Posts tagged meeting

The struggle against religious privilege

Charles Bradlaugh 1833-91

Charles Bradlaugh 1833-91

Report of a meeting led by Dan Bye of the National Secular Society.

Dan Bye was a founder member of Sheffield’s Humanist Group in 1993. He has been active in the National Secular Society (NSS) for 25 years, being the longest serving member on its Council of Management.

Dan gave us some background to the founding, in 1866, by Charles Bradlaugh of the NSS. Various Socialist movements were collapsing in mid-Victorian times. One point at issue was the fact that atheists like Bradlaugh could not pursue any action in Court as they would not be able to take the Oath. Robert Owen’s group proposed a nonconformist Oath, but George Holyoake refused the idea of any Oath, and split from Owen. Holyoake coined the term ‘Secularism’ in 1851, as an ethical movement to unite all people for Social Reform.

Bradlaugh however felt that the group should be campaigning against the privilege of Church and Religion, and split to form the National Secular Society. He was very litigious, battling for 12 years to get elected as an atheist MP, a further 6 years before he was able to take his seat. Eventually, in 1888, a change in the law allowed Universal Affirmation.

The NSS is seen as a more militant organisation than the British Humanist Association. NSS has been instrumental in work towards abolishing the Blasphemy law (2008), and it has been successful in lobbying for the imminent removal of the weak ‘insulting’ term from s5 of the Public Order Act.

Dan explained that ‘secular’ in meaning is the opposite of ‘sacred’, ie not connected with religion. More recently, NSS is concentrating on a narrower definition of its work within secularism, that is on progress towards the separation of Church and State.

NSS takes a ‘strong’ principled line on such matters as religious schools (against), and against any exceptions for minority religious activities such as council money for transport to schools for some, Chaplains in hospitals, ritual slaughter of animals, prayers in Council meetings.

Early on, Dan showed a graph which confirmed that ‘religious affiliation’ has reduced with each generation – a process called secularisation.

An excellent talk and lively discussion.


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‘The tangled web’ – An account of the interwoven lives of Shelley, Byron, William Godwin, Mary Shelley et al.

Report on the meeting led by Gareth Owen.

Gareth was introduced as a poet and a former presenter of ‘Poetry Please’ on Radio 4. There was a good turn-out for the meeting and many new faces were seen. The talk he gave was fascinating and delivered in an engaging manner. The ‘web’ he described was, indeed, ‘tangled’ and the writer of this piece will not attempt to unravel it as she will fail to do it justice. Some interesting ‘markers’ in the talk are, however, highlighted below:

Gareth began by stating that Shelley was an atheist, vegetarian, for ‘free love’, and a republican. At the age of 18 he was sent down from Oxford for writing a pamphlet on ‘The Necessity of Atheism’. Gareth read out an extract from the pamphlet, and I was struck by how succinctly and eloquently Shelley put the arguments for atheism, writing in 1811.

‘If he [God] is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has, filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? IF HE HAS SPOKEN, WHY IS THE UNIVERSE NOT CONVINCED? If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest.’

Shelley wrote ‘one of the first pacifist statements’, entitled ‘The Mask of Anarchy’. Apparently, Shelley also influenced Marx.
Gareth gave us a brief summary of the connections between William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and Percy Shelley and Byron. Their lives may seem dissolute, by modern day standards, and full of drama -a ménage of adults and children who travelled extensively, two deaths by drowning, intrigues and affairs (Did Byron and Shelley prey on women?), and the death of both children. Byron lived the longest, dying at the age of 36.

Despite what may be thought or suspected of Shelley and the others, they have left a rich literary legacy.

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Should we fund ‘faith’ schools?

Report on the talk by Richy Thompson, BHA Campaigns Officer.

Richy’s talk covered the history of ‘faith’ schools in England to the present day and the rise of Academies and Free Schools. He gave out an overview of different types of ‘faith’ schools, stating that 34% of state schools in England and 14% in Wales have a religious character. Key points of interest were:

  • The number of ‘faith’ schools is increasing and the Church of England may be planning a large expansion of its schools
  • The running costs of Voluntary aided schools are funded by the Local Authority as well as 90% of building costs. The religious group only have to pay the remaining 10%.
  • All schools have to hold a daily act of collective worship, either in line with the faith of the school, or, if the school is not a ‘faith’ school, of a broadly Christian character, (though the majority of ‘non-faith’ schools do not implement the law – 80% according to OFSTED – and it is not enforced). Many schools do, however, hold ‘assemblies.’ Richy receives many complaints from parents concerned about the effects on their children, including evangelising and the telling of stories which give them nightmares.
  • Academies and Free Schools, many of which are controlled by religious groups, are state-funded. Richy stated that ‘evangelical’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ groups had been approved. These schools do not need to teach the wider national curriculum or hire qualified teachers.

Richy identified ‘six myths’ which are used to defend ‘faith’ schools and he put forward arguments as to why they are untrue. He concluded by reiterating that ‘faith’ schools can be divisive and that all children should be educated together.

