their English baccalaureate achievement?"
Michael Gove responded: "I do appreciate that many schools will want to offer RE as a GCSE, and indeed we would encourage them to do so, but the core element of the English baccalaureate relates to five subjects which we believe are the essential academic knowledge that students should be able to master. The news from the Russell group of universities last week that the subjects that we have chosen for the English baccalaureate are the subjects that they expect students to have if they are to go on to leading universities ensures that there is an appropriate match between schools and universities in advancing social mobility rather than seeing it decline, as happened in the past 13 years." 
Multi-culti: Is Mr Cameron going to be like his predecessors – all mouth and no action?
Editorial by Terry Sanderson
What are we to make of Mr Cameron's speech on the failure of "state multiculturalism"? Are we to cheer that, at last, a senior politician has had the courage to jump in feet first and open up the debate? Or are we to groan that here comes the next one who knows there's a problem but hasn't got the guts, or the will, to follow through with the radical solution that is needed?

And if he does follow through – what would he actually do to tackle the problem of radical Islamism that has established itself in Muslim communities throughout Britain?
I suggest that Mr Cameron starts by watching the Dispatches programme to be broadcast on Monday on Channel 4. He will see that within "Muslim schools" there is a widespread culture of separatism and an outright rejection of Western values, not to mention hate-mongering on an epic scale. In such places, the "muscular liberalism" that the Prime Minister espouses is easily overpowered by the unchecked steam roller of Islamism. 
Several commentators have asked how Mr Cameron is going to challenge the growth of dangerous Wahabi Islam in this country when he allows schools to use state money to create ghettos of religious separatism. Yasmin Alibhai Brown in The Independent was one of them. She wrote: 
"This Government is enthusiastically funding schools for separatists – from snooty white middle-classes, to pedantic, purist Hindus, nutty, evangelical Christians, and introverted, uncompromising Muslims. How does that foster integration? Michael Gove has just been accused by Bradford City Council of encouraging segregation by funding a new free school started up by Ayub Ismail, who wants to ensure his pupils are not "absorbed into the dominant culture". Saudis are allowed by our Government to brainwash Muslims who are then despised. The Tory party's right and left buttocks move in different directions. Not clever nor consistent with the PM's Big Message of the week."
Writing in The Times, Philip Collins said:
"Are faith schools the embodiment of the shared national values that David Cameron wants us all to sign up to? Or are they institutions that organise us into separate lives? 
"Mr Cameron says that just obeying the law is not good enough and that we need to promote a series of values such as freedom of association and equal rights. A faith school that is attended only by Muslim children could and would certainly claim to uphold these basic values. Yet it would also encode separate living, which Mr Cameron says is the source of the problem.
"A spokesman for the Department for Education told The Times that Mr Cameron's comments had not affected policy on faith schools. "The Government supports faith schools. We've been talking about the admissions system generally to make it a bit fairer and simpler to navigate, but there have been no changes to policy."
Mr Collins makes the point that much the same speech had been made before Cameron by Tony Blair – and Ruth Kelly and Hazel Blears, too. Like him, they had said that public money given to Islamic groups of dubious character would stop. They sidelined the MCB for a time, and then brought it back. Now it seems it may be sidelined again. Hopefully this time for good.
There was no real radical change in approach in all the previous cases. The Islamists continued to spew their hate unimpeded in mosques and street corners and on websites and blogs, and many of them pocketed public money in the process.
