Tagged: Human rights

Human rights issues.

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.

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.

Celebration of Human Rights – UN Article 19

Freedom of seech

The local UN Association organises an annual Celebration of Human Rights, based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, with a different local group acting as host and choosing a theme based on one of the articles.

This year we are hosting the event and we 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.

Free speech is especially topical this year, in view of the attempts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to introduce an international blasphemy law, and individuals being arrested in the UK for expressing their opinions on social media sites like Facebook. As most of the contributors to the UN Celebration will be representatives of local religious organisations who are affiliated (as we are) to Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource, it will be interesting to hear what they make of the theme. Each group, and other organisations who’ve been invited, will make a short contribution to the celebration.

Local politicians and media people have been invited, including the Mayor of Ipswich. The venue is the Atrium on the ground floor of the West Building at University Campus, Suffolk, where we’ve been meeting for the past year. We’ll be there on December 11th from 8pm. Please come and hear a variety of opinions on this very important subject.

Everyone is very welcome and refreshments will be provided, but if you let us know you’re coming it would be helpful. Click here to RSVP.

Click here for a map and directions (pdf).

Ekklesia: “… equal treatment of others is not simply a legal requirement but a Christian obligation”

The liberal Christian think-tank Ekklesia reports on a claim by Christians in Parliament and the Evangelical Alliance UK that British Christians are victims of prejudice, and finds that they’re seeking to retain privileges rather than submit to equal treatment with everyone else.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented:

Initial impressions from this report are that it raises significantly more questions than it answers. For example, it seems to assume that most people who are convinced Christians automatically share, or should share, a range of prejudices – notably against LGBT people – which make them unwilling to comply with requirements to act in a non-discriminatory way in the provision of public services. This is not the case. Many Christians from all traditions believe that equal treatment of others is not simply a legal requirement but a Christian obligation.

Click here to read more.

Oh dear, Christians are upset again

Two stories about churches of various sorts.

The first is a bunch of them in the US. Leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States have signed an open letter about the “serious consequences of redefining marriage”. They say these consequences will …

… arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once. By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage. That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others.

Not content with confining their ideas about marriage to their own communities, the church leaders want to stop the liberalisation of marriage law and remove the legal sanctions for discrimination against homosexuals and others. This “redefinition of marriage” is being described as “a direct attack on religious freedom”. Click here to read about it.

The second story is about a “crisis of faith”, according to some religious leaders, as the idea of “de-baptism”, started as a joke by the National Secular Society, has caught on across Europe and America. The NSS’s “de-baptism certificate” has been downloaded from its website at least 100,000 times, while it’s been reported that “the church has put in place a new evangelizing strategy to more strongly encourage parents to get their children baptized”.

Celebration of Human Rights

UN logoA Humanist contribution to an inter-faith Celebration of Human Rights hosted by the Ipswich & District Bahá’í­ community at Ipswich Central Library, 10 December 2010. The theme was Article 26:2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Spiritual Education”: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.


The Article we’re celebrating today refers to “Spiritual Education”. I have a problem with this, because I don’t know what “spiritual” means. I know what other people say it means, but there are several definitions, some of them religious, and I find them mostly too vague to agree with them. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that part of the Article and talk about the rest: about education, and about understanding and tolerance. These are things without which no civil society can function properly, and without which there is endless scope for disharmony and conflict.

Mass lobby of parliament for vulnerable women on 4th November

Amnesty lobbyWomen with insecure immigration status fleeing violence cannot access the benefits they need to get protection and support. Due to their extreme vulnerability, immediate action is needed; the UK is in breach of its international human rights obligations while this situation persists.

Amnesty UK is organising a mass lobby of parliament on Wednesday November 4th to urge the UK government to ensure equal protection for all women facing violence in the UK. It’s hoped that hundreds of people will go to the House of Commons to raise the same concern with their MPs at the same time.

To find out more, go to the Amnesty website.

Man faces execution after jurors consulted the Bible

AI logoAnd if he smite him with an instrument of iron … the murderer shall surely be put to death (Numbers 35:16).

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal for a man facing execution in three weeks’ time despite the fact that jurors at his trial consulted passages from the Bible in deciding his fate. Thirty-two-year-old Khristian Oliver is set to be executed in Texas, USA on 5 November. He was sentenced to death in 1999 for a murder committed during a burglary. While deciding whether he should live or die, jurors at his trial consulted copies of the Bible, including text supporting the death penalty, calling into serious question their impartiality.

Read more on the Amnesty UK website.