Monday, November 26, 2007

NSS Debate 12th January 2008 - Dorset Humanists should affiliate to the National Secular Society

Do you want to put an end ... Leaflet - read highlights

Cobell meets DH 11/11/06:

Chris Street blog NSS:

Debate Motion: Dorset Humanists should affiliate to the National Secular Society

For the motion:
Chris Street and Richard Hogg
Against the motion: David Warden and Terry Baker

National Secular Society

History of NSS.

Half all local BHA Groups affiliate to NSS local groups
  • list of all groups
  • comments from other BHA-NSS local group members
Powerpoint presentation - hire Projector!!
NSS welcome message from Keith Porteus Wood

Those of us who value reason are becoming alarmed about the increasingly extreme religious influence in our government, our lawmakers, and our public institutions - especially in our education system. Many people, while standing up for freedom of religion, and freedom not to believe, feel that the proper place for religion is in the place of worship or home. They see the danger of religion becoming too politically ambitious.

The NSS is a rallying point for opposition to this religious resurgence. We must convince our politicians and public servants - as well as our friends, neighbours and colleagues - that our institutions and public life should be secular. A secular state should guarantee freedom of conscience, but eliminate religious privilege.

The only way to prevent the kind of religious power-seeking that leads to conflict is to make both religious discrimination and religious privilege constitutionally impossible.

We need a secular constitution that will:

  • End the privileged input of religious bodies to policy making and law-making
  • Keep all public services free from religious control so that that they remain equally available to all on the same terms
  • Abolish the established church and all its privileges (including 26 bishops in the House of Lords)
  • Put an end to the divisiveness of publicly funded religious schools by making them open to all without discrimination on grounds of religion, or lack of it, and bringing them under local authority control
  • Abolish blasphemy and similar repressive laws, rather than extend them

Religious influence in Government has not been higher in living memory. The rise of fundamentalist religion of all shades has the potential to seriously erode hard-won freedoms.

Individually, we can only look on with mounting fear, but working together we can make a difference. Join the fight for a truly secular society and join the National Secular Society today.

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director
National Secular Society

& Clair Rayner about joining the NSS.

A Message From Claire Rayner

Join the Society

Be on the side of all humanity, the side of intelligence, rationality and decency


"I do hope you’ll join the Society, because its work helps keep alight the torch of clear rational thought and plain common sense in a world that is beset by confusion, superstition and very muddled thinking. If only half the people who we know share our views on the absurdity of the many antiquated beliefs that litter our world, the National Secular Society would be one of the biggest and most powerful in the country."

Open any newspaper lately and you’ll be confronted with news of some fresh religious conflict. Whether it’s Muslims and Hindus at war over Kashmir, Catholics and Protestants murdering each other in Northern Ireland or Christians and Muslims doing so in Indonesia, the ghastly carnage continues. And if it isn’t holy warfare it’s the promotion of some exploitative money-making New Age superstition like feng shui or miracle healing.

Irrationality and religious exploitation are mushrooming all around us and pose a severe threat to reason and civilisation; that is why the National Secular Society is as important now — maybe even more so — as when it was founded in 1866.

We are one of the few organisations that are fully committed to fighting superstition and religious privilege. We are up against enormously powerful institutions: the churches and a Government that seems determined to make us all into God-fearing Christians once more. As one of our Honorary Associates, Jonathan Meades of the Times so succinctly put it:

"If you believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden you are deemed fit for the bin. If you believe in transubstantiation, parthenogenesis and the rest of it, you’re deemed fit to run the country."

Our opponents often accuse us of being negative. But, as one of our past Presidents, Barbara Smoker, observed: the Society’s vigorous opposition to the forces of superstition, obscurantism and illiberalism could equally well be described as its vigorous support for progressive liberal causes. When the NSS campaigns against censorship, it is campaigning for freedom of expression; when it campaigns against the any of the social and fiscal survivals of religious privilege, it is campaigning for equality in a pluralist society.

We need your help and support so that we can make the voice of reason heard more loudly in our society. Join us today, and become part of what has been called "the best of causes".

