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Newsletter April 2021

When will we ….. meet again?

This week saw our 53rd weekly zoom gathering, since Coronavirus and social distancing forced lockdown and a suspension of physical gatherings.

Speaking personally … the gatherings have been enjoyable, a highlight in empty weeks BUT it will be good to meet up, in the same room, to see faces break into smiles.

We discussed holding a virtual AGM, as many organisations are doing but we decided that we’d wait; September is the ordained month for our AGM and 16th is the 3rd Thursday in the month, so that’s our hope a real, physical AGM on Thursday 16th September 2021.  More details will follow.

When will we meet again? 

In thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurlyburly ‘s done, when the battle ‘s lost and won.

Humanist Schools in Uganda

Coventry and Warwickshire humanists, individually and as a group, have supported African schools and pupils for some years, this support continues. Steve Hurd, from Ugandan Schools Trust has sent the following message:

Please thank Coventry & Warwick Humanists for their generous donation of £200 towards the two new primary schools in Uganda. We have the funds to buy them now, but we need every help we can get to pay for refurbishment, staffing and equipping with books, learning and play materials.

Things were going so well for the schools before Covid hit and, since, it has been a struggle to pay the staff when they have had no local income – but we have managed to keep the staff team together and are hoping for a brighter future.

As you may be aware, during the Covid closure, we have done quite a bit of building work:

– a boys’ dormitory at Mustard Seed School

– new hall at Isaac Newton

– brand new primary school for the Kanungu Community, which suffered the cult massacre of 780 men, women and children in 2000.

– a nearly finished new school for the Katumba Parents, mainly single mothers whose husbands were killed in an abortive uprising in 2016.

At the moment, things are frenetic. We are buying two primary schools, forced to close due to the loss of income from the covid lockdown. These will provide primary sections to both Isaac Newton and Mustard Seed Schools and, we hope, greatly improve children’s life chances in their areas.

Once we have bought the schools, which may happen next week, we need to refurbish them, secure good teachers and pay them, and buy furniture, books, learning and play resources.

If you were interested I would be happy to talk about developments in Uganda on Zoom.

A huge thank you to everyone in the group.

Best wishes

Steve Hurd

We will take up Steve on his offer and hope to welcome him to a zoom gathering soon.

Egghead supply cartoons to our zoom gatherings and newsletters.

EVENTS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN PREVIOUS APRILS by BGB

1) Sir Robert Walpole became Britain’s first Prime Minister on 3rd April 1721

2) Richard 1st died from an infected wound while besieging Chalus Castle in       France on 6th April 1199. He was succeeded by his brother John

3) The notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, hanged at York on 7th April 1739

4) Renowned Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on 9th April 1806. Among his famous constructions were Clifton Bridge, Bristol, the SS Great Britain and the Great Western Railway

5) On 10th April 1633 bananas were first sold in London. These bananas came from Bermuda

6) The coronation of William lll and Mary ll took place on 11th April 1689 after they succeeded Queen Anne

7) On 13th April 1919, British troops led by Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer opened fire into a crowd of 10,000 Sikh unarmed civilians at Amritsar, India. 379 unarmed Sikhs died

8) Dr Samuel Johnson published his first dictionary on 15th April 1755. It took him 9 years to complete

9) The last military battle in Britain was fought on 16th April 1746 at Culloden Moor, Scotland. The battle was between Scottish Highlanders and Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie and British troops led by the Duke of Cumberland

10) On 17th April 1969 the UK voting age was reduced from 21 to 18.  Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister who introduced this policy. But new young voters did not do him any favours as he lost the next General Election to Edward Heath

11) Henry Vlll became King on 21st April 1509. Henry’s older brother Arthur died at the age of 15 in 1502

12) Local lad William Shakespeare was born on 23rd April, 1564 and died on 23rd April in 1616

13) On 25th April 1915 Anzac troops (Australia & New Zealand) suffered massive casualties as they attacked the Turkish stronghold at Gallipoli. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty was held responsible for this military disaster

14) Captain James Cook is believed to be the first European to land in Australia on 28th April 1770. The first landing took place at Botany Bay

15) On 29th April 1884, Oxford University admitted female students for the first time to sit an examination. But it was not until October1920 that women were allowed to sit for a degree qualification

Oh, to be in England  written by Robert Browning, chosen by Secretary Audrey

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England – now!!