The National Secular Society has been consistent in its argument that "faith schools" must take their share of the blame for this inability to fuse communities into a working whole. Not to try to create Mr Cameron's fantasy of a mono-cultural Britain, which is equally unrealistic, but a nation that at least feels as though it knows itself and accepts itself in all its myriad varieties, while at the same time aiming for the same goal.
What we have at the moment is a collection of communities living dangerously apart from each other, aided an abetted by the state that doesn't know what to do about it.
One of Mr Cameron's demands is that everyone in this country is able to speak the same language. We agree with that, but in the same week, his Government cut in half the funding for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).
It is dawning on the Government and other opinion formers that religious conflict could become a major issue in Britain if we don't act to stop it now. But the Coalition is hog-tied by fear of a backlash from those with a vested interest in keeping immigrant communities under their own iron control – the mullahs and the imams.
Mr Cameron's talk of "muscular liberalism" caused one commentator to reach the conclusion that the NSS reached in 1866. Tom Sutcliffe in the Independent said: "The word Mr Cameron is looking for is secularism." The Economist, on the other hand, called the speech an "unconvincing muddle".
But one blogger, Mats Tunehag, noticed a small point in Mr Cameron's speech which will set alarm bells ringing among those religious believers who imagine they have a divine right to run the world. It concerns the difference between "freedom of worship" and "freedom of religion". In his speech, Mr Cameron said: 
"…I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality."
Mr Tunehag noted that the term "freedom of worship" has occurred previously in speeches by Hilary Clinton and President Obama. He asserts that freedom of worship is not the same as freedom of religion. Freedom to worship, he says, means little, but freedom of religion means "the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate for it, alone or together with others, also in the public arena. It also gives the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is what democracies would adhere to."
This point was expanded upon by another Christian blogger, Archbishop Cranmer, who said: 
"The practice of religion — true religion — permeates every fibre of our being and enters every fabric of our lives. After centuries of constitutional theo-political development, the British arrived at a notion of tolerance and an understanding of liberty which the Prime Minister appears to be intent in limiting to state-approved expressions. By advocating 'freedom of worship', he adopts the narrative of the 'aggressive secularist' who seeks to relegate faith to the private sphere. This is antithetical to British 'core values', for it is as totalitarian as the approach taken by Saudi Arabia, and as illiberal as the banning of crucifixes by the European Union.... The Gospel of Christ is paramount and pre-eminent: it is not for the state to re-write the Word of God or to impose a uniform theo-political exposition."
This may have been true in the sixteenth century when the original Cranmer was alive, but it is not true now. We "aggressive secularists" will continue to insist that religion must know its new place in the scheme of things. If it continues to seek to regain the temporal power it lost after centuries of warfare, then resistance will be absolute from those of us who regard liberalism to be the real indicator of progress in our civilisation.
If you want to read more about this debate there is a wealth of articles and commentary from the press and online resources available in our What the Papers Say feature. They represent all points of view because we feel this is a debate that needs to be opened up completely and not constrained by the diktats of those who want critics silenced. We also feel strongly that it should not become a party political issue – it is an important topic that concerns us all. What the Papers Say is updated each day.
Church urged to challenge "new atheists" and "secularisation process"
The Church of England's General Synod this week debated a report from the Archbishops' Council entitled Challenges for the New Quinquennium (pdf).