Many prominent public figures have aligned themselves with the National Secular Society. From science we have Professor Richard Dawkins, whose books The Selfish Gene and Climbing Mount Improbable have brought Darwin’s theory of evolution back into public consciousness; and the late Professor Francis Crick, the Nobel prize-winning discoverer of DNA, was a long-standing Associate.

Influential playwrights Harold Pinter and Edward Bond are enthusiastic supporters, as is the best-selling novelist Iain Banks. From journalism, Polly Toynbee — the award-winning Guardian columnist — helps promote the cause whenever she can. Agony aunt to the nation, Claire Rayner, has been active in the Society for many years. Sir Ludovic Kennedy, whose recent book All in the Mind: A Farewell to God caused such controversy, is a well-known atheist. Gore Vidal, the American political thinker and writer, recently joined the illustrious gallery of Honorary Associates.

I hope you will join the Society, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

More about NSS here.

About the NSS

We want a society in which all are free to practise their faith, change it or not have one, according to their conscience. Our belief or lack of it should neither advantage nor disadvantage. Religion should be a matter of private conscience, for the home and place of worship; it must not have privileged input into the political arena where history shows it to bring conflict and injustice.

The National Secular Society is the leading pressure group defending the rights of non-believers from the demands of religious power-seekers. We campaign on a wide range of issues, including religious influence in the government, the disestablishment of the Church of England, the removal of the Bench of Bishops from the House of Lords and for conversion of religious schools (paid for by the taxpayer) to community schools, open to all.


  1. We fight to protect free expression from attacks by religious groups, often keen to restrict comment about, and examination of, their activities.
  2. We want the blasphemy law to be abolished and artistic expression to be protected from religious censors.
  3. We lobby the BBC to reduce the amount of religious propaganda paid for by licence-payers, very few of whom are interested.
  4. We want to ensure that human rights always come before religious rights, and to fight the massive exemptions religious bodies are granted from discrimination laws that everyone else has to observe. The NSS was prominent in the campaign to frustrate religious bodies’ attempts to opt out of the Human Rights Act – we fought to limit exemptions in the employment discrimination legislation and other equality law.

Even now the government seems anxious to increase religious involvement in public life. Each increase disadvantages those who have no religion.

Only by secularising our institutions can we ensure that no religious ideology can dominate and discriminate against others.

More Information

On joining NSS Dorset Humanists must agree to the NSS General Principles:-
  • Secularism affirms that this life is the only one of which we have any knowledge and human effort should be directed wholly towards its improvement.
    • cf BHA..
  • Affirming that morality is social in origin and application, Secularism aims at promoting the happiness and well-being of mankind. Secularism demands the complete separation of Church and State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.
    • cf BHA...
  • Secularism affirms that progress is possible only on the basis of equal freedom of speech and publication; that the free criticism of institutions and ideas is essential to a civilised state.
    • cf BHA...
  • It asserts that supernaturalism is based upon ignorance and assails it as the historic enemy of progress.
    • cf BHA...
  • It seeks to spread education, to promote the fraternity of all peoples as a means of advancing universal peace to further common cultural interests and to develop the freedom and dignity of mankind.
    • cf BHA...
  • To remove an impediment to these objectives, we demand the complete separation of Church and State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.
    • cf BHA...
The NSS is certainly vigorous in its opposition to
the forces of superstition, obscurantism, and
illiberalism; but that is merely another way of
looking at its support for liberal causes. When it
campaigns against censorship, it is campaigning
for freedom of expression; when it campaigns
against faith schools, it is campaigning for
educational impartiality; and when it campaigns
against any of the social and fiscal survivals of
religious privilege, it is campaigning for equality in
a pluralist society.

Affiliated Local Groups
Birmingham Humanists; Blackpool & Fylde
Humanists; Brighton & Hove Humanist Society;
Bromley Humanist Group; Chiltern Humanists;
Cornwall Humanists; Cotswold Humanists; Coventry
& Warwickshire Humanists; Democratic Association;
Devon Humanists; Ealing Humanist Group; East
Kent Humanists; Essex Humanists; Farnham
Humanists; Greater Manchester Humanist Group;
Hampstead Humanist Society; Havering & District
Humanist Society; Humanist Society of West
Yorkshire; Isle of Wight Humanists; Leicester
Secular Society; Lewisham Humanist Group; Liberal
Democrat Humanist & Secularist Group; Norfolk
Humanists; North East Humanists; North London
Humanist Group; Sheffield Humanist Society; South
Hampshire Humanists; South Somerset Humanists;
Suffolk Humanists; Sutton Humanist Group; Welsh
Marches Humanist Group; West Glamorgan
Humanist Group.

