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The right to affirm, in court and elsewhere

At our meeting last night we were talking about Charles Bradlaugh, founder of the National Secular Society, and how he was prevented from taking up his seat in Parliament because he wouldn’t swear an oath on the Bible.

In 1880, after three unsuccessful earlier attempts, Bradlaugh was elected to Parliament for Northampton. When he asked to affirm instead of taking an oath before taking his seat, a parliamentary select committee declared that the right freethinkers had to affirm in law courts didn’t extend to Parliament. He then asked to take the oath, but another select committee found his known atheism prevented this but he should be allowed to affirm under pain of statute (penalties for voting without taking the prescribed oath). The battle over his being sworn in began the day he took his seat and voted, and resulted in convoluted legal arguments continuing for six years. Eventually, in 1886 after the 1885 general election he was allowed by the Speaker to take the oath at the beginning of the session, before objections could be made. While all this had been going on, his seat was vacated but he was re-elected at three by-elections (1881, 1883 and 1884).

During the discussion, it emerged that several members had been asked to swear an oath on the Bible – in court, when signing an affidavit, and when joining the police – and had said they preferred to affirm. The officers involved had made comments like, “No one’s ever done that before!”. We wondered why so few people exercise their right to affirm, and it seemed likely it’s because they don’t know that they can. When asked to swear an oath, does anyone ever offer an alternative?

The census – make yourself count

No religion

Most people will have received their census forms in today’s post. You might think that there’s a supernatural side to life, or that there is a god of some kind, but if organised religion isn’t for you, how you answer the religion question is important.

Please help to ensure that the census gives an accurate and honest picture of the religious/non-religious balance of the UK. Don’t ignore the question and leave it blank, or you won’t count.

The 2001 census results were used to justify more faith schools and religious broadcasting, unelected religious leaders being involved in political decisions, 26 bishops in the House of Lords, public services being contracted out to religious organisations, and continuing special privileges for the church. Many people don’t want these things. If that includes you, tick “No religion” – but not before 27 March, Census Day.

Don’t write “humanist”, or “atheist” or anything else at the bottom of the list – they’re not religions. All you need to do is tick the “No religion” box.

Ipswich high school becomes an academy, but not a church school

Holywells High School in Ipswich has become an academy. At one stage, it looked as though the Church of England might take over the school, which has had problems for years and was placed in “special measures” by government Ofsted inspectors from 2001-2004, but the Swedish organisation Kunskapsskolan made the successful bid. The school will now be called the Ipswich Academy.

Blame

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.

New commenting system and other changes

Bubbles

Here at SHS Towers, our highly trained web monkeys have been labouring over a few changes to the site, and we’re a little bit excited.

We’ve scrapped our entire registration and sign-in system, and replaced it with a new system designed to make it easier for you to share posts, comments and discussion on the Suffolk Humanists and Secularists site.

Testing

Woo woo!