Whitehouse consultancy survey of the backgrounds and beliefs of candidates in marginal seats

DSCN8349-edited-Parliament-WestminsterThe next parliament will likely continue to be dominated by white male MPs, but is unlikely to be swayed by any one religion, according to a survey of parliamentary candidates for marginal seats conducted by political communications specialist the Whitehouse Consultancy.

The survey, which was responded to by 225 parliamentary candidates, has found that two thirds (65.9 percent) are male, with 82 percent claiming to be ‘White British’ in origin. Less than four in ten (37 percent) confirmed they believed in a deity, with a third (33.78 percent) claiming to be atheist. More than four in ten candidates (42 percent) claimed to have no religious denomination – with Church of England being the most common (16 percent), followed by Catholicism (12 percent).

The findings follow a recent Win/Gallup poll that found that only 30 percent of Britons claimed to be religious. Other religions were found to be poorly represented in the Whitehouse Consultancy survey, with only two percent of candidates claiming to be Jewish, with two percent claiming to be Muslim and two percent claiming to be Buddhist.

The Whitehouse Consultancy has warned the findings suggest a lack of diversity and that more needs to be done to encourage people of different backgrounds to participate in party politics.

Read more….

The Green Party (49 percent), followed by Labour (48 percent) was found to have the highest percentages of atheist candidates. The Conservatives have the highest percentage of Church of England candidates (41 percent).

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Ludlow and Marches Humanists: 17 March meeting on ‘Bringing voting into the 21st century’

Our neighbours the Ludlow and Marches Humanists have their next meeting on Tuesday 17 March.  John Jones, Deputy Returning Officer for Herefordshire, will talk on From Bribery to the Ballot Box and Beyond – Bringing Voting into the 21st Century, covering recent changes to electoral registration.

7.30pm, at The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane. Ludlow SY8 1DZ. All welcome.

Their advertised programme is as follows:

21 April – Taking the lid off the Medieval Church, a talk by Bob Milner

19 May – Annual General Meeting. Appropriate video and cake on offer.

21 June – Summer Social – a saunter and a ramble around Ludlow finishing with lunch at a local hostelry.

15 Sept – The philosophy of Heraclitus by Mark Pitter

20 Oct – Secular Art – Renee Le Grande traces the changes in artistic influences in Western Art.

17 Nov – To be confirmed

Email them for further information.

 

National Secular Society on how new Government-backed council prayers bill will undermine religious freedom

From the National Secular Society:

Council prayers: Local Government (Religious Etc. Observances) Bill

We would like to see local government meetings conducted in a manner equally welcoming to all attendees, regardless of their individual religious beliefs or lack of belief. We therefore argue that religious worship should play no part in the formal business of council meetings.
What’s the issue?
The Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill[1] seeks to make provision for the inclusion of prayers or “other religious observance” or “observance connected with a religious or philosophical belief” at local authority meetings.

The Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by Conservative MP Jake Berry, seeks to negate a High Court ruling [2] that “The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.”

The judgement followed a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society to challenge the practice of saying prayers as part of the formal business of council meetings in Bideford Town Council (Devon).
The ruling was an important step in recognition of secularism as a basis for equality in public life and public office. Simply, it ensured that all elected councillors, whatever their religious beliefs, would be treated with equal respect at council meetings.
If the Local Government (Religious Etc. Observances) Bill were to become law, it would enable a majority of councillors to impose their beliefs on other elected councillors who do not wish to participate. As well as those of no belief, this would of course include those of another faith to those of the prayer being recited.
Furthermore, for local democracy to be representative, we think it is important for local councils to resist practices that deter full involvement from all sections of the community they serve.

Why worship should play no part in local authority meetings
Given that the role of local councils is to represent and serve all people in their area equally, it is inappropriate for them to appear corporately to subscribe to any religious beliefs, far less to one faith in particular.
The imposition of prayer gives the impression of the body identifying with a particular belief or range of beliefs. This can alienate those who do not wish to pray, or make them feel they are not full or legitimate councillors. It may also deter prospective councillors/candidates.
Mr Justice Ouseley, the Judge in Charge of the Administrative Court at the High Court, stated in his ruling that the 1972 Local Government Act did not give councils the power to introduce a religious dimension to their meetings:
“I do not think that the 1972 Act, dealing with the organisation, management and decision-making of local Councils, should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of Councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude or, even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected Councillors.”
The Local Government (Religious Etc. Observances) Bill would overturn this ruling, in order to allow one group of councillors to impose their religious practices on other elected councillors.
In our view, permitting acts of worship to be imposed on councillors in a secular council chamber, as the Bill seeks do, is incompatible with religious freedom and inimical to ensuring our local councils are equally welcoming to all sections of society.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
Within each local authority area there will be a diverse range of religious beliefs. If enacted, this legislation can be expected to increase the incidence of religious observance (predominantly, but not exclusively, Christian prayer) during formal council proceedings, potentially generating unnecessary sectarian conflict.
We note that the average age of councillors increased from 55 in 1997 to 60 in 2010 and only 4 per cent came from an ethnic minority background[3]. It is important to make local democracy as open and inclusive as possible. The presence of predominantly Christian prayers may be seen as alienating for some who are not Christian. This is equally true for non-believers forced to sit through Christian prayers, as (for example) Christian councillors forced to sit through Islamic ones.