Various Documents

The NSS in Parliament

Our Honorary Associates

cf BHA Distinguished Supporters of Humanism

These are our supporters who work and speak on our behalf in politics, human rights, science, philosophy, the arts, writing, journalism and broadcasting.

Religion in Schools?

The law requires Religious Education to be taught in schools. For many years it was the only compulsory topic in the school curriculum. A religious element in daily school assemblies is also required by the law, but 80% of secondary schools do not conform with this legal requirement. Sometimes the reason is the practical difficulty of arranging assemblies, but often it is that the majority of pupils and staff do not wish to take part in an act of worship.

Legally, if a parent or guardian so requests, pupils can be excused from religious education lessons or religious assemblies. No reason need be given for such a request; however before making one, parents and pupils should be aware that such action might result in ostracism by fellow-pupils or even victimisation by teachers. We have heard of teachers retaliating against requests for withdrawal by excluding pupils from receiving information disseminated during assembly.

Secularists particularly object to religion being taught in schools as fact. If there is to be religious education, secularists consider pupils should be told that "some people believe this and others believe that and yet others believe none of these things".

Because they believe religious schools result in increased levels of sectarianism, Secularists would like to see the elimination of denominational or religious schools. This particularly applies to areas of historic tension between Protestants and Roman Catholics, such as in Northern Ireland, the west of Scotland and Liverpool. Cohesion in the community is also particularly at risk if religious schools result in pupils being segregated on ethnic and/or socio-economic lines. Communities will best learn to live peacefully together if they grow up - and learn - together, respecting each other’s differences. If they are separated into religious groupings at such an early age, racism and lack of understanding will inevitably increase.

Charles Bradlaugh (1833 - 1891): Founder

Charles Bradlaugh

Based on an article for the NSS website by David Tribe, author of President Charles Bradlaugh, MP (London 1971), former president and honorary life member of National Secular Society and former editor of The Freethinker.

THROUGHOUT its history the National Secular Society has included a number of colourful and distinguished personalities; none more so than its founder, Charles Bradlaugh.

Bradlaugh founds the National Secular Society

Bradlaugh first came to prominence as a freethought lecturer to groups that had survived the disappearance of Chartism and, under the influence of George Jacob Holyoake, were being transformed from Owenite into secular societies. In 1858 Bradlaugh became president of the London Secular Society, succeeding G J Holyoake. Two years later he became co-editor of The National Reformer, which under his leadership became dedicated to atheism, republicanism and neo-Malthusianism (contraception).

In 1866 he conceived and founded the National Secular Society, and became its first president.

Throughout the 1880s he tirelessly travelled the country giving secularist lectures and participating in debates, not to mention assisting George William Foote, founding editor of The Freethinker, in his blasphemy defence (unfortunately without success).

In 1876 a Bristol bookseller of freethought and pornography was prosecuted and gaoled for selling an "obscene" contraceptive manual, Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy. Its publisher was Charles Watts, Bradlaugh's subeditor, printer and publisher, and father of the chief founder of the Rationalist Press Association. Arrested himself, Watts pleaded guilty against the wishes of Besant and Bradlaugh, who dismissed him from all positions.

Besant and Bradlaugh then formed a Freethought Publishing Company and republished Fruits of Philosophy themselves. They were arrested, tried and sentenced to six months' gaol, but appealed and won on a legal technicality. This famous trial split the freethought movement but largely helped to reduce the size of Victorian families.