It once again asks what the Church of England's place should be in society and what its priorities should be. Naturally it concludes (against all the evidence) that the Church of England is very important to everyone in this country and must continue to enjoy the privileges of establishment. It says that the Church must grow (instead of shrink at the alarming rate that it is doing) and that it should "sustain a capacity to influence policy, to respond to what the State proposes and to contribute to the common good."
One way for it to grow, of course, is by continuing to expand its influence in education. The report says:
"Continuing effort will be needed to develop the Church's distinctive contribution to the delivery of statutory education. The Government's plans in relation to academies and 'free schools' have the potential to change the landscape and shift some of the landmarks of the dual system that have been in place since the 1944 Education Act.
"One of the key achievements of the past few years has been to ensure that the anti-faith school campaigns of the secular lobby have consistently foundered on the public support for what schools with a religious foundation achieve and represent. One challenge will be to find fresh ways of articulating our firm commitment to Church schools which are both distinctive and inclusive.
"In higher and further education — and in other areas such as the NHS — the big challenge will be responding to the turbulence that will follow from the big reductions in public expenditure. How the Church responds to this, for example in relation to chaplaincy work, will require strategic clarity."
The report laments the "secularisation" of society, saying:
"One of the paradoxes of recent times has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues and in the social and cultural implications of religious faith."
It says the Church must be "explicit about the need to counter attempts to 'marginalise' Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem. This is partly about taking on the 'new atheism'. Bishops have a key role here both as public apologists and as teachers of the faith."
The document buys into the "persecuted Christians" scenario that has been so assiduously constructed over recent years and says that this "intolerance" is becoming more widespread and can be seen in public bodies, which it says must be challenged over attitudes of "suspicion or hostility towards churches and other faith groups. There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm."
When the report was debated in the General Synod, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that it was the church's "God-given duty" to "re-evangelise the nation". But Synod member John Townsend was more realistic, saying: "In my generation, we are not the national church, we are the nutters on the sidelines."
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "The Church is going to have to recognise that secularisation is not the cause of the Church's decline, it is the result of it. 'Taking on' those who argue against religion will not revive religion. Richard Dawkins didn't kill the Church of England, it committed suicide – and all because of its inability to challenge the bigotry and discrimination in its ranks."
Other facts revealed in the report:
  • 40% of stipendiary clergy are to retire in the next 10 years.
  • The Listed Places of Worship Grants Scheme has, since 2001, brought in more than £100m to UK churches. The Government's decision to keep the scheme going for a further five years beyond March 2011 was, says the Church, "very welcome". After the Olympics have finished draining it, the Church also intends to mount a sustained raid on the Lottery Fund. 
Teaching unions furious as Church of England plans to hog resources in Lancashire as they convert high schools to academies
Six teaching unions have banded together to oppose plans by the Church of England in Lancashire to convert all its high schools in the county to academies. The unions contend that this will drain money from other schools that choose to remain under local authority control.

