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SH&S Secretary Denis Johnston on BBC Radio Suffolk

As we celebrate our 21st anniversary, the group’s secretary Denis Johnston, Suffolk SACRE member and SIFRE board member, will be interviewed by Rob Dunger on BBC Radio Suffolk this Sunday at 7.05am. Either set your alarm or listen again later in the day.

Celebration of Human Rights 2012 – Article 19

UN logoA Humanist contribution to a Celebration of the Declaration of Human Rights at University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich, 11th December 2012, organised by the local UN Association.

Suffolk Humanists & Secularists hosted the event and chose Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


Perhaps the most well known quote about free speech is “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, which has been attributed to Voltaire but was actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, paraphrasing him. It neatly summarises the idea that freedom of speech is worthy of vigorous defence, even when you hate what’s being said.

I was keen to celebrate Article 19 as I value free expression very highly, as do most humanists and secularists. Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear that I frequently disagree with people. I’ve always done it. My school reports made reference to it. It’s never seemed to me that there was anything wrong with disagreement; quite the contrary. It’s how you learn, how you challenge your own and other people’s ideas, how you develop them. My exasperated mother once threatened to burn my books because they provided fuel for my arguments. If she’d carried out her threat, she’d have been following a centuries-old tradition of book-burning in reaction to dissent by religious and political authorities. It still happens today. One of the most recent examples is the public destruction of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses by Bradford Muslims in January 1989. Ironically, the Bradford Muslims didn’t seem to have bothered reading Rushdie’s book before setting fire to it. They were told that it was blasphemous, and that was enough. What was worse was that Rushdie had to go into hiding because the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a death fatwa against him.

The Census results – fewer Christians, more atheists – on BBC Radio Suffolk

Margaret Nelson will be on Terry Baxters’s programme with a local clergyman at 8.05am on Wednesday 12th December to talk about the results of the census, published today. Fewer people are claiming to be Christian and more have identified themselves as atheist. How will this affect the Church’s claim to keep 26 bishops in the House of Lords, especially since none of them will be women, and how will it affect its arguments about same-sex marriage? Is it time to consider disestablishment?

For the BHA’s response to the census, click here

For the NSS’s response to the census, click here

Discrimination against the non-religious

IHEU freedom reportToday is Human Rights Day. Tomorrow we’ll be hosting a celebration at the university, with guests including the Mayor of Ipswich, focussing on Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Click here for more information. Today, the International Humanist and Ethical Union has issued a report on worldwide discrimination against the non-religious. It details those countries where freedom of speech is impossible because it is considered a crime to criticise religion, or even to be non-religious or to adopt the wrong religion. If you care about this, please join us at the university tomorrow, and share this post. The IHEU says,

The International Humanist and Ethical Union has produced the first report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious has been published to mark Human Rights Day, Monday 10 December.

November newsletter

Herewith the latest newsletter – click here to download it (pdf). Please note the event on the front page, the Human Rights Celebration at University Campus Suffolk. We hope that as many as possible will come to hear speakers from a variety of local organisations (including ours) offer their thoughts on Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Humanist Rights, which is about free speech. Everyone is very welcome. We’ll be in the atrium of the West Building at UCS on Tuesday 11th December from 8pm. Please let us know if you’re coming so we can cater for everyone. There should be someone at the door to let you in, otherwise there’ll be a notice telling you which button to press.

Camp Quest, the organisation that organises summer camps free from religion for children, is having a party at Conway Hall, London, on Saturday 15th December. If you have children and you’re interested in knowing more, this is an opportunity to find out. Click here to go to the CQ website.

With all the hoo-ha over women bishops (and how there aren’t any), there are two websites that might interest you. The first is the BHA’s campaign to get bishops out of the Lords website, Holy Redundant. The second is an e-petition that was begun when the church’s rejection of women bishops was announced. It reads, “No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords.” If an e-petition attracts at least 100,000 signatures, it’s likely to be debated in the House of Commons. It’s a good idea to write to your MP too. We know that at least one local MP, Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) is a member of the Parliamentary Humanist Group, though he doesn’t seem to attend many, if any, meetings.