His radical politics soon led to a parliamentary career

At the same time as setting up the NSS, Bradlaugh was involved in radical polities. He fought for the right of atheists and religious fundamentalists to affirm in court cases which resulted in the Evidence Further Amendment Act 1869), which removed blatant injustices. He agitated for parliamentary reform, involving proportional representation, universal franchise and abolition of the House of Lords (but later compromised by supporting the introduction of life peers); the removal of restrictions on activities on Sundays; the disestablishment of the Churches (This was achieved for Ireland but not of course for England); land-law reform and Irish emancipation from English oppression. He did not advocate Irish independence though; he preferred a British federation, with separate parliaments for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

In 1880, after three unsuccessful earlier attempts, Bradlaugh was elected to Parliament for Northampton. When he asked to affirm instead of taking an oath before taking his seat, a parliamentary select committee declared that the right freethinkers had to affirm in law courts didn't extend to Parliament. He then asked to take the oath, but another select committee found his known atheism prevented this but he should be allowed to affirm under pain of statute (penalties for voting without taking the prescribed oath). The battle over his being sworn in began the day he took his seat and voted, and resulted in convoluted legal arguments continuing for six years. Eventually, in 1886 after the 1885 general election he was allowed by the Speaker to take the oath at the beginning of the session, before objections could be made. While all this had been going on, his seat was vacated but he was re-elected at three by-elections (1881, 1883 and 1884).

Throughout this cause celebre, Bradlaugh represented himself, and was arguably the most proficient lay litigant in England. It took great courage. He was even imprisoned in a cell in the famous Clock Tower under Big Ben - he was the last victim to be incarcerated there. Once he was literally thrown out of the Palace of Westminster.

Bradlaugh was a diligent Member of Parliament and soon became highly respected. His greatest success was the introduction and passage of the 1888 Oaths Act, allowing universal affirmation as an alternative to the oath. But he did much to establish and brief the Royal Commission on Market Eights and Tolls in support of small traders and consumers, and sat on the Royal Commission on Vaccination and select committees on anachronistic perpetual pensions for the aristocracy, employers' liability, destitute immigrants and friendly societies.

Internationally he was known as the "member for India" and it was believed that, without his premature death in 1891, he would have become Gladstone's Under-Secretary of State for India.

Bradlaugh the international politician proclaimed "The Future President of England" by the New York Times

As a friend and supporter of Continental republican freethinkers living in or visiting England, he was as celebrated (notorious) outside as inside Britain. In 1870, following the overthrow of Louis Napoleon, he supported Republican France during the Franco-Prussian War and in 1871, after the war, he was invited to sue for peace between the Paris Commune and the Versailles Government.

Stimulated by French and other European republican uprisings, and by the unpopularity of Queen Victoria as the non-performing "widow of Windsor", republicanism took off in Britain. In 1871 Bradlaugh wrote a bestselling Impeachment of the House of Brunswick and became president of the London Republican Club. Inspired by him, throughout the country a number of NSS branches spawned or transformed themselves into republican clubs and a National Republican League was formed in 1873. That year, during a US lecture tour, the New York Herald proclaimed him as "The Future President of England".

But intrigues involving religionists, independent adventurers and communist-anarchist infighting in the First International, together with Victoria's return to activity and popularity, led to republicanism's collapse in 1874.

Outside parliament his influence waned with the rise of socialism (not social democracy), which he opposed as vague in details but likely to lead to violent revolution, tyranny, censorship, lack of enterprise and economic stagnation (criticisms later vindicated by experience in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union). Instead he extolled, perhaps too optimistically, education, reform and cooperative retail, building, friendly and insurance societies.

Bradlaugh's private life

Born in 1833 to a solicitor's clerk and former nursemaid, he was brought up in the East End of London and the Church of England. Leaving school at eleven, he became an errand boy, clerk and cashier.

As a candidate for confirmation, seeking explanation for discrepancies in the Gospels and Thirty-Nine Articles, he fell out with his pastor and family, left home, came into contact with freethought propagandists and espoused atheism. After three years in the British army, stationed in Ireland, he became a solicitor's clerk and small businessman.

He married in 1855 but his wife was an alcoholic and they separated amicably in 1870. Annie Besant, the estranged wife of an Anglican clergyman, met Bradlaugh and joined the NSS. Soon she became his closest friend and collaborator. Had Bradlaugh and Besant both been free, they would have married.

up to 1840-1957 - pics

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Polly Toynbee - ex NSS
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Start Your Own Secular Student Group On Campus

Would you like to help put the case for secularism at your university? You can support our work through campaigning, debating and spreading the word.

