15 June meeting: Blasphemy and freedom of expression – a matter of life and death, by Paul Sturges

Professor Paul Sturges OBE, Emeritus Professor of Library Studies at Loughborough University

Professor Sturges’ talk will range over the history of the offence of blasphemy in relation to freedom of expression, with examples from some different parts of the world. The examples of blasphemy will include some that would seriously offend religious believers. There will also be accounts of hangings, lashings and horrible murders by people enraged by blasphemy. He will contrast blasphemy laws and their consequences, with laws and international statements on freedom of expression.  In the process he will attempt to draw useful distinctions between critical comment, satire, offensive speech and publication, and incitement to hatred, whilst stressing the value of good manners and consideration for others.

University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ, at 7.30 pm on Thursday 15 June.

British Humanist Association (BHA) becomes Humanists UK

The British Humanist Association (BHA), the national charity representing non-religious people in the United Kingdom and the Crown dependencies, has become Humanists UK. The new name, along with a revised new look and feel for the charity, will help the organisation to support more of the millions of non-religious people in the UK to be happier, more confident, and more fulfilled in the one life we have.

In an email to members today, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

A long, evidence-driven process with focus groups of non-religious people across the UK and research involving over 4,000 of our supporters has helped us arrive at the best possible vehicle for our movement for a fairer world. Humanists UK represents not just a new logo, but a totally new, friendly look that captures the essence of humanism: open, inclusive, energetic, and modern, with people and their stories placed first and foremost in all our broad and varied work.

In our proud 120-year history, we’ve regenerated like this more than once. From a collection of 19th century ethical societies, we became the Ethical Union and then, in the 1960s, the British Humanist Association. The ideas and values we represent have an even prouder and still longer history than this: the thinking and doing of humanists stretches back to the European Enlightenment and has its antecedents in the ancient cultures of Europe, China, India, and many other places. Today this way of thinking is the basic worldview of millions of people in the UK and globally.

The Ethical Union and then the British Humanist Association have helped change Britain, and Humanists UK will continue to be a growing movement at the forefront of social change. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, we ran soup kitchens and housing centres while fighting for the right to air non-religious views in public, chipping away at a censorious Victorian culture. In the mid-twentieth century, we were at the centre of movements to reform the law on homosexuality, abortion, and the death penalty. And since then, we have fought to challenge creationism in our classrooms, guarantee protections for minorities in the workplace, oppose harmful blasphemy laws, and so much else besides.

Over that time, we also pioneered the concept of non-religious funerals and weddings, allowing people to mark life’s turning points with authenticity. We offer the same services today, along with new services like non-religious pastoral support, and our celebrants are still the very best you’ll find anywhere.

The charity has unveiled its new look this week, across its website and social media channels. The first Humanists UK event will be the Humanists UK Convention in Cambridge over 9-11 June 2017, which will bring together nearly 600 humanists for a weekend of comedy, arts, and science, in celebration of the charity’s varied work for a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail.

Notes

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

For media enquiries, please contact Humanists UK Communications Manager Liam Whitton .

BHA: Please, help us fight blasphemy laws

From the British Humanist Association:

The news that our patron Stephen Fry is under criminal investigation in Ireland for allegedly committing ‘blasphemy’ is enough to send chills down your spine. We’re urging the Irish Government to repeal its blasphemy law (passed in 2009), and we remain extremely concerned by a growing trend of European countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, re-activating ‘dormant’ blasphemy laws to silence criticism of religion.

This trend has to stop, and we need to grow and scale up our campaigns against blasphemy laws – everywhere in the world. Please, if you haven’t joined us already, will you join the BHA today?

We also have reason to be concerned by a startling letter published by the Church of England at the weekend, which urged even greater influence for religion in UK politics, claiming Christianity as an exclusive ‘wellspring’ of moral values, and condemning secularism – the very best guarantee we all have of being treated fairly, whatever your religion or belief.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the religious lobbies were trying to drag us back decades and erase the social progress we’ve all fought for, tooth and nail, in spite of religious lobbying. As Stephen Fry once said, in times like these, ‘it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist.’ If you haven’t joined us already, please, don’t put it off.

BHA defends its patron Stephen Fry in face of Irish blasphemy probe

BHA responds to Archbishops’ general election letter

Man sentenced to death for apostasy as violence against non-religious across Islamic states continues

BHA responds to the Archbishops’ letter

From the BHA, 6 May 2017

In a letter written to the Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England ahead of the 2017 general election, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have argued for faith to continue to play a central role in politics, and denounced the growing secularism of the United Kingdom.

In the letter, the Archbishops write:

This election is being contested against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity. Opportunities to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only come around every few generations. We are in such a time. Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role….

Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief. The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives…

Religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities. In Britain, these embedded virtues are not unique to Christians, but they have their roots in the Christian history of our four nations…

Political responses to the problems of religiously-motivated violence and extremism, at home and overseas, must… recognise that solutions will not be found simply in further secularisation of the public realm. Mainstream religious communities have a central role to play; whilst extremist narratives require compelling counter-narratives that have a strong theological and ideological foundation.

Responding to the letter, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This is a letter to a country that no longer exists. The public today overwhelmingly recognise that sound virtues and ethics are not the preserve of the religious nor “spring” from Christianity. That is just a self-aggrandising lie, and an insult to the majority of the British people who have non-religious beliefs and values and contribute enormously to British life as they have for generations.