Already it has been announced that St Wilfrid's CofE High School Technology College, Blackburn and St Christopher's CofE High School, Accrington, are interested in becoming academies.
Outside of East Lancashire bids are expected to be made by Bishop Rawstorne CofE High School, Croston, St. Michael's CofE High School, Chorley, Ripley S Thomas CofE High School, Lancaster and St Aidans CofE High School, Preesall.
Now the National Union of Teachers, NASUWT, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, along with UNISON, Unite and GMB have teamed up to fight the plans. They argue that additional money is taken from the budget for other schools to give to those which convert.
Becoming an academy allows schools to control their budgets and offers additional benefits such as developing their own curriculum, and taking charge of their admissions.
John Girdley, national executive member and Lancashire representative for the NASUWT, said "This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. I am concerned that schools that set such store by the local family of church schools have not seen that their proposals could lead to other church schools, and in particular their local feeder primary schools, losing money. There is a lot of disquiet among our members in these schools."
Ken Cridland, Lancashire secretary of the NUT, said: "I am surprised that Church of England schools are putting their own interests before those of others. It simply doesn't seem to fit into the Christian ethos."
See also: Catholic secondary gets free school status
Scrap parliamentary prayers, says MP
A Tory MP hias said that prayers in parliament should be scrapped.

Jo Johnson, MP for Orpington, and brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, said that Britain is not "an overwhelmingly Christian country anymore," and claimed that ending the daily practice of saying prayers in the House of Commons chamber would improve the image of MPs among the public and save time.
Mr Johnson said "institutionalised worship" was not 'a good use of everyone's time'. He was referring to the practice of saying prayers in the Commons before the day's business begins. The "rather controversial" change would save minutes of the business of the day, he told MPs.
Prayers are usually led by the Speaker's Chaplain and take about three or four minutes. The public and the press are not allowed in the galleries until prayers are over.
During a Westminster Hall debate on parliamentary reform, Mr Johnson said: "There is one proposal which if adopted has the potential to not only save time but also to improve the image that we project not only internally but externally. It is rather controversial and that is I think we can save three or four minutes every day by not having prayers in the main chamber. If we want to have prayers, let's shift them into Westminster Hall."
Mr Johnson went on: "There are reasons why we should make this move, first of all I think it is important that Parliament reflects the country as it is today. It is increasingly not a monotheistic country, we are not an overwhelmingly Christian country anymore.'
Tory Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, said it was a "hopeless point", adding: "Isn't it right that recent polls said 75% of British people said they thought they were Christians?"
But Mr Johnson responded: "That is as maybe but institutionalised prayer and congregational worship has fallen out of practice in the last century. I am not against going to church ... but it is something that MPs should be encouraged to do in their own time."
The Archdeacon for Bexley and Bromley, Dr Paul Wright, was also quick on the defensive, saying Mr Johnson's comments "overlooked the importance of religion". Dr Wright said: "The number of people attending church may not be as significant as it has been, but it was clear from the last census that the majority of people consider themselves Christian. They would value that our MPs are being prayed for and encouraged to think widely as the governors of our country.
"Ending daily prayers would be regrettable. MPs should respect our culture and tradition. We now live in a mixed community but I think other faiths would rather see a Christian prayer offered than nothing at all." He cited no evidence for such an assertion. 
Secularist of the Year
The great Secularist of the Year party is approaching – make a date for Saturday 19 March at lunchtime in central London. You can see the list of nominees here and also buy your tickets at the same place.

A welcome drink will be followed by a three course meal, tea and coffee and entertainment. You'll have the opportunity to meet NSS members from around the country as well as some of our honorary associates. And all in glamorous surroundings in the heart of London's West End.
It's always a friendly and thoroughly enjoyable event, so come and help us make it go with a swing. Tickets are £45 with a special price of £15 for students. Book now and avoid disappointment.
The party will be over by 4pm giving those living outside London time to get home at a reasonable time.
If you prefer to pay by cheque, please send your booking to NSS (SoY), 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL giving the names of all your party and any special dietary requirements they have. 
Radio 4 overdoes religion, but the BBC Trust can't quite bring itself to say so
The BBC Trust's five yearly performance report for radio has shown that Radio 4 broadcasts 225 hours of religious programmes each year (although many other programmes outside this count also have religious content). It is significantly more than is required by the service licence.

The NSS took part in the consultation that was undertaken for this report and we pointed out that Radio 4's religious output is completely disproportionate to the interest that research shows listeners have in it (i.e. hardly any).
The Trust tip-toes round this in its report saying that, in relation to religion, "Radio 4 is more than meeting audience expectations." More than meeting expectations? When translated, this surely means exceeding expectations — and certainly exceeding the audiences' want — by many fold.
The Trust says it recognises that "this can be a very subjective issue for licence fee payers." Meaning, we presume, that those who enjoy religious programmes appreciate them and those who don't can, well, they can keep quiet.
In 2009–2010 Radio 4 spent £5.1 million on entertainment and comedy, £3.4million on arts; and £2.6million on religion. These levels of spend have been broadly stable over recent years, even though interest in religion has declined significantly. 
New Bradlaugh biography shines
Dare to Stand Alone is an excellent new biography by Bryan Niblett of the founder of the National Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh. You can read our review here and the Independent's review here .

It's an inspiring story of a remarkable man who stood up against the hegemony of an entrenched church when it was at its most powerful in the 19th century. His courage and tenacity are a lesson to all of us concerned to loosen the grip of religion on society and our education system.
You can buy a copy of the book (hardback) from the NSS shop. It costs £20 post free. You can also order by post from NSS (Books), 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. 
Bristol Secular Society will be holding a formative meeting at the Ship Inn, 7–9, Lower Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5BJ at 7pm on Monday 14th February, 2011. More information from .