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children’s dower

– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower

I am scouring the skies for swallows, haven’t seen one yet, nor martins, nor swifts.  Robert Browning doesn’t mention bluebells, which are just beginning to flower (14th April), soaking up the sunshine before the tree canopies shade the ground.

Contributions to C & W Humanist Funds

Running costs for our group are modest.  For example, this monthly newsletter needs to be posted to just a few addresses, it’s emailed free, to most people.

Some of our annual costs are: 

Affiliation fees: Humanists UK £75; Humanists International £30; National Secular Society £34; website (WordPress) £100.

We bought 12 Remembrance Wreaths last year, £240 in total.

When we do re-start physical meetings, we usually make enough from room collections to cover the cost of the meeting. 

However, if we decide to support a good cause, for example, this month’s donation to schools in Uganda, balances wither!

We ask that each supporter makes an annual contribution.  £10 is the suggested figure.  We realise that this sum will be too great for some and we fantasise that there will be others who will give more.  Any contributions will be appreciated, we give, what we can afford.  Our treasurer is Adrian Davis, and you can email him at: adridav@gmail.com or bullion deliveries can be made to my house, in darkness.

Some Films and TV Programmes to look out for this week

Saturday 17th April:

13.05 Sony Movie Classics – The Wild One: The first, the best, and the quintessential motorbike movie. Long banned in the UK. Marlon Brando as the sullen, leather-clad leader of a motorcycle gang with his fellow hell-raising rebels pitch up in a small town, where he woos the sheriff’s daughter.

21.00 Channel 4 – First Man: The story of how Neil Armstrong got to the Moon is told in rich and intimate detail in this thrilling film. From his early days in 1961 as a NASA test pilot. Oscar-winning drama based on the book by James R Hansen, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

22.50 Talking Pictures – The Man Who Fell to Earth – An excellent cult classic sci-fi drama starring David Bowie. An alien is sent to Earth to find a way to save his dying home planet. He adopts a human identity and uses his advanced knowledge to become a successful tycoon. Directed by Nicolas Roeg’s and starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark and Buck Henry.

23.15 Film 4 – Charlie Says – An excellent biographical drama. Three years after the infamous Manson murders, a graduate student is tasked with teaching 3 young women who were involved in the homicides. She struggles to break through the brainwashing they received during their time in Charles Manson’s commune. Starring Hannah Murray, Matt Smith and Sosie Bacon.

Sunday 18th April:

21.00 BBC1 – Line of Duty – Another episode of the best police-crime drama series

22.00 BBC2 – I Tonya – A true story and comedy bio-pic of ice skater Tonya Harding who rises through the ranks at the US figure skating championships. Her future in the sport is thrown into question by a shocking incident after her ex-husband steps in. Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney, who won a Bafta and an Oscar for her performance as Tonya’s mother.

Monday 19th April:

21.00 BBC4 – Mark Kermode’s Oscar Winners: A Secrets of Cinema Special – As the red carpet season reaches its climax, the doyen of film critics Mark Kermode looks back at past winners of the prestigious award, and celebrates some of the most memorable performances. As with his previous series, this is wonderfully sharp, witty and thought-provoking. A ‘must’ for any film fan

22.00 BBC4 – Stephen: The Murder that Changed a Nation – Documentary examining the 1993 death of Stephen Lawrence, beginning with a look at events leading up to his murder and the police investigation that follows. As the suspects remain free, tip-offs from the community make Stephen’s parents wonder why arrests are not being made. Episodes 2 & 3 on Tuesday and Wednesday

Wednesday 21st April:

21.00 BBC2 – Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty – Another episode of the documentary examining corruption in the police in the 1970s, revealing how a secret network of officers was operating illegally throughout London and led to the formation of the first internal anti-corruption unit A10, which inspired the BBC drama Line of Duty.