‘The Archbishops  are right that our country stands at a crossroads but they are wrong to say that greater religious privilege is the path that will lead to a happier future. The cause of social cohesion and a peaceful society will not be advanced by the special pleading of already powerful elites whose beliefs have no popular support, but by the creation of a shared national life that treats everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief.

‘Polls show that British people also believe that religion is already too privileged. The Church of England in particular often uses that privilege today to harm others. The most glaring example is the way in which many of its fully state-funded schools continue to turn away those of other religions and beliefs in their admissions – a practice that may shortly be extended – and shut out poorer children. If the Archbishops want to do their bit for a better Britain they should put their own house in order before lecturing others.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the letter: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/electionletter_TEXT.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Dying Matters Awareness Week

Many humanists are interested in matters relating to death and dying for various reasons, such as humanist funerals, topical issues such as assisted dying and existential questions about life and death. During Dying Matters Awareness Week (8-14th May), there are three public events in Shropshire.

SHREWSBURY 10TH MAY
On Wednesday 10th of May at 6.60pm, Dignity and Dying, who are supporting Noel Conway in his high court action to enable assisted dying, are holding a meeting for a new Shropshire branch in the Hobbs room of Shrewsbury Library.

SHREWSBURY 12TH MAY
Dying Matters Shropshire is holding a public event in the Square Shrewsbury on Friday 12th May from 10am to 2pm. There will be crafts, a talking about death & dying cafe, florist and so much more, encouraging the public to talk about death and dying asking people what they want to do before they die, and how they would like to be remembered. Simon Nightingale will be there (in the morning) to answer questions abut humanism and humanist funerals. Come and join us! For more details see here.

TELFORD 12TH MAY
Dying Matters Shropshire is also holding a public event called “You only Die Once” in the Telford Shopping Centre (TF3 4BX) from 9 am to 6pm on Friday 12th May. It will outside Pandora, which is near Marks and Spencer. There will be representatives from community health teams, Samaritans, Hospice etc. Humanism will be represented there with a table display staffed by some of the local humanist funeral celebrants, including Sue Falder and Simon Nightingale (in the afternoon). Come and join us.

Information from Prof. Ralph Early’s talk on Feeding Britain

Professor Early’s talk (20 April) was full of thought-provoking ideas about the problems of food supply in the the UK and the consequences for the nutrition of our population. Many in the audience wanted to follow up some of the topics, so Professor Early has kindly supplied his slides in PDF format, with references, and you can download them from the links below (three separate files).

SHG_Food Talk_01_220417

SHG_Food Talk_02_220417

SHG_Food Talk_03_220417

 

BHA and Young Humanists move to protect non-religious parents with guide on religion in schools

From the British Humanist Association, 20 April 2017:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Young Humanists have published today a comprehensive guide for non-religious parents and young people, offering support and advice on how to navigate an education system increasingly subject to undue religious influence. The guide comes in the week that parents all over England discovered at which primary school their children have been offered a place for the next school year.

Religion in schools: a guide for non-religious parents and young people in England and Wales is free to download from the BHA’s website and aims to ensure that non-religious people are fully aware of their rights and the law as it relates to ‘faith’ schools and religion in schools more generally. The advice covers a range of areas, including Religious Education, Collective Worship, school admissions, and the teaching of Science, all of which can pose particular problems for non-religious families.

Currently, a third of state schools in England and Wales are ‘faith’ schools, meaning non-religious parents in England and Wales have access to around 7,000 fewer appropriate schools, or nearly two million fewer places, than their religious counterparts. Depending on their type, these schools can religiously discriminate in their admission arrangements, employment policies, and delivery of the curriculum, all of which has a deleterious effect on the rights of non-religious parents. What is more, the law still requires schools without a religious character to hold daily acts of Christian worship, meaning that even parents who have specifically chosen to avoid ‘faith’ schools cannot completely escape religious proselytising.

Commenting on the publication of the new guide, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Despite the fact that as a society we are now much more diverse, and much more non-religious, the school system has only become more and more permissive to religious influence in recent years. This guide builds on the decades of support that the BHA has provided to parents and young people caught in the crossfire of this long-standing tension between religion and education, and will hopefully equip them to challenge unlawful and discriminatory practice wherever they find it.’

Lauren Nicholas, coordinator of the BHA’s 18-35s section Young Humanists, added, ‘Well over two-thirds of young people in Britain state that they do not belong to any religion, and nearly half of the population as a whole now say they are non-religious. And yet, whether it’s being denied access to your local school, being forced to pray to a god you don’t believe in, or being taught a narrow and doctrinaire religious education curriculum, non-religious people have never encountered a more hostile education system than the one they face now. We are a maligned majority. Ultimately we must repeal the legal freedoms allowing religion to run amok in our schools, but until then this guide will do a great deal to protect the rights of parents.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read the ‘Guide for non-religious parents and young people’: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-04-19-BHA-guide-for-non-religious-parents.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s work on:

Young Humanists is the 18-35s section of the BHA. Two thirds of Britons between the ages of 18 and 35 are non-religious, according to surveys, and most will share humanist values even if that’s not a term they’ve come across. Young Humanists exists to offer a space for non-religious people aged 18-35 to meet, socialise, debate and support each other.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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