The BHA on humanist marriage and campaigning on ‘faith’ schools

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Important update on humanist marriage: Labour and Lib Dems both adopt legalisation of humanist marriage as party policy

Last week we reported to you that the legalisation of humanist marriages in England and Wales was being blocked by Number 10 on the advice of the Conservatives’ election strategist, citing it as a distracting ‘fringe issue’.

The Government’s report, published last Thursday, goes to extraordinary lengths to justify [denying] couples the right to express their commitment to one another in the way that they choose.

That same day however, the Labour Party announced it would legalise humanist marriage if returned to power in May 2015. The Liberal Democrats have stated they remain committed to legalising humanist marriage as well, despite the block from Number 10 preventing it from going ahead at this time.

This remains depressing news for couples in England and Wales who were planning on having a legal humanist wedding early in 2015. Next year, though humanist couples can still have a highly personalised, warm, and fitting humanist wedding ceremony to suit their needs and wishes, they will as before be required to attend an additional register office ceremony in order to become legally married.

We should take heart from these recent developments, and in the meantime, continue to reflect on and celebrate the joy of couples in Scotland, where humanist marriage has been legal since 2005. It has since overtaken Catholic marriages for popularity, and on 31 December, the first same-sex couple to be married in Scotland under the new law on same-sex weddings will be a humanist couple. Our warmest congratulations go out to them and all the other happy couples now and in the new year.

Help us to continue funding our ‘faith’ schools campaigner

We’re at 50% for our appeal to continue employing our Faith Schools Campaigner in 2015. We urgently need to reach 100% of our target so we can continue to employ Richy and keep up the great work he is doing to challenge and reverse the spread of ‘faith’ schools in England and Wales.

Richy’s successes in 2014 include:

  • facilitating three former members of staff at Park View School in whistleblowing, well before any ‘Trojan Horse’ letter appeared, and supporting them in speaking out across the media, prompting a range of reforms and rule changes around school inspections.
  • getting evolution added to the English primary-age curriculum, and getting Government to ban all state-funded schools in England and Wales from teaching creationism as scientifically valid
  • successfully challenging the London Oratory School’s admissions policy, resulting in it being found to use its ‘faith’ school status to select pupils on racially and socially selective grounds, as well as 105 other Admissions Code breaches

Whatever you can afford to give – whether that’s £5, £50, or £500 – a gift to help us to continue employing our Faith Schools Campaigner will go a long way to improving the state of education in this country as we move into 2015.

To donate to the appeal, go to www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools and please, give generously.

Support for humanist marriage is broad and overwhelming – so why is the Government delaying?

Sharing-the-Future-672x977From Humanist Life:

As the Government continues to delay reporting on the legalisation of humanist marriages, we are seeing increased expressions of the political consensus in favour of it. Two dozen members of the House of Commons today have signed an Early Day Motion to urge the Government to move towards legalisation. They already include MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even SNP making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. They include Christians as well as humanists, and there are more signatories to come.

This is a follow-up to a triple cross-party strike from a Labour, a Liberal Democrat, and Conservative MP on 11 November, who pressed the justice minister from three corners of the chamber as to what was taking the Government (which had originally told the British Humanist Association that the whole issue might be taken care of by about eight months ago!) quite so long:

And on 4 December the Labour front bench, who were forced to compromise on humanist marriage at the time of the Marriage Bill last year when the Government threatened to delay same-sex marriage if the case for humanist marriage was taken to a vote, were showing their frustration:

And it’s not just in the Commons. Last week, on 1 December, there was a mini-debate in the House of Lords in which there was not a single voice raised against humanist marriage and in which, again, there was cross-party support from Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat, as well as independent peers. Again, support crossed belief lines with Christians such as cross-bencher Baroness Butler-Sloss also urging the Government to get on with legalisation. She and Baroness Thornton got pretty much as forthrightly critical of the Government as it is possible to be in the polite atmosphere of the Lords:

