Thursday, April 26, 2007

BHA website - Why campaign for Humanism?

If you are unsure why there is a need to campaign, read this double-act which opened the BHA 2005 Conference on a light note and neatly outlines some of the reasons (BHA).

Why campaign for Humanism? - on the British Humanist Association website Includes details of the government position on role of religion and those without religion.

Add link to this BHA page from Dorset Humanists website (home, add new page: why _campaign)

Read it as if John Fortune (right) and John Bird (left) were speaking the parts!! I suggest WASP and David Warden read the parts at a Dorset Humanists meeting!

WASP will persuade Bremner, Bird and Fortune to do their own interpretation on TV
!! (with BHA permission)


Why do we spend so much time and energy trying to promote Humanism? Why do we make such a fuss about the relics of religion ?

Yes. Lots of people think religion is in terminal decline. After all, there was that big MORI poll in The Tablet last month that found 24 per cent of the public say they have no religion - and it’s 36% among 18-34 year-olds.

And the Government has brought in the Human Rights Act (link to which puts religions and non-religious beliefs on a par. And it requires public authorities not to discriminate. Doesn’t the Government’s equality agenda help us?

Yes, in theory at least. They’ve also implemented EU directives banning discrimination and harassment based on religion or belief at work. And now in the Equality Bill (see the Easy Read guide) they are extending the ban to goods, facilities and services.

So that is all right?

Sadly, no. The ban has enormous exceptions. It does not apply to religious schools. It does not apply to subsidised school transport.

I thought we’d just got the Department for Education and Skills DfES to agree not to discriminate against parents who don’t want their kids to go to a religious school?

Yes we did. But now they want to go back on it - at least that’s what is in the Equality Bill.

So, is that it?

Afraid not! The Bill does not apply to the content of the curriculum or to religious worship in any school - not just religious ones. It does not apply to religious charities, even when they are providing public services under contract to a local authority or the NHS. And it scarcely applies to religious organisations at all.

You can’t be right. Are they totally excluded?

Pretty well. If they think it necessary or expedient to discriminate in the light of their purposes or to avoid causing offence to any of their followers or associates.

So they could discriminate against people of different religions or none simply because they did not want to offend some rich old bloke who might leave them a legacy?

Yes. And not only that - the exceptions allow them to harass as well.

What do you mean by "harass"?

It means (in the words of the Bill) "violating [someone’s] dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment" for them.

The churches can’t want that - surely they don’t want to harass people?

Apparently they do. The Catholics are particularly keen on it.

So things are pretty bad?

You could say that. We asked the Home Office how much the churches would have to change their behaviour as a result of the Bill, and they answered: "very little" "You have to keep the key stakeholders on side" they said.

So it will be the first anti-discrimination law that gives legal backing to the biggest discriminators in the field! Isn’t it the Home Office that has brought in the Charities Bill, isn’t it?

Yes - and that Bill has a special head for "advancement of religion" but the Government won’t change that to "advancement of religion or belief".

And the Home Office set up that working party to improve their links with what they call "faith groups"?

You mean the one they deliberately decided to exclude humanists from?

Yes, the one whose report talked about all faith communities having basic values in common.

I remember - yes - they implied that people like us without religion lacked any sense of "community, personal integrity, a sense of right and wrong, learning, wisdom and love of truth, care and compassion, justice and peace, and respect for one another and for the earth and its creatures."

Didn’t the report talk about secular humanist organisations at all? I thought it said we should be consulted?

Yes - but only as an afterthought. The original part of the report does mention us, but only to suggest that "it may be wise to be prepared to mount a publicity and media handling strategy to answer" the criticism they anticipate from us.

Oh dear. And I remember they also suggested funding of religious groups to help them lobby the government.

Yes - and when we asked about a grant to help us with the huge amount of work we do responding to government consultations they turned us down flat.

I thought Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, was on our side when he was at the Education Department?

Well, yes. He did push through the National Framework for Religious Education which suggests that secular world views be studied as well as religions. But he was moved on before he could do anything more.

You mean about the legal requirement for all schools to have daily acts of "wholly or mainly" "broadly Christian" worship?

Yes - and the ban on Humanists as such being members of LEA Agreed Syllabus Conferences and SACREs.

I thought we had quite a number of humanists on SACREs?

Yes - but they’re all there by the back door, as co-optees or local council representatives.

Of course, the Government rather likes religious schools, doesn’t it?

It can’t get enough of them!

I suppose they are really allowing the Muslims and Hindus and so on to catch up - after all, one in 3 schools is Anglican or Catholic, isn’t it?

Too true. But in fact the main and unnoticed expansion is of Church of England schools. They are expanding and taking over schools across the country - even if local education authorities object. And they’re going for these new academies.

What’s an academy?

It’s a private, independent school with completely new premises supported by a sponsor. Mostly they replace failing schools. Every penny of running costs and almost the whole cost of the buildings is paid for by the Government.

Doesn’t the sponsor have to put up £2 million?