Religious freedom
The supporters of this Bill claim it increases ‘religious freedom’. We think the opposite is true. The Bill undermines religious freedom by enabling the majority of councillors to impose their beliefs on other councillors. Secularism is a necessary adjunct to any democracy that supports equality for all.
The absence of prayers from the formal business of local authority meetings does not impede the religious freedoms of believers or deny anybody the right to pray. The current legal position simply prevents local authorities from summoning councillors to religious observance at council meetings and imposing it on those that do not wish it.
It is important to note that religious freedom is not just for believers. It also includes non-believers. Religious freedom protects both “freedom of religion or belief.” This protects an individual’s rights to manifest their religion, but does not extend to allowing believers to impose acts of worship on those that do not share their faith. This may also be regarded as basic good manners. Secularism does not seek to interfere with believers following their faith in any way, provided that it does not impinge adversely on others.
Councillors are free to meet and pray before their meetings, but formal acts of worship should not take place as part of the official business of local authority meetings. In this way, meetings can be conducted without anyone feeling compelled to participate in prayers, or feeling excluded, or that they have to absent themselves from any part of the meeting.

Social Cohesion
Separating acts of worship from the formal business of council meetings creates a neutral space and removes an unnecessary barrier to local democracy being equally representative of all sections of society.
Acts of worship can alienate councillors who simply do not wish to participate in public religious activity. This was the experience of the late Clive Bone, a councillor who assisted the NSS in our High Court challenge of the inclusion of prayers before meetings of Bideford Town Council by being a party to the case. Cllr Bone felt uncomfortable in refusing to participate, and said the worship created an unwelcoming atmosphere for non-religious councillors, and that he was aware of it putting off potential councillors from standing.
This was also the case for Cllr Imran Khan, a Muslim and Conservative councillor on Reigate and Banstead Borough Council in Surrey, who asked for Christian prayers to be separated from full council meeting as he felt it was wrong that he was forced to stand outside the council chamber while prayers were being said. After speaking out on the issue, Mr Khan was not reselected by the Tories to contest the seat and claimed the prayer row had “a big influence”.[4]
Before the High Court ruling in 2012, a number of local authorities introduced multi-faith prayers. Such initiatives, though often well-meaning, became cause of tension, rather than cohesion.
When Portsmouth Council allowed for a Muslim Imam to say a prayer during a meeting, a local councillor was accused of “disrespect” after excluding himself from the meeting while the prayer was said. The councillor told local media: “I don’t feel it’s appropriate for Muslim prayers to be said, as I don’t feel we worship the same God as Muslims, so I left.”[5]
Similarly, councillors in Shropshire called a fellow non-religious councillor “disgusting” after he wore headphones during a prayer held during a council meeting.
If successful, this new legislation could re-open the door to such unnecessary conflict and sectarianism at council meetings.
Community cohesion is best served by local authorities moving away from divisive practices, such as religious worship, that deter full involvement from all sections of communities they serve.
In a religiously diverse nation, where large sectors of the population do not hold or practise religious beliefs, local authorities should perform their civic duties in a secular manner without privileging or identifying with any particular religious position.
Get involved!
Using the arguments set out in the briefing, please contact your MP and ask them to ensure local democracy is inclusive and secular by opposing Jake Berry’s Local Government (Religious Etc. Observances) Bill.
1 http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/localgovernmentreligiousetcobservances.html
2 https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/bideford-judgment-final.pdf
3 http://www.local.gov.uk/local-government-intelligence/-/journal_content/56/10180/100325/ARTICLE
4 http://www.surreymirror.co.uk/Muslim-councillor-deselected-Horley-prayer-row/story-15669740-detail/story.html
5 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-12284894

Web: secularism.org.uk email: enquiries@secularism.org.uk Tel: 0207 404 3126

Humanist Hustings in London: British Humanist Association

British Humanist Association is holding a hustings on May 6th for the upcoming European Elections.

The event is being held in conjunction with the Central London Humanist Group and Conway Hall Ethical Society. The BHA has over 30,000 members and supporters who will be very keen to get their questions to candidates on a range of issues to gender equality, LGBT rights, freedom of thought and expression, sexual and reproductive rights of women, sexual education, freedom of scientific research and access to education for all.