Thursday 22nd April:

18.55 Film 4 – A Walk in the Woods – A fact-based drama. Robert Redford as travel writer Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, through some of America’s most rugged terrain. The only companion he can find is a roguish old friend, who sees it as an opportunity to get out of paying his debts. A warm, witty, woodsy and mature movie. Also starring Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson.

Friday 23rd April:

23.05 BBC1 Philomena – A teenager in 1950s Ireland becomes pregnant, and is sent to a home for `fallen women’, while her baby is forcibly taken from her and sent to America to be adopted. Fifty years later, she meets a disillusioned political journalist who attempts to reunite her with her son. Fact-based drama, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Both actors on sparkling form.

BGB

P.S. Two Quick Jokes:

A weasel walks into a bar

The barman looks surprised and says

‘What can I get you?’

‘Pop goes the weasel’

To whoever stole my glasses?

I will find you

I have contacts!

The Armchair Audience

Things for the autumn and winter are starting to look a lot better for us theatre addicts, and we have everything tightly crossed that some of the promised productions will go ahead.  There are plenty of outdoor shows planned for the summer, and even some indoor ones – I was a bit cautious about the latter until I heard that Michael Sheen is appearing in Under Milk Wood at the National Theatre in late June, and caution was immediately thrown to the wind…….

In the meantime, there’s still plenty to enjoy at home.  Last month, I plugged the Old Vic’s production of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax which has been adapted to be performed live on-line.  I bought a ticket for my six year old nephew, and he was utterly entranced. So, if you’ve got youngsters you’d like to be entertained for a couple of hours, it’s highly recommended, and there are a couple more performances to go.

There’s a huge amount of theatre available on YouTube if you seek it out – lots of companies have released old productions, and there are some real gems to be found.  An example is Girls Like That, a hit play from 2014 at the Unicorn Theatre.  It follows a group of schoolgirls reacting as one of their peers has naked photos of themselves leaked online – a pertinent issue for the present day, and a good way to get into a knotty play during the quiet hours.  And Manchester International’s Festival have put all their productions from last year and 2019 online on YouTube, which is a fantastic opportunity to find something unusual and new.

Finally, if it’s opera you’re craving, rather than drama, then Opera North have made their production of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti available on YouTube.  It’s a witty satire on the American dream, and is absolutely fantastic, well worth a watch.           Jacqueline Campbell

The Campaign for a change in the law to make Assisted Dying legal.

Brian Nicol has penned this article for the local press

Public support for legally sanctioned assisted dying is gaining ground

‘Support for legally sanctioned Assisted Dying is gaining ground. Each year sees more and more countries or legal jurisdictions pass legislation to help people suffering from incurable pain to end their lives. In March, Spain joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg increasing the number of counties in Europe willing to give their citizens a way to escape from incurable suffering that they cannot undertake themselves without help. Worldwide the number is also growing including: Canada, New Zealand and several US States.

Public opinion in favour worldwide is also growing. In the UK a recent poll found that 84% of the public support giving assistance (with safeguards) to terminally ill patients suffering pain and no less than 47% of those polled said that they would break the law, risking a 14-year prison sentence, to help a loved one. Although most religions are officially against change, 79% of people who described themselves as religious were also in favour.

So why hasn’t the UK Parliament listened to the people? The last time the issue was debated parliament was in 2015 when a private members Bill was defeated by 330 to 118. The proposed legislation would have allowed Assisted Dying in very restricted circumstances and with a great many safeguards. For many of those against it was perhaps the ‘slippery slope’ argument. Once the principle is accepted of the state, via the NHS, helping people to kill themselves albeit in very restricted circumstances, where might it lead in the future? How do we know what pressures might be put on people to request an early death.

The response is that year by year, as the experience of countries who have legislated becomes available, it is becoming clear that the fears are unfounded even for countries like Belgium which has much wider criteria for a request to be made. Since 2015 other things have changed. Notably the position of the doctors who would be in the front line of providing the assistance. Previously the BMA was opposed to assisted dying, although its membership had not been consulted. Responding to pressure the doctors have now been asked with the result the half would be in favour of change.