"The End of Gay?" Adam Knowles, Chair of GALHA, asks "Is the end of gay conceivable? Is gay 'just a phase', not for individuals but for society?" Mapping a broad historical view of gay from ignored to illegal through tolerated to integrated, this talk will outline some of the possibilities for the future and put the case for a modern conception of human sexuality. What happens is up to all of us: gay, straight or otherwise. Wednesday, February 16, 6:30pm–9:30pm, Bloomsbury Room in Canterbury Hall, 19–26 Cartwright Gardens, Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 9EF. More details .
Population 101 – An introduction to global population dynamics with Mike Freedman, director of the documentary Critical Mass. The world population is projected to rise from today's 6.8 billion to 9.15 billion in 2050. Mike Freedman will look at the converging environmental crises of the 21st century: population, economics, consumption, food production, water distribution and social behaviour. Organised by Sheffield Humanist Society. Wednesday 2nd March 8pm at the University Arms, 197 Brook Hill, Sheffield, S3 7HG.
NSS speaks out
Keith Porteous Wood was quoted in a story about the creationist church planning to open a free school in the Independent, Times Educational Supplement and Birmingham Sunday Mercury.

Geert Wilders: Europe's Most Dangerous Man? (BBC2, Monday 14 February 7pm) Geert Wilders is Holland's most controversial politician – his apparent anti-Islam stance splits opinion down the middle. Is he really as bad as he's painted? This documentary follows him on the campaign trail during the recent Dutch election.

Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence (Channel 4, Monday 14 February, 8pm) An undercover investigation into allegations of assault on young children by teachers in some of Britain's 2,000 madrassas (Islamic brainwashing centres). The programme also shows that behind closed doors, some Muslim secondary schools disseminate a message of hatred, intolerance and separatism. A real eye-opener for those who think "faith schools" are always benign.
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 Mark Francis:
While I would oppose the necessity to have any qualifications in RE as part of a baccalaureate or anything else, I do feel that the weekly compulsory RE lesson in schools has done more than any other practice (with the possible exception of paedophilia) to promote atheism in this country. In my school days it seemed to be the tradition to appoint the most incompetent teacher to take the lesson. My son keeps getting into trouble for questioning the Bible and being told that he will offend other children. How come it says thou shalt not kill and also though shalt not permit a witch to live…that sort of thing? As yet however the other kids seem to support him.

Unlike the teacher he actually seems to have read much of Genesis, which he describes as complete nonsense.
From Jeff Clarke:
How many times have we heard it said by people of religious opinion when talking about the crimes committed by members of their persuasion, 'Oh, but they're not real Christians,' or at the top of the inhumanities list nowadays, 'They're not real Muslims.'

Well, what are 'real' Christians and 'real' Muslims? The mindless fundamentalists and suicide bombers are just as convinced of their holy authenticity as are their less harmful adherents. I wonder what the reaction would be if we were to suggest that Nazism was a good thing but Heinrich Himmler helped give it a bad name and so wasn't a real Nazi? And whilst we have the Islamist hate preachers in our midst today, a good look at the history of the Papacy isn't likely to bolster anyone's confidence in those seeking the font of human goodness.
At least the Christian church — or most of it — has broken the shackles of ignorance in some respects and at last recognises the evidence of Galileo and Darwin but, alas, Islam still has a few centuries to go before its besotted fundamentalists struggle free of the Dark Ages. There is a serious imbalance in public perception over religious preachers. It is considered all right for them to insist upon airing their opinions in schools and public places but it would be a very different matter if a freethinker insisted on preaching in their church or mosque. In a more personal situation, I occasionally have them knocking on my door to enlighten me to the truth – as they see it. Usually Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons hoping to get their ten percent in the name of God Almighty. My response, when I have time is, 'OK, I'll be happy to listen as long as you don't mind me calling around to knock on your door with pamphlets about the teachings of Darwin and Dawkins. Dear me – that wouldn't do!
From Phil Sanders:
Cliff Richard, Father Christmas, Pele, Lassie, Tony Blair, Tinkerbell, God, Philip Schofield, James Bond, Natalie Portman, Tom & Jerry, Brian Jacks, Bono, Robinson Crusoe. A seemingly random list of heroes and villains depending on your point of view, fictional and real, human and non-human. But there is one thing they all have in common: they've got names. Names are proper nouns and hence spelt with a capital letter at the beginning. What's so difficult about that? How about another debate. Who says "Bless you" when somebody sneezes? I do, as it seems polite. Gesundheit just sounds a bit too Woody Allen, if you know what I mean.