Unfortunately, it does seem that the Government is just not listening. Even when the subject was raised directly with the Prime Minister by an MP of his own party at Prime Minister’s Questions on 19 November, there was no answer forthcoming on the substantive matter of humanist marriage, just the same ‘wait and see’ response, while Parliamentary time between now and the next general election bleeds away:

When the Marriage Act was going through Parliament, it was clear that there was majority support for the legalisation of humanist marriages in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The British Humanist Association, though obviously much much smaller and poorer than the wealthier and more powerful lobbies against humanist marriages, at least was able to make its arguments and expose the disingenuous ones of critics in the light of day. Now that the matter is being considered behind closed doors, there is no such opportunity.

All that can be done is to state yet again the case for legal recognition, against which no coherent or just case has ever to this date been made.

In England and Wales, members of literally dozens of religions from Scientology to Methodism and from all the denominations of Judaism to the Spiritualists and the Aetherius Society (Yes – honestly!) can all have a legal marriage in the place most special to them, conducted by one who shares their beliefs, and in the form that embodies their most deeply held beliefs and values. Those with humanist, non-religious beliefs and values don’t have the same choice.

In Scotland, where humanist marriages are legal, they have proved hugely popular – so popular that they have contributed to a growth in marriages overall. Giving legal recognition to them in the whole of Britain would be fair, inexpensive, easy, uncontroversial, and beneficial for both individuals, wider society, and the economy. What can possibly be being discussed behind closed doors that weighs against all that?

Systematic discrimination against the non-religious is happening all over the world. And Britain faces a crossroads.

British Humanist Association ‘Systematic discrimination; in flux.’

From Humanist Life:

That is how the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) described the United Kingdom in its annual Freedom of Thought Report, which arrived last week for Human Rights Day on 10 December. It is the authoritative annual report into the legal status of and discrimination against the non-religious around the world.

In Saudi Arabia, atheism is now ‘terrorism’; in Malaysia, ‘humanism and secularism as well as liberalism’ have been singled out by the leader of the nation as prime causes of moral degradation. In 13 countries, atheism is punishable by death. This represents one end of the spectrum, and it would be tempting on the basis of this comparison to view Britain as a paradise for non-believers. But the reality isn’t quite so; only nine countries support full legal equality for religious and non-religious alike, IHEU finds.

As in previous years, the UK has been given an amber rating, signifying ‘Systemic Discrimination’, because of entrenched problems such as discrimination in admissions and employment by state-funded ‘faith’ schools, the presence of established churches in England and Scotland, and reserved seats for bishops in the House of Lords.

The UK was also one of only a handful countries this year to receive the special ‘In Flux’ rating because of conflicting signs about the future of discrimination against the non-religious in Britain. Despite the distance we’ve travelled to ensure that most non-religious people can live happily, confidently, and without harassment in their everyday lives, systemic problems remain, and 2014 was a year of marked attempts to politicise issues around religion or belief, as well as for claiming special significance for Christianity in Britain. And in parts of the country such as Northern Ireland, religious influence over politicians still remains the primary roadblock to sexual health rights for women and marriage rights for gay people.

The BHA will of course continue to work towards a secular state ensuring equal treatment of everyone, regardless of religion or belief. You can help this work by becoming a member, if you haven’t done so already, or by encouraging your friends to sign up. Your membership directly empowers our work financially – running campaigns can be expensive – just as your support infuses our work with energy and vitality.

Simon Nightingale on radio: “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty”

Simon_NightingaleShropshire Humanist Group member Simon Nightingale was speaking on Radio Shropshire again on Sunday 14 December. He is always worth listening to.

This one is based on an interesting book called “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty” by an experimental psychologist called Dan Ariely. Of course I could only deal with a tiny part of this fascinating subject.

I have tried to present a nonreligious approach to a moral issue – and I do mention a famous humanist at the end! To listen within the next 7 days go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02cz784 and listen on the time line from 1:21:00 to 1:27:00.

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