A new initiative has now brought the issue again to the fore. Barry Marsh a leading brain surgeon and notable author on medical matters has written a letter to Robert Buckland the Justice Secretary asking for a state sponsored enquiry into the state of the law and its implementation. The letter has the backing of the campaign group My Death, My Decision and of Humanists UK. Some 50 plus MPs have also given their support for change including some who were previously against it but would now like an independent enquiry to look at the facts. It would be good if Jeremy Wright would also have an open mind on the issue and take into consideration the views of many of his constituents.

Dr Brian Nicol

Coventry  and Warwickshire Humanists’

Finally

Thanks to those who have contributed articles etc for this newsletter.  Our May Newsletter will be posted on Thursday 20th May 2021 and so, if you have items for it, please email them to the blue email address below by Tuesday 18th May.

Our C & W Humanists 54th zoom gathering will take place on Wednesday 21st April 2021 at 7.30 p.m.  If you would like to pop in, you will be very welcome, please email me at rmjelley@gmail.com and you will receive an invitation.

2nd jab for me today and no aches!

Where there’s no sense …… .. …….

Stay safe.

Finally, Finally

News that George Broadhead, a founding father of C & W Humanists, is in hospital after suffering falls.

Best wishes to George and Roy, get better soon George.

Time to up-date school assemblies.

I have enjoyed many of the school assemblies that I have witnessed, as a pupil, teacher and headteacher. Assembling together with all the form, house or school, has been quite a dramatic social gathering, with a frisson of mystery, anything might happen.

I can recall Mrs Negus, a teacher at Junior School, who would burble spittle as she sang Holy, Holy, Holy especially on the line ‘glassy sea’. There was the appearance of Jimmy Hill clothed in CCFC credibility and the moment we marked the death of Nehru the leader of India.

As for the religious bits, they tended towards the tedious. I spent more time cruising with St Paul around the Mediterranean than I do with Rob Bryden and I continue to have no idea why Paul’s Letters are so revered.

As a headteacher, there were quiet moments, as we considered some dramatic event ‘ As we hold the people of Dunblane in our thoughts or prayers’. For that assembly in March 1996, the whole community was invited in, one quiet, sombre Sunday. I also remember the awful grief that was present when children, pupils and parents gathered to mark the death of a pupil or the two teachers who died, in service, over the years.

There were joyful times, when individuals or teams marked successes and there were many performances: vocal, dramatic and instrumental that delighted, ranging from a growing Junior School Brass Band to the loud and raucous accompaniment that went with our Bhangra Dance Group.

Were we in awe?

Yes we were, in awe of the talents, diversity and skills of each other.

That’s what a school assembly can be, the gathering of a community, in which there are different world views and religions, emphasising what we have in common, what we share.

Bob Jelley

Government to ‘remind schools of their duty’ to carry out Christian collective worship

April 1st, 2021

In a departure from its previous approach, the UK Government has said that if it is made aware of English schools breaching a requirement to carry out a daily act of worship, they will be ‘investigated’ and ‘reminded of their duty on this matter’. Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for compulsory school worship to be replaced with inclusive assemblies – has expressed alarm at the statement, which marks a ramping up of enforcement of the archaic policy.

The statement was made by Education Minister Nick Gibb MP in response to a parliamentary question from fellow MP Sir John Hayes, who asked ‘what steps [the Department for Education] is taking to ensure that a daily act of worship is taking place in every maintained school.’

The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including those without a religious character. In most of the latter, this worship is expected to be ‘broadly Christian’. Although schools with a high number of pupils from non-Christian backgrounds can apply – via a process called ‘determination’ – to have worship in line with another faith, they cannot opt-out of worship altogether. Parents may withdraw their children from this worship and sixth form pupils in England and Wales may withdraw themselves, but younger pupils may not withdraw without parental permission. And the process is often difficult with no meaningful alternative to worship offered in the strong majority of schools. This leaves parents to choose between exposing their children to religious indoctrination or isolating them from their peers with little or nothing of educational worth to do. It also leaves children who are too young to withdraw themselves forced to participate in religious acts of worship they may well not believe in.

