The 2009 Annual General Meeting of the BHA was held at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London on July 18th. The prevailing mood of both officers and members attending was one of satisfaction at the progress made in raising the profile of the organisation, increasing the membership and noting tangible progress towards declared objectives.
The Chief Executive, Hanna Stinson, said that the success of the Atheist Bus Campaign had taken everyone by surprise and they had been overwhelmed by the response to the financial appeal which exceeded the target of £5,500 within a few hours and reached £132,000 by the end of 2008. The outcome was that the advert was carried on buses in many of our major cities and towns and the publicity resulted in a positive international response.
The membership of the BHA grew by 20% to over 9,000 during 2008 and in addition to the increased membership subscription income there was a massive increase in donations from £84,000 to £340,000. However, in common with many other organisations the BHA was affected by the financial problems in the City and the value of the reserves invested has fallen sharply.
The Chief Executive reported on the development of the Humanist Ceremonies Strategy. Shesaid that although due to a number of factors the number of ceremonies carried out had not increased during the year, there had been a 15% increase in the number of trained and accredited celebrants.It was anticipated that this change allied to new marketing and publicity policies would have a positive effect.
The long running argument with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) about the question used to identify religious belief on the 2011 Census form had not been successful. Unless the government overrules the ONS the current wording, which the BHA believes to be a leading question, will continue to be used. The discussions with the BBC on religious organisations having a monopoly on contributions to Thought for the Day were being more fruitful and it was hoped that there would be a positive announcement in the near future.
There was a full report on the campaigns being conducted including SACRE membership, faith schools, discrimination on religious or belief grounds and on the success in persuading the OCR to include humanism as a curriculum subject in a a pilot GCSE exercise that is being conducted. In addition Evan Harris MP, BHA Vice President, addressed the meeting and gave an impressive account of his efforts try to achieve BHA objectives during the passage of the Equality Bill through the House of Commons.
A motion requesting the BHA to run a competition for new words for the National Anthem on the grounds that the current ones were xenophobic, militaristic and a host of other derogatory adjectives was defeated by 43 votes to 38.