From Jennifer Hynes:
Liked the quote from Daniel Hannan, though his other (political) views are somewhat dubious. It could, however, have been said by the Archbishop of Canterbury – it was so open-ended and, well, woolly. Perhaps a more apt quote for Newsline (from the esteemed Mr. Hannan) would have been, "The most dangerous diminutions of freedom come from those who are convinced of their [own] moral rectitude." The name Blair springs to mind, for no apparent reason...

From Tim Brassey:
In the upcoming 2011 Census on 27th March, in response to Question 20 "What is your religion", you can tick "No religion", Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or you can enter something else. Noticeably "Jedi" is missing despite the 2001 Census reporting more Jedis in the UK than Jews or Sikhs. My dilemma is whether to tick "No religion" or to enter "Jedi". Whilst the latter is not strictly truthful, I believe it will make for better press coverage. Now where did I leave that light sabre…?

From James Robinson:
Now that local councils have been ordered to publish details of all spending over £500 I decided to look at the December 2010 spreadsheet posted on the Manchester City Council (MCC) website. Buried in the data I was surprised to see taxpayers' money was given to churches. Four churches received "Grants or subscriptions" of over £1,500 each. There was also a payment of £500 to the Church of the Nazarine — the evangelical church which I believe counts gay-hating Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter amongst its worldwide flock — for "Learning resources" (evangelical books?). I have made a Freedom of Information request to MCC to establish what precisely the money was spent on and eagerly await a response.

If any Newsline readers have the time to look through the data now published by their own council it might make interesting reading! One has to wonder whether taxpayer money is given to local religious groups in transactions of less than £500, which councils would not be required to publish.
From Hamish Watson:
It is my contention that human history has been evolving towards the consolidation of an 'ethical atheism' from the moment our DNA appeared on the stage of nature. In short, an ethical atheism is an evolutionary imperative, and should be presented in the schools as such. But since ethical atheism could only have appeared as the extension of religious beliefs that were destined to become redundant, ethical atheism should be presented in this light; children need perspective rather than dogma.

As secularists, humanists and atheists therefore we should be advocating RE in all schools for the purpose precisely of showing the step by step transcending movement from totem-poles to totemic principles, and from holy books to higher human possibilities than theories of God will allow.
We need a syllabus and a curriculum aimed at a rigorous examination of religious fundaments and why theories of God were essential but are now the most dangerous forces in the world today. There is a caveat: It is a demonstrable matter of fact that liberal democratic capitalism is as much a religious form as the Hindu caste system. The remedy for religion therefore involves much more than getting rid of God.
Half a lifetime has been deployed in assembling 'Breakthrough' – Our Journey to Ethical Atheism .
Breakthrough is the first of 'The 2010 Trilogy', the account of a revolutionary, new theory of universal history. The 2010 Trilogy is the first of its kind, a formal synthesis of natural and social science. Although Breakthrough is aimed at the non-specialist, it is not an easy read – how could it be when it is a critique of all culture to date? Available here .
From Denis Watkins:
We have all, by now, become used to having money filched from the public purse to fund the pet projects of "people of faith." However, the decision to take money from the Overseas Aid Budget is breathtaking in its contempt for the needs the poor. This money was purloined to fund the charivari of the bejeweled, brocade swathed and Gucci shod Pope Ratzinger. Those who bore the real cost were the world's most poverty stricken and powerless. That the excuse should be the education and health work of the Roman Catholic Church is born of desperation. No mention of the thousands of abused children, the preaching to women in poverty by the Pope's priests to ignore birth control and his bloody-minded and ignorant attitudes to Aids, homosexuality, the rights of women and so much else. This sets a new low as an act of pitiless and deceitful selfishness. I urge that whoever made the decision be exposed and held to account.

From John Wilks:
There is no better way to encourage "different cultures to live separate lives" (Cameron) than to actively promote faith schools.

From Antony Niall:
An excellent article from the FreethinkerHow Holiness Drives the Israeli-Arab Conflict .

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