In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pressed governments across the UK to ‘to repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance at school.’ A prior report by the same Committee in 2016 also said the requirement should be abolished. This makes the Government’s enforcing of the law even harder to justify.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Compulsory collective worship threatens the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families and is totally out of step with the kind of inclusive education we should be offering in a diverse 21st century democracy like the UK. The fact that the Government now appears to be saying it will enforce this archaic law to an extent that hasn’t been the case in over fifteen years is particularly alarming.

‘The Government should instead be taking steps to instead require inclusive assemblies that are suitable for all pupils regardless of background or belief.’

Assisted Dying

Assisted dying inquiry essential, leading brain surgeon says

By Helena Wilkinson
BBC NewsPublished1 hour agoShareRelated Topics

Henry Marsh
image captionNeurosurgeon Henry Marsh is supporting calls for an inquiry into assisted dying

One of the UK’s leading brain surgeons, who has advanced prostate cancer, has said an inquiry into assisted dying is “absolutely essential”.

Henry Marsh, a retired neurosurgeon and bestselling author, received his diagnosis six months ago.

He has supported a call by politicians for the government to hold an inquiry.

The Care Not Killing alliance, which opposes assisted dying, said the law protected the vulnerable “from being pressured into ending their lives”.

Mr Marsh is backing a group of more than 50 MPs and peers who have written a joint letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, arguing the UK’s laws on assisted dying have fallen behind the rest of the world.

Currently, assisting a suicide is a crime in England and Wales and is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

Intentionally helping another person to kill themselves is known as assisted suicide – this can include buying someone a ticket to Switzerland – where assisted suicide is legal – to end their life.

Signatories of the letter include politicians who previously voted against changing the law.

The letter was organised by Humanists UK, which Mr Marsh is an advocate of, and campaign group My Death, My Decision, of which he is a patron.

Speaking publicly for the first time about his own cancer diagnosis, Mr Marsh said he felt “deeply shocked and terribly frightened and upset” as it “gradually dawned on him how serious the situation was”.

The surgeon said in the past he had in “theory” been an advocate of assisted dying in “one form or another” but said he hadn’t thought it might one day apply to him.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to think about your own death,” he said.

The 71-year-old, who is due to start radiotherapy treatment in a few months’ time, believes “something should be done to change the law in this country”.

“My own suspicion as to why the opponents to assisted dying oppose a public inquiry is they fear that actually the evidence is so strong that their hypothetical arguments against it don’t hold water, that they will lose the debate,” he said.

‘Ability to choose’

Humanists UK’s chief executive Andrew Copson said he was “deeply sorry” to hear about Mr Marsh’s diagnosis.

“The ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom, which cuts across party political and ideological lines,” he added.

“In coming together to demand an inquiry, Henry and the lawmakers who have signed this letter have put the voices of the terminally ill and incurably suffering at the centre of the debate.”

Jean Farrer’s sister-in-law, Anne Vickers, 75, travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland in 2015 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer which couldn’t be treated.

Ms Farrer said her sister-in-law was an “active, independent, funny, joyful person” who decided to end her life when she felt the quality wasn’t good enough any more.

Anne Vickers
image captionAnne Vickers, 75, travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland in 2015 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer which couldn’t be treated

Supporting calls for a public inquiry, Ms Farrer said she understood it was a “complex area” with many safeguarding issues, but said her family had been caused so much pain and distress because it was not legal.

“There were so many other things we could have been doing in the last 12 months with her to make her year the best it could have been,” she said.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, said he was disappointed there was another “push” to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

“Our current laws protect the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the sick and disabled from feeling pressured into ending their lives, exactly as we see in the handful of places around the world that allow assisted suicide or euthanasia.

He added: “At a time when we have seen how fragile our NHS is, how underfunding puts pressure on services, and when up to one in four Brits who would benefit from palliative care, but does not currently receive it, to be pushing this ideological policy, seems out of touch, dangerous and desperate.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Any change to the law in an area of such sensitivity and importance must be for individual MPs to consider rather than a decision for government.

Time to change

A majority of public opposes places for bishops in Lords, poll finds

Posted: Tue, 23 Mar 2021

Bishops' bench Lords

A majority of the British public thinks the House of Lords should stop reserving places for Church of England bishops, a YouGov poll has found.

