Archive for June, 2009

Education, education, education

Take Action!

Children deserve balanced and thorough teaching on important topics like personal and social education, science, and beliefs and values. The BHA is asking you to help determine policy in these three important areas which are currently being debated.

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Creationists crashing the Darwin party

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Keep libel laws out of science

free debate
The use of the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence discourages debate, denies the public access to the full picture and encourages use of the courts to silence critics. The British Chiropractic Association has sued Simon Singh for libel. The scientific community would have preferred that it had defended its position about chiropractic through an open discussion in the medical literature or mainstream media.

On 4th June 2009 Simon Singh announced that he was applying to appeal the judge’s recent pre-trial ruling in this case, in conjunction with the launch of this support campaign to defend the right of the public to read the views of scientists and writers.

Join the campaign! In a statement published on 4th June 2009, over 100 people from the worlds of science, journalism, publishing, comedy, literature and law have joined together to express support for Simon and call for an urgent review of English law of libel. Supporters include Stephen Fry, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Ricky Gervais, Martin Amis, James Randi, Professor Richard Dawkins, Penn & Teller and Professor Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government.

Please help us with this campaign, sign the statement and ask everyone you know to sign it. With every additional 1000 names we will be sending the statement again to Government until there is a commitment and a timetable from the parties for the necessary legislation.

Click here to read more details of the background and the campaign to Keep Libel Laws out of Science.

Richard Burnham

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Future meetings

On 1st September 2009  (please note first Tuesday of the month on this occasion), a poetry evening fronted again by Trevor Innes.

On 13th October we are meeting at a yet to be confirmed venue in Hereford, where the chairman will give a talk on Humanism followed by an attempt to set up an off shoot group centred on Hereford. (see Publicity).

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Lib Dems and Faith Schools

The Liberal Democrats have become the first mainstream political party in Britain to admit that many faith schools currently pursue unnecessary discriminatory practices in admissions and employment and to pledge to challenge them.

At their Spring Conference in March the party voted to put the onus on existing publicly funded schools of a religious character to be inclusive or to have their funding withdrawn, while new faith schools would not be allowed to select pupils on grounds of religion or belief.

The party also voted to end “the opt out from employment and equalities legislation for staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious education”.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for all faith schools to be required to teach about other beliefs in a balanced way, something that most do not currently have to do.

The vote was hailed as a ‘breakthrough moment’ by Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, the Chair of Accord, which campaigns to reform the way faith schools operate and to achieve universal standards of openness and inclusion for all schools in Britain.

Dr Romain said: “The political tide is turning. It is a recognition that it is not in the best interest of children or society at large for faith schools to use pupil selection and staff employment practices that are discriminatory and divisive. It is vital for the social harmony of Britain that schools build bridges between different faith communities, not isolate them from each other. Accord welcomes the bravery of the Liberal Democrats in being the first political party to put the national good above sectarian interests. We urge Labour and the Conservatives to rethink their current faith schools policy which amounts to a system of religious segregation and which the next generation will have cause to regret.”

Accord is a coalition of both religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to discrimination in school staffing and admissions. The coalition also campaigns for a fair and balanced RE curriculum and the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.

Members of the coalition include teachers’ union ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), religion and society think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association.

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Cost of chaplains to the NHS and the taxpayer

After a discussion on the today programme between Terry Sanderson of the NSS and a CofE vicar about the probity of paying for chaplaincy services out of precious NHS funds the BBC felt it necessary the next day to follow-on with an item justifying the benefit of such services without returning to the question as to who should pay. This struck me as unbalanced treatment and I made an official complaint to the BBC pointing out that Terry Sanderson’s objection had not been to the principle of chaplaincy but to the cost to the NHS.

Further research by the National Secular Society has now revealed that apart from the estimated cost of £40 million to the NHS there is a further cost of approx. £10.3 million to the prison service to fund the 358 directly employed chaplains in public sector prison service establishments in England and Wales. There are also “sessional chaplains” who come into public sector prison service establishments on an ad hoc basis to conduct pastoral duties. But there is no central recording of sessional chaplains, so no indication of how much is spent on them.

There was no central costing for the value of “places of worship” and no separate costings for their upkeep and repair. The MoJ insisted that there were no religious privileges for staff or prisoners, beyond protection from discrimination and “a range of flexible working options and provisions for leave to accommodate religious observance.”  The law requires there to be a chaplain in each prison. There is no equivalent statutory requirement for hospitals.

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Publicity

Once or twice our newsletter has emphasised the importance of  group members expressing their views to the media. Due to a restriction of funds and numbers there isn’t much we can do to raise the humanist profile but a well-written letter to the local press can be very effective. This was again shown to be the case when recently group member Malcolm Rochefort wrote to the Hereford times with a call for action in the Hereford area:

Dear Editor,

A call to all non-believers!

In 2009 we celebrate both the double centenary of the birth of one of our greatest scientists and thinkers, Charles Darwin, and the 150th year since the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, which revolutionised our picture of life and humanity, not to say religious thinking.

As an atheist and a humanist (ethical without religion), it’s devastating to see religious conflicts still tearing apart the world, when the logic of Darwin’s reasoning exposed all religions requiring supernatural intervention as the adult fairy stories they are.

It is deeply disappointing, therefore, that in a town significantly bigger than Ludlow, and comparable in size with Shrewsbury, there is no independent group representing what may be the largest minority in the town – non-believers, when we have active Humanist and Secularist groups in Ludlow (Welsh Marches), Shrewsbury, and even Bishops Castle. Apart from the benefits of discussions with like minded individuals, unless you non-believers organise, you will find the benefits of our secular, free thinking, democracy gradually eroded by the powerful special interest groups of the various world religions. Already another faith school is being set up in this town against significant popular opposition.

If interested, please contact the British Humanist Association (www.humanism.org.uk) or National Secular Society (www.secularism.org.uk) , or the Welsh Marches Humanist Group (rocheforts@tiscali.co.uk) for help in setting something up – or do it yourself!

Yours sincerely,

Malcolm Rochefort

This letter sparked off further correspondence rebutting a reply from the Rev. Hellier but more importantly it also led to contact with a number of humanists in the area who might be in a position to take the initiative further. Hopefully concrete results will materialise in the next few months.

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