We are here to help you set up your own secular group.

If you would like to start a Secular Society at your university, we have a starter pack that will guide you through the process for Freshers Week and beyond. It contains a Five Step Plan, a sample spreadsheet for your accounts and a sample sign-up sheet. We have also written a flyer you can hand out, customized with your own group name or logo. We will send you two NSS posters and twenty badges for free to start you off. If you need more, you can buy them from the NSS Shop.

For your stall at Freshers Week, you can download our infamous Debaptise Yourself posters.

De-Baptise Yourself!

Make It Official!

Annual Report 2007 :
Keith Porteus Wood - in 2007 wins IHEU award 'Distinguished service to Humanism'

NSS is Affiliated to Amnesty Int, Eur.Humanist Federtaion, IHEU, Liberty.
Support: Hum. Peace forum, Dignity in Dying, Eur. Womens lobby, Abortion Rights

President: T Sanderson, VP: Anna Behan, Jim Herrick,
Council members: Dennis Cobell +7

Change name from Dorset Humanists to Dorset Secularist Humanists?

Letter to CGS re: Affilation

From: Terry Sanderson []
Sent: 18 November 2007 11:59
To: 'Chris Street'
Subject: RE: Dorset Humanists to affiliate to NSS?

Dear Chris,

You ask what the benefits of affiliation are. Well, there are no huge benefits in the sense of input from the NSS, it is more a matter of whether you want to add your support to our efforts to create a secular society. I notice that there is a strong perception among your members that the NSS is composed of a bunch of “militant atheists” who are all out to destroy religion.

I think this is unfortunate, for although our aims and objectives do make clear that we are an organisation of non-believers (“assails supernaturalism as the enemy of progress”) our primary purpose is not to promote atheism, but to argue for secularism from the perspective of non-belief. There are religious secularists, too, and we don’t ask them to abandon their faith in order to prove that they aren’t just a bunch of evangelists posing as secularists.

The NSS has always been militant in its opposition to religious power-seeking. When religion misbehaves or tries to impose irrationality by law, we are not mealy-mouthed in opposing it. Some regard this as aggressive and I suppose it is. Someone has to speak out plainly against religious privilege, and the NSS is that someone.

There is also a perception that the NSS is some kind of outpost of the BHA. This is not the case. The two organisations are completely autonomous and although we share some members, we don’t always share the same aims or the same approach to achieving those aims. This is going to be explored at our AGM.

Under my presidency I want it to be clear that the NSS is a pressure/lobby group fighting for a secular society. It is not a philosophical society looking at the “big questions” or trying to provide an alternative ethical framework, in the way that humanism does. It has a focused agenda, and a radical approach to that agenda. The BHA seems to be coming in our direction – a development that obviously does not please some of your members – but we are not coming in the direction of the BHA. We are not promoting humanism, we are not promoting a secular society that gives power to religion so long as “humanists” can have a few crumbs from the table. Secularism is a political aim that we think it achievable (although it is a long term objective in the present circumstances), but we want a secularism that does not give privilege to any ideology, be that religious or humanist.

Personally, I feel that the BHA’s approach of “the religious bodies can have their cake, so long as we can have some crumbs” (exemplified in the approach to religious education in schools) is counterproductive, and I am going to request a mandate in my election address at next week’s AGM to clarify that.

The NSS’s vigorous approach makes many humanists feel uncomfortable. That’s fine – they don’t have to join and they don’t have to feel that they are associated with us. We are a principled organisation, with a clear agenda, and we only want those who share our convictions to be part of the organisation. We don’t want members for the sake of it – especially people who don’t like what we do.

Obviously we would like Dorset Humanists to affiliate, but we only want them to affiliate if they share our aims and objectives. We don’t want you to join under any kind of misapprehension about what you’d be signing up to.

We feel that the NSS is very effective in getting the questions of secularism and rationalism in to the public domain. We have to do that on terms that the media understand. Some people perceive that as “militant” – so be it. We don’t apologise.

The affiliation fee is the same as an individual membership - £22 at present, although there is a motion to raise it to £29 at the AGM.

Hope this is helpful, and good luck.

Terry Sanderson

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