Fifty-three per cent of respondents to a poll published this week said the Lords should not continue to have places for C of E bishops.

Just 16% said it should, with 31% saying they didn’t know.

The poll also showed majorities of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, and majorities of Remain and Leave voters, all agreed on the topic.

26 places reserved

Twenty-six places in the Lords are reserved for C of E bishops and archbishops as of right. The National Secular Society argues for the end of this practice, as part of its campaigning to separate church and state.

Last year the NSS helped to draft a bill to end C of E bishops’ automatic right to sit in the Lords, which was introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Dick Taverne.

In response to another YouGov poll for The Times in 2017, 62% said no religious clerics should have “an automatic right to seats”. Only 8% said the bishops should retain their seats.

NSS comment

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “Giving Anglican clerics an automatic role in running the country is an unjustifiable privilege that undermines the principle of equal citizenship.

“Their proximity to political power also puts those who oppose the church’s positions at a democratic disadvantage.

“Any plans to reform the House of Lords must include the abolition of the anachronistic bench of bishops. This poll suggests there would be substantial public support for that.”

Notes

  • The C of E’s two archbishops and 24 of its other diocesan bishops make up the ‘lords spiritual’ in parliament. Religious leaders have sat as the lords spiritual since the 14th century.
  • Iran is the only legislature in the world other than the UK which gives unelected clerics automatic representation.

Read more: The bishops’ bench is an affront to democracy. Let’s scrap it, by Stephen Evans

National Secular Society’s response

Mr Gary Kibble, headteacher
Batley Grammar School
Carlinghow Hill,
Batley
West Yorkshire, WF17 0AD
Cc Batley Grammar School Local Governing Body
Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, Secretary of State for Education
26 March 2021
Dear Mr Kibble,
We are writing in response to the school’s actions following protests regarding the
use of a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
We hope, first and foremost, that the school’s first priority is the safety and wellbeing
of the staff member in question, in addition to the safety of other staff and pupils.
The situation has disturbing echoes of the killing of Samuel Paty, the history teacher
murdered by a Muslim fanatic who objected to his use of cartoons from Charlie
Hebdo in a class about freedom of expression.
We were disappointed at the school’s immediate response, which included the
suspension of the teacher; an unequivocal apology for using a “totally inappropriate”
resource; and withdrawing teaching on the associated subject. We are further
concerned by claims that this statement was in part written by a representative of
one of the groups protesting.
The protesters are clearly seeking to attempt to impose a blasphemy taboo which
will restrict the freedom to teach. Their bullying tactics appear to have succeeded.
The school’s initial response was to acquiesce to religious demands. This was unfair
to the teacher in question and will further fuel a climate of censorship brought on by
demands to accommodate unreasonable, reactionary religious views.
By issuing an immediate apology rather than defending the principle of free
expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, the
school is siding with religious fundamentalists.
Teachers should have a reasonable degree of freedom to explore sensitive subjects
and enable students to think critically. Education should open minds rather than
close them. Those responsible for our children’s education must therefore place a
high value on the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which is applicable to
ideas that may shock and offend as well as those which are received favourably.
Your actions have sent the opposite message to students. This incident is also likely
to undermine teachers’ freedom to do their jobs, on any number of sensitive
subjects, both within your school gates and beyond.
It is patronising to assume that all British Muslims will take offence at the use of a
cartoon. We urge you to keep in mind that the protesters who shout loudest are not
representative of all Muslims.
We understand that your school wants to promote cohesion and inclusivity. But this
cannot be achieved by pandering to religious groups who wish to dictate what can
and cannot be taught within the school.
We ask for an explanation of the rationale behind your decisions on this issue. And
as investigations are carried out into the matter, we urge you to uphold the vital
principle of free speech and not submit to the unreasonable demands of those who
seek to impose blasphemy taboos on society as a whole.
We look forward to your response.
We are considering this an open letter.
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Evans
Chief executive, National Secular Society

CW Humanists March Newsletter

Cheltenham and Liverpool, two examples of what happens when we follow neither common sense nor science.