We’ve had a phone call from Chris Pitts of the Outside Project, who was hoping to drum up some support and maybe even practical help from us, especially as he hasn’t had a lot of interest from Christian organisations. To find out what it is, and maybe get in touch, see their website.

Adrift at sea

C of E at sea

Image (c) M Nelson 2012 Creative Commons Licence

State-funded Steiner school opens in Frome – plans for a Suffolk Steiner school

Waldorf gnomesI think it’s fair to say that the British Humanist Association was a little slow to wake up to the threat of Steiner schools, while they concentrated their efforts on campaigning against more conventional faith schools. Since the Steiner philosophy is so woolly and many parents are fooled into thinking that it all sounds lovely, few others saw them as threat either. If parents want to send their kids to Steiner schools, where they’ll learn to be at one with Nature, why should we care? We should care because these schools are taking advantage of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s enthusiasm for free schools, a policy that has many critics, to claim public funds to run schools based on the teachings of a cult. For more information, use our search box (right) to see previous posts, including one I posted in July last year, which contains a link to our supporter Esther Fidler’s blog post on “anthroposophical education”.

The people behind the proposed Fullfledge Ecology School still hope to open their school in September next year, in the Woodbridge area. They say, “Our proposal has passed the first stage of approval and we are now on the second stage, which is an interview with the DFE. We are preparing for this now. Five members of the project team will represent Fullfledge Ecology School at the interview. The DFE will inform us ‘in the summer’ whether we have the final go ahead to start the school in September 2013.” Under the regulations on free schools, they are supposed to demonstrate that another school is needed in the area (that local schools are over-subscribed), but other free schools seem to have got round this requirement.

No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords – e-petition

The church’s rejection of women bishops makes its occupancy of 26 seats in the House of Lords untenable. Please sign this e-petition.

No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords

Responsible department: Cabinet Office

The Church of England on 20th Nov 2012 voted not to allow women to be Bishops. Though that is within its rights to do, this should worry the Government as Church of England Bishops are awarded legislative power through seats in the House of Lords.

The Church has chosen to be a sexist organisation by refusing women the right to hold highest leadership positions and therefore should not be allowed automatic seats in the House of Lords, as this clearly does not comply with the spirit of UK Equality law.

We call on the Govt to remove the right of the Church of England to have automatic seats in the House of Lords, in line with its commitments to equality and non-discrimination, set out in the Equality Act (2010) and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979)

Sign this petition

Disestablish now – it’s long overdue

Yesterday’s rejection of women bishops by the Church of England led to deep disappointment and embarrassment in the liberalising wing of the church. Those outside the church will be asking some important questions.

  • How can the Church of England continue to claim its privileged position in British civil society and its exemption from equality law?
  • How can anyone justify allowing 26 male bishops to sit in the House of Lords?
  • How soon can we disestablish the Church?

I was on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning at about 9.30am, commenting in Mark Murphy’s Big Conversation slot. Another guest was the Bishop of St Edmundsbury, the Rt Rev Nigel Stock, who mentioned that it was good to hear a humanist sympathise with women clergy. I am sympathetic, as I’ve worked with some and liked them, but I don’t understand why any women would want to be part of such a patriarchal institution. To hear the programme on iPlayer, go to the BBC Radio Suffolk website.

A women from the C of E’s laity opposed to women bishops was interviewed on TV news yesterday, saying that they must show “obedience” to the scriptures. Obedience is for dogs. Here’s what the Bible says about a woman’s place in the church:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (Corinthians 14:34-36)

When people start quoting the Bible as an authority for this sort of nonsense, I think of that great scene in the US TV series, the West Wing, where fictional president Bartlett puts a Christian fundamentalist in her place.