" Up to £2 million" is what they say now - and often it’s a lot less and paid up only a long time later.

And aren’t the sponsors mainly businessmen?

Mainly - but a whole lot are religious organisations. The Church of England is behind a lot of them - and the United Learning Trust, which is the Church of England in disguise. And then there are evangelical outfits like the Oasis Trust run by Steve Chalke, with academies being built in Enfield and Immingham and Grimsby.

Didn’t Cherie Blair invite Steve Chalke to Downing Street to express her support?

Yes, and Tony Blair last March gave a special Faithworks lecture and put on record his "wholehearted support" for them.

Pretty nauseating!

Not as bad as Sir Peter Vardy’s creationist Emmanuel Schools Foundation. Its website emphasises that "its schools place the Person of Christ and His example at the centre of their inspiration". They’ve got an academy already here in Gateshead, another in Middlesbrough, and more planned in Sunderland, Ashington and Berwick-on-Tweed.

But don’t these academies have local support - from the LEAs and local people?

In theory, yes. But LEAs tell us that the Government is putting the screws on them to accept academies or get no help with rebuilding their schools at all. And the consultations with local people are run by the would-be sponsors of the schools and they can choose whom to consult and how. Many of the consultations are utterly fake or else are ignored. In Barnsley the United Learning Trust ignored an independent consultation with parents that found 48% against the academy only 39% in support. They said the result was skewed by a campaign against them!

Why does the Government allow all this?

Because they want "choice" in education. They want parents to be able to choose an academy or a Catholic school or a Muslim school or a foundation school or a school specialising in the arts or in technology - anything but a bog-standard comprehensive.

That’s an awful lot of schools.

Yes - that’s the problem: the choice for any particular family is going to be much narrower - maybe only one or two schools - and they could easily find there’s no school they really fancy.

Yes. But my guess is that parents really just want a good school, regardless of specialism or affiliation.

That’s what we think, and the Education Select Committee seems to agree, as do loads of other education bodies - but not the Government.

So is it all down to the Government?

Well, they’re the most religious government for decades.

Yes, there’s Blair, of course, and Brown, and Blunkett.

Not just them. What about John Reid, Jack Straw, Tessa Jowell, Ruth Kelly

- the Opus Dei education secretary?

Yes. And Don Touhig, Paul Goggins, Ben Bradshaw, David Lammy, Stephen Timms, Douglas Alexander, Alun Michael, Hilary Armstrong, and so on.

No wonder they want to keep the 26 bishops in the House of Lords.

And no wonder no-one is keen on appointing even one humanist chaplain in the NHS, even though they have 425 full-time posts - mainly for Anglicans - and thousands of part-timers.

Or a humanist chaplain in the Forces, like in the Netherlands. Or in the prisons. Even though we had meetings with them and asked.

Of course, it’s not just the Government.

Who else?

Well, what about the BBC? They provide over 3 & a quarter hours on Radio 4 alone every week of the year of Christians talking to Christians about Christianity - and that leaves out all the magazine and documentary programmes and, of course, all other radio and TV channels.

True. That wretched Thought for the Day!

Yes, and there has NEVER been a single programme by humanists for humanists on any national channel. The last programme I can recollect that was specifically about Humanism was in 1965.

Don’t we complain?

You bet - we’ve got thick files full of correspondence!

What do they say?

Well, take this typical very recent reply to a humanist who complained about the lack of Humanist programmes: [hands over paper]

[reads:] "Thank you for your e-mail.

"As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a responsibility to meet the needs of all audiences. Over 75% of the adult audience claim some religious allegiance (2001 census).

BUT - let me interrupt you - no-one is questioning the need for some religious programmes.

And is the BBC saying the other 25%: of its audience do not deserve proper attention?

Anyway, many in the 75% are only nominally religious - a poll commissioned by the BBC themselves for the Heaven and Earth Show in 2003 found 26% of atheists or agnostics and another 24% who were "spiritually inclined but don’t really belong to an organised religion" - Humanism might well be very attractive to them if they were allowed to hear about it. Among young people the position is even clearer: a DfES research report last year found that 65% of 12-19 year-olds said they had no religion

[reads:] "Much of the BBC’s output approaches the world from a secular, non-religious point of view.

In other words, the BBC thinks that if you don’t have a religion you ought to be satisfied with programmes about make-overs, sport and travel. Without religion, you can’t have any serious philosophy of life that is worth examination. So much for people like Herman Bondi, A C Grayling, Lewis Wolpert, Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and so many others.

Let me carry on. [reads:] "A minority of the BBC’s output has specifically religious content . . . while other programmes, such as Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief, have addressed atheism directly.

Jonathan Miller's Brief History of Atheism has so far been confined to BBC4. In any case it did not deal with positive non-religious world-views such as Humanism but only with atheism and the rejection of religion - so, good as it was, it was essentially negative, not suggesting any alternative to religion.