We have candidates from all the parties standing:

  • Mary Honeyball MEP, Labour Party
  • Caroline Attfield, Conservative
  • Matt J. McLaren MEP, Liberal Democrats
  • Jean Lambert MEP, Green Party
  • Gerard Batten MEP, UKIP
  • Dr. Louise Irvine, NHA party

We hope to see you there.

You can find out more here and register to attend:
https://humanism.org.uk/humanisthustings

The European Humanist Federation manifesto can be found here:
http://humanistfederation.eu/ckfinder/userfiles/files/our-work/Memorandum%20EP/EHF%20Manifesto%20for%20European%20elections%20EN.pdf

Prime Minister repeats ‘Christian Britain’ fallacy, promises to expand role of religion in Britain

BHA logoFrom the British Humanist Association (BHA):

Echoing the deeply mistaken comments of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP earlier this week, the Prime Minister David Cameron has today repeated the assertion that ‘Britain is a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so’ at a reception for Christians at Downing Street. Like Mr Pickles’, the Prime Minister’s remarks misrepresent the true nature of Britain and give further cause for concern that government is seeking to politicise religion and misrepresent the demography of the country for political ends.

More worryingly, the Prime Minister also promised that it was his mission ‘to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in this country.’ He claimed that this has been a ‘consistent theme’ of his government and that ‘there’s more [government] can do to help make it easier for faith organisations.’ He spoke out in favour of more ‘evangelism’ in the UK, and stressed the need for ‘more belief’.

In recent years, Government has made a number of attempts to ‘make it easier’ for religious organisations, and has ignored calls from equalities and human rights groups for changes to the contracting out of public services to religious groups, who under current law are immune from Equality Act and Human Rights Act requirements even when carrying out services on behalf of the public.

The Prime Minister celebrated the ‘Free Schools’ initiative for ‘allowing Church schools to expand.’ Religious schools are unpopular with the public and the BHA has been campaigning steadily in opposition to Government policy. The Fair Admissions Campaign, in which the BHA plays a lead role, has also been putting pressure on the Department for Education to change its policy regarding ‘faith’ schools, and it has repeatedly turned up evidence that the expansion of the role of religion in our education system is disadvantaging local communities through discriminatory admissions policies.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s remarks, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated, ‘The vast majority of British people – who are not believing practising Christians – will deeply regret the comments of their Prime Minister today. He is wrong when he says that Britain is a Christian country: most of us aren’t Christian in our beliefs and our society has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. He is equally misguided in wanting to increase the role of religious organisations in our society. This divisive activity is unpopular and undemocratic and has negative consequences for the rights and freedoms of many in Britain. More generally, people certainly don’t want  religion to have more influence in government – in a 2006 IpsosMori poll, “religious groups and leaders” actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government.’

In response to the Prime Minister’s comments on the persecution of Christians around the world, Mr Copson continued, ‘There is a consensus in modern Britain that everyone should have freedom of thought and belief and that persecution of anyone for their beliefs is wrong and should be stopped. It’s right that our country should take a lead in speaking out for oppressed minorities wherever and whoever they are. What is regrettable is that our Prime Minister should try to exceptionalise Christians in this way – Jews, non-religious people, Muslims, Buddhists and others are equally at risk in a range of ways that deserve our urgent attention.’

Latest links, including Simon on radio

Our very own radio star, Simon Nightingale, has been on BBC Shropshire again. “As I think you know I do a regular 3 monthly ‘Pause for Thought’ slot (a rather rural version of Thought for the day) on Shropshire Radio’s Sunday morning religious affairs program. I did one on Sunday 15th and it is possible to listen to it again, but only for up to one week.”

Here is the link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00qb787/Mike_George_Sunday_Breakfast_15_04_2012/
On the time-line listen from about 2.16 to 2.23.

Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb4aanpsx6Q

Chris Smith writes:I didn’t watch the debate but listened to it while cooking my supper and think I enjoyed it.  I certainly enjoyed every word of The God Delusion, an unstoppable rant.  Others criticise it for the same reason.  Richard D is obviously cleverer than a lot of the people round him and his  impatience  does come over.  And being faced by highly selective quotes and insubstantial stuff must be very irritating.  The audience seemed biased towards the RC at first but overall they were perhaps just cheering anything slightly controversial.

From John Edwards of Birmingham Humanists: “If you have a spare hour and wish to hear Dawkins tangle with the Catholic Bishop of Sydney you could do worse than click on the link below.I discovered that animals have souls too and that atheists can go to heaven!”

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3469101.htm

An invitation from GlobalNet21 to an event “Religion and the Failure of Politics” in London early evening 17 May.  It seems to be an open meeting.  It clashes with our May meeting.

http://www.meetup.com/21stCenturyNetwork/events/48601452/

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