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Summer social

Sunday 17th June 2012

Join us for a gentle riverside walk near the historic village of Leintwardine, or simply join us for lunch* afterwards in the renowned parlour pub THE SUN INN, Leintwardine SY7 0LP

Walkers: meet at 10:30am on Leintwardine Village Green (by the bridge)

Others: meet in The Sun at 12:45pm

*Bring your own picnic to eat in the garden or simple food will be available to buy at the pub.

Please let us know if you are coming by 10 June; by phone (01568 770282) or

Non-members are very welcome to join us.

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Previous meetings roundup

We have had two successful and very interesting meetings since the last newsletter.

On 20th March we had a talk by Ann  Leedham who works for Dignity in Dying –the new name for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.  She was largely preaching to the converted, but it was a useful talk in that she defined Assisted Dying, Assisted Suicide and explained the work of Dignity in Dying and the sister organisation Compassion in Dying.  Dignity in Dying researches the area and involves itself in campaigning.  Ann gave all the arguments for helping people to die, should they wish to.  She pointed out that we have to travel to Switzerland to access it.  This has the disadvantage that people have to go while they are still well enough to travel.  Palliative care is not always successful or even available, and shot down the slippery slope argument.  She believes that there should be open and honest discussion about what sort of end of life care we want for ourselves.  At the moment assisted suicide is legal in The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland and assisted dying in three US states. There was a discussion in parliament the week after our meeting, but the vote was against any change despite the fact that an increasing majority of the population favour choice for the individual.

Compassion in Dying is the organisation which can provide you with information about their rights. People should know that they can refuse treatment, provided that they are considered to have sufficient mental capacity to make the decision.  Mental capacity is the crucial test. For this reason you should consider making an advanced decision about what sort of treatment you may want so that it is clear what your wishes are if you are unable to express them, for instance in the event of an accident.  Forms suitable for recording this can be obtained from Compassion in Dying.  They must be witnessed and copies should be given to your family, solicitor, and doctor.  They should be reviewed from time to time to show you haven’t changed your mind.

A commission suggested in 2012 that there is a need to change the law on assisted suicide.  There will be a mass lobby of Parliament on 4th July. We know that families and friends who accompany people to Switzerland are not at the moment at risk of prosecution, but practice could change.

The group has a video in the library which sets out all these arguments.


Compassion in Dying  Information line 0800 999 2434 open Mon to Fri 11am to 3pm

181 Oxford Street London W1D 2JT

T 020 7479 7731

F 020 7287 1760


On 17th April we had a talk on The Lollards given by Bob Milner.  He gave us an overview of the state of the Catholic church and society in the 14th century, and painted a picture of the realities of life in rural Shropshire.  The first protestant was John Wycliffe, a preacher in Oxford.  He began to speak out in 1382 against the many abuses in the church, the sale of relics and indulgences, the opportunities for idol worship, the use of confession to avoid personal responsibility.  He wanted to disestablish the church, to allow women priests and to worship and read the bible in the vernacular. This was felt as a threat to the church and state and they worked together to shut down the discussion. An Act in 1401 allowed the church to burn heretics, although they only got round to it in half a dozen cases in the next 100 years. Bob told us that The Lollards continued to preach in a secretive way and were particularly active in NW Herefordshire. He provided us with a map of local spots with Lollard connections.

He suggested that the Lollards influenced Jan Huss, who influenced Martin Luther, who influenced the thinkers of the British Reformation.  Most of the abuses which concerned the Lollards were dealt with in protestant churches and the movement seems to have died away.

Bob’s suggested reference if you are interested in this topic G M Trevelyan  England in the Age of Wycliffe

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May meeting

The date of the next meeting is at 7.30pm at The Friends’ Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane, Ludlow SY8 1DZ.The AGM will take place on 15th May. The committee would appreciate a good attendance and your support at this meeting. After the meeting we will be showing a short video Why Atheism? and coffee, tea and cake will be served.It would be welcomed if members would give suggestions for speakers, other suitable activities that they might enjoy and support. There is also a possibility of a name change to help with publicity. The committee would like members’ views.

Two members of the committee say they are retiring, so there is an opportunity for someone lively and full of ideas. The agenda is below. Please note that you need to be a member of the WMHG to vote at the AGM.

1. Minutes of 2011 AGM
2. Matters arising
3. Chairman’s report
4. Membership secretary’s report
5. Treasurer’s report
6. Election of Officers
7. Proposal to change to name of the group
8. Proposal to amend the WMHG constitution
9. Future meetings – suggestions for topics/speakers from members invited
10. Donations to charities – suggestions from members invited
11. Any other business
12. Video ‘Why Atheism’ – followed by refreshments AND cake

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Next meeting

The group’s next event is a talk on Assisted Dying/Euthanasia and will again be held at the Women’s Centre, Church Street, Ludlow (behind the Rose & Crown pub). Convenient parking at the market square car park. Starting time 7.30 pm on Tuesday 12th October.

Last month only 8 group members came to the talk and for us to be able to continue with a successful events programme it would be very helpful to achieve worth while attendances.
Looking forward to seeing you there!


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