News for October

Chris Smith writes: After the business of the AGM, SHG member Geoff Berriman presented “Torture for Humanists”.

Although Geoff agreed that torture is invariably wrong when it is used because of someone’s beliefs, or to change a person’s belief, he challenged our facile acceptance of the assertion that torture is always wrong.

He proposed that if torture is used to get information from a criminal – and then eases the suffering of a victim (and the victim’s friends and family) – it is justified.  The human rights of the victim are more important than those of the criminal.  Geoff gave provisos such as confidence in the guilt of the (so far un-convicted) villain and the example known as The Frankfurt Kidnapping was described to support this view.  In that case the threat of professionals being brought in to administer extreme pain led the person who had collected the ransom money to reveal where the kidnapped boy was held.  Sadly the boy was already dead, asphyxiated by tape over his mouth and nose.  It is not known whether the death had been intended or was incidental to an intention to keep him quiet.  The family had the small consolation of being able to have a funeral for the boy.  Unlike some of the families of the victims of “Moors Murderer” Ian Brady.

After consideration (and speaking only for myself) I recall that hard cases make bad law, think that arguing back from an outcome which may have been quite different weakens an argument, and that torture is always wrong.

Thanks to Geoff for making us think around this very difficult topic.

Our next meeting is 15 November, 0730 at the Lantern.  Steve Hurd will tell us about developments of the Uganda Humanists Schools Trust.  The committee proposes that we will make a collection for the Trust during the meeting.  I can personally confirm that it is a very appropriate and relevant charity.

That will also be the last date for booking (and menu choices) for the festive meal at lunchtime on Sunday 16 December, Riverside Inn, Cound.

SACRE representative’s report

Chris reported that the relatively new Telford and Wrekin SACRE met in September, previously it was a joint SACRE with Shropshire.  They want Humanism included in the next agreed syllabus; as soon as possible they want some “core Humanist beliefs” for a one page document summarising main religions/belief systems.  SMSC was mentioned as being important, Spiritual, Moral, Social, Cultural education; this seems to be the fashion rather than straight RE.

In addition the SACRE is developing a Beacon award to schools attaining certain standards for RE. They have included the Humanist logo, along with the usual religious one, on the award. Successful schools would hold the award for two years initially and would include the award on letterheads so it would have wide distribution.  In addition at June’s meeting Linda Senior, of Ludlow and Marches Humanists, attended the SACRE meeting on Chris’s behalf.  They both went to the September meeting and that seems to have been acceptable.  A more active SACRE will need more people to go into schools etc.  This is amazing progress after years of stagnation and frustration!  Both Chris and Linda will go to the BHA SACRE reps meeting in November.

April meeting report

Sue Falder reports:

Humanism and RE

At the April meeting, Chris Smith gave an account of her experience as a humanist rep on the joint Shropshire Telford and Wrekin SACRE. She detailed the legal situation with regard to RE and daily worship, and defended the presence of humanists on what is essentially a committee of religious representatives whose main concern is that religion continues to be taught. She pointed out that through BHA campaigning the word `humanism’ now appears in GCSE RE syllabuses, and our representatives can continue to press for inclusivity in the wording of local syllabuses, which are the province of the SACREs in each authority, for instance suggesting words like `lifestance’  be used as well as or instead of `religion’.

Now that the two authorities have separated, Simon Nightingale will be attending the Shropshire meetings, and he and Chris hope that they will be able to argue for full inclusion onto the SACREs rather than continuing simply as observers.

Simon gave another Sunday morning talk as part of the Mike George Show on Radio Shropshire recently, in which he reflected on the changing face of RE teaching in his lifetime and the need now for real recognition of the multi-cultural nature of children’s experience.

Dying Matters Week 16th – 22nd  May

Dying Matters is a broad-based coalition set up by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) to raise public awareness of dying, death and bereavement, to support the implementation of the Government’s End of Life Care Strategy. The BHA is a part of it.

The Dying Matters Coalition mission is to promote awareness and support changing knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards dying, death and bereavement, and through this to make a ‘good death’ the norm. Everybody – whatever their age or state of health – needs to talk about their wishes towards the end of life with their friends, families and loved ones. The earlier we talk about it the easier it is emotionally and practically for everyone.

One of the facts publicised is that 70% of people say they don’t want to die in hospital, but 60% actually do.

Members tried answering a Dying Matters quiz which tested our knowledge of the practical and legal side of preparing for your death or dealing with anothers – including the average cost of a funeral (£2549) and statistics on organ transplant and donation.

The Standing Advisory Councils For Religious Education (SACREs)

What is a SACRE?

It’s a legal requirement for every school to include Religious Education (RE) in its basic curriculum and each local authority must have a SACRE to oversee that provision and to revise the locally agreed syllabus.

Why are humanists involved in SACREs?

Clearly the ideal situation would be that state schooling was secular, and religious education took place via churches. However, that prospect is receding as more and more faith schools are being set up and the position of religion in education is, if anything, becoming more entrenched.

Humanists join SACREs in the hope of broadening the scope of RE in their area to include a recognition that many people live perfectly good lives without having a faith of any kind.

How much influence do humanists have?

Nationally, the BHA has been campaigning strongly and as a result the word `humanism’ now appears in the non-statutory guidelines for RE.  Also the phrase ‘religions and beliefs’ is used more often than ‘religions’ alone, thus opening the way for exploration of non-religious approaches. However, the legal framework still stresses the teaching of  ‘the principal religions represented in Great Britain’ – a limiting definition.

Locally, there are humanist representatives on SACREs with varying amounts of influence.

What about Shropshire?

I am a co-opted member of the  joint Shropshire/ Telford and Wrekin SACRE, so can observe and contribute to discussion. However, because of the legal rules about the make-up of the SACRE, I have no right to be involved in the syllabus revision committee and have no vote. (This is another area of BHA campaigning.)

The RE advisors and other members of the SACRE are not hostile to humanism and are open to suggestions for inclusive syllabus material. I hope that in the near future, the BHA will come up with helpful material for this; in the meantime I shall try to find time to relate some of the educational resources that are available to the suggested teaching themes and recommend them to the local authorities.

If anyone would be interested in representing humanism on the local SACRE or helping to relate humanist resources to teaching, I’d be very glad of the support.

Sue Falder

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