[reads:] "On Friday 13 May the BBC Governors held a seminar, attended by Mark Thompson, senior executives and a panel of invited experts, to discuss the BBC’s religious and belief programming.

Yes, we made a detailed submission to the Governors specifically for that review. But it was ignored in the BBC paper prepared for the governors’ meeting.

[reads:] "The BBC has a public service responsibility to provide religious programming. . .

But that ‘public service responsibility’ is actually set out in the Communications Act 2003 - and it is not what the BBC says. It is actually to provide "a suitable quantity and range of programmes dealing with . . . religion and other beliefs". The Act defines belief for this purpose as "a collective belief in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or of mystical or transcendental doctrines". This definition clearly encompasses Humanism.

Yes, I remember Lord McIntosh, when he spoke for the Government in the Lords, said that the idea was "to add a reference to other beliefs, which would include ethical systems or philosophies such as humanism or secularism".

Exactly. So the Act cannot be quoted as a defence for the BBC’s failure to provide programmes about Humanism - it specifically requires them to do so! And yet a freedom of information enquiry has shown that the BBC has produced not one single document on this significant change in the law.

Is that the end of their letter?

Pretty well. They end up: [reads:] "Thank you once again for contacting the BBC."

Thank you for nothing!

So who enforces that obligation under the Communications Act?


So what have we done about them?

We’ve queried their ignoring this bit of the law in their first review of public service broadcasting. But they’ve simply not replied.


We’re chasing them.

What else?

We welcomed their draft Broadcasting Code using a definition of ‘religious broadcasting’ that seemed to cover programmes about non-religious beliefs, but we suggested some detailed changes to the Code.

Did they agree?

No. And they changed the definition so that the final version of the Code, just out, refers only to programmes about "religion" with no mention of other beliefs.

So what are we going to do about it?

Well, we could seek a judicial review if anyone’s got a few thousand quid to spare.

And if not?

Just keep writing letters, try to get a meeting, raise things in Parliament. . .

So, let’s forget about broadcasting for a while. What else?

Well, there’s Surrey Heath Council giving a grant to local churches to say prayers for the welfare of local people.

And there’s the Bishop of Motherwell in Scotland calling for a ban on gays on the staff of RC schools.

And there’s the fact that there’s no chance of getting a voluntary euthanasia law any time soon despite a huge majority of the public supporting it.

And humanist weddings are not legally recognised.

And kowtowing to so-called faith groups means that ritual objects in museums are being taken off display or being shown only to members of the relevant cultural group (or their successors centuries on) or sometimes only to men or to women.

Yes. I gather Some Ethiopian holy objects are locked in the British Museum’s cellars and even the curators are not allowed to look at them!

And a large minority of the meat we all buy in supermarkets has been painfully ritually slaughtered, but is dumped unlabelled on the general market because it is too expensive to butcher the poorer cuts according to all the rules. And DEFRA has just refused to do anything about it.

There, you’re back to the Government again. [Pause] It’s all very negative, isn’t it? Is that really why we go on year in, year out?

Not really. It’s really much more positive. It’s because we think Humanism is a valuable framework for vast numbers of people who have never heard of it.

If only we could get through to them.

And because it provides a framework of thinking that leads most people naturally to the sort of answers we want on schools, and equality laws, and the place of religion in society and everything else.

And what exactly do we mean by Humanism? Is it just atheism or agnosticism - just a negative response to religion - or is Humanism a philosophy in its own right?

Very much the latter. Humanism is an approach to life based on humanity and reason. We recognise that it is simply human nature to have moral values - but we need to use knowledge, reason and experience when it comes to particular cases. We make decisions in the light of the evidence after assessing the likely outcome - not by reference to any dogma or sacred text or fashionable but unsubstantiated theory.

Yes, and as Humanists we think the best explanations available of life and the universe are the naturalistic and provisional ones provided by science and reason. It simple folly to turn to other sources - such as religion or new age nonsense.

And as Humanists we believe that this is the only life we have. We see it as our responsibility to make life as good as possible not only for ourselves but for everyone - including future generations. So we strongly support individual human rights and freedoms - but we believe equally in the importance of individual responsibility, social cooperation and mutual respect. We endorse the idea of an ‘open society’ in which people with fundamentally different beliefs and lifestyles live cooperatively together with shared institutions, laws and government that are neutral as between different belief groups.

And last but very important: as Humanists we create meaning and purpose for ourselves by adopting worthwhile goals and endeavouring to live our lives to the full. We feel awe at the immensity of the universe and its intricate workings, we find inspiration in the richness of the natural world, in music, the arts, the achievements of the past and the possibilities of the future, we find fulfilment in worthwhile activity, in physical recreation and endeavour and in the pleasures of human interaction, affection and love.

Sounds pretty good.

That’s what I thought.

So it’s worth trying to tell others about it?

Yes. Even up against a religious government and a recalcitrant BBC and New Age superstition and militant Islam and all the rest.

Yes. I wonder what these people think?

reposted from: BHA website my: highlights / emphasis / key points / comments

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