Saturday, December 22, 2007

Denis Cobell Meeting at Dorset Humanists & The National Secular Society

The meeting at Dorset Humanists with former NSS President Denis Cobell.

At the Dorset Humanists meeting in Bournemouth on 11th November 2006, Denis Cobell gave a talk on the National Secular Society (NSS). He is the 10th President of NSS and described himself as a Secular Humanist. He is a member of both BHA (British Humanist Association) and NSS.

The weekly NSS Newsline is edited by Terry Sanderson (11th President) and includes a database of articles in magazines & newspapers.

The NSS helped to defeat the Incitement to Religious Hatred bill. I note that NSS has a similar outlook as Comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson who branded as "draconian" plans to make incitement to religious hatred illegal. "In a democracy there is no right not to be offended".

BNP Leader Nick Griffin told a crowd Islam was a "wicked, vicious faith" it was recorded by BBC. Nick Griffen has been acquitted of race hate offenses. I note that he has maintained his words were intended not to stir up racial hatred but to motivate already like-minded people to get involved in the party. Judge Norman Jones QC said a democratic society gave its citizens the right to free speech. He said: "That does not mean it is limited to speaking only the acceptable, popular or politically correct things."

The Prophet is not the only one to
be caricatured – when the
President recently spoke this is
how one listener saw him… with
a devil’s trident! (source: NSS Annual Report 2006)

The NSS is opposed to Faith Schools. School entry criteria based on religion must be reduced and eventually eliminated. 16 year olds students now (as parents already have) have the right to opt of out Religious Education lessons.

The NSS advocates that ALL weddings be Civil weddings but that in addition a separate ceremony could include religious or humanist content.

The NSS publishes The Bulletin three times a year.

The "non belief in the supernatural" is an issue that a minority of NSS members want to exclude from the NSS "constitution". This was not discussed further at this meeting but is clearly a crucial issue for NSS.
It is unlikely that NSS & BHA will merge. This proposal has been rejected by both organisations in the past.

Securalist of the Year
Professor Steve Jones, the scientist & geneticist, has recently been giving a lecture around the country entitled “Why evolution is right and creationism is wrong.” He was awarded the "Secularist of the Year" prize in October 2006 by NSS. I note that Jones has offended some Christians with his allegations that Creationism is "anti-science". This brings him into direct opposition with proponents of Creationism like Ken Ham (who Jones publicly criticised) who argue that evolution is hypothesis, not science. Jones suggested in a BBC Radio Ulster interview on 19 March 2006 that Creationists should be disallowed from being medical doctors because "all of its (Creationism's) claims fly in the face of the whole of science", and disputes the claim that anyone who believes in Biblical Creation can be a serious biologist.

Cobell mentioned that Dorset Humanists could consider affiliating to the NSS just as they were affiliated to British Humanists.
I note that South Hampshire Humanists affiliate to both groups.

Questions from the Floor
Chris Street asked Cobell "Was not the ongoing Evolution v Creationism Scientifhc debate important and what was the NSS view of Science in relation to Religion? Chris stated that he believed that Science (in the words of Lewis Wolpert) is the Best Way of Understanding the World.

?? Asked: What were the differances between NSS and BHA. Cobell said the NSS focuses on challenging religious privaleges and promoting the separation of Church & State whilst BHA focuses on officiation at Humanist Ceremonies (Namings, Weddings and Deaths). The NSS has 2500 members and BHA 5000 members. Membership of both groups has grown significantly recently.

From the
National Secular Society website

(this section needs editing)

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 or 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 religious propaganda paid for by license-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.

The NSS was founded in 1866 by Charles Bradlaugh. A message from Claire Rayner.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It asserts that supernaturalism is based upon ignorance and assails it as the historic enemy of progress.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 controll
  • 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.

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