For many in Ireland, St Patrick’s Day Celebrations traditionally include a trip across the water, to The Cheltenham Gold Cup. In COVID 2020 the racing went ahead. C & W Hum members Egghead, ponder an issue that will not go away.

At the very start of the Covid problem a group of our past prime ministers and senior ministers from all parties approached Prime Minister Johnson saying looming was a huge crisis, above all party beliefs, and a group of them working together on its solution would be better for the country. These ministers had experience of emergencies and made useful contacts, but B Johnson refused to accept the need for their help. He wanted to go it alone.

The result was disastrous.

The independent SAGE is far more direct (honest) than the Government-appointed SAGE.  More of the Independent SAGE are active in their research fields as opposed to the Government-appointed SAGE who have more of the administrative type and are under the thumb of the Government.

Indie-SAGE repeatedly stresses that pandemics like COVID-19 spread like fire. Therefore, as soon as an outbreak is detected it must be stamped out immediately – no procrastination. This, the Gov has repeatedly failed to do – unlike countries like New Zealand which do appreciate the importance of acting immediately to virtually stamp it out.

Indie-SAGE has again and again emphasised the need of a smart test, detect and trace system with forward and back tracing. Here again our government have failed miserably. Further, those countries who release from lockdowns slowly and cautiously control the virus far better than the trigger-happy ones.

Most governments did not learn from (March 2020) the Austrian ski resort Covid epicentre.  Neither did they learn from the Cheltenham Horse Racing or the Liverpool v Atletico football match.

This is how the situation/controversy was reported:

Coronavirus: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid and Cheltenham Festival ‘led to spike’ in coronavirus deaths.  The government had repeatedly dismissed the need to cancel mass gatherings in the days leading up to the events

By Isobel Frodsham, Sky News

Tuesday 26 May 2020 17:26, UK

More than 50,000 fans attended Liverpool’s game against Atletico Madrid at Anfield in March 2020.

Liverpool’s Champions League home match against Atletico Madrid and the Cheltenham Festival contributed to an increase in coronavirus deaths in the UK, a scientist has said.

Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said the two events held in March had “caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred”.  He said data from an app used to report COVID-19 symptoms showed that Cheltenham and the North West both became “key hotspots” for the coronavirus.

Thousands of people gathered at Cheltenham Festival this week

Over a quarter of a million people attended this year’s Cheltenham Festival

Despite several European countries and cities already being in lockdown by the time the sports fixtures took place, Prime Minister Boris Johnson waited until 23 March to announce his own “stay at home” message in the UK.

More than 251,000 people attended the Cheltenham Festival from March 16-19 this year – a drop of nearly 15,000 compared to 2019.

Liverpool’s exit from the last-16 of the Champions League on March 11 was watched by around 52,000 people inside Anfield, including 3,000 visiting supporters who had travelled from Madrid – where such events had already been suspended.

Atletico knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League at Anfield winning 3-2 after extra-time to prevail 4-2 on aggregate

By the time Mr Johnson ordered the lockdown, the number of coronavirus cases in the UK stood at 6,650 and the number of deaths was 336.

Since then, nearly 37,000 people have died in the UK after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and there have been more than 262,000 cases.

Last month, Liverpool City Council announced plans to jointly investigate the spread of the virus in Merseyside, alongside the University of Liverpool and John Moores University, following the match.

Professor Spector, who works in genetic epidemiology research, said: “Two weeks after the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool game against Atletico Madrid, we saw the number of people reporting COVID symptoms in the COVID Symptom Study app from those particular areas increase and both areas became key hotspots in the UK.

“This suggests that both events were, in part, a cause for the spread of COVID-19 in those areas.”

Crowds have flocked to Cheltenham this week

Cheltenham became a ‘key hotspot’ for the coronavirus following the Festival

Data from the Kings College study shows a higher number of cases in Cheltenham and Liverpool compared to their surrounding areas from 22 March to 29 March.

Liverpool City Council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton is convinced the game against Atletico Madrid should not have gone ahead.

But the government believes the events took place within “clear guidance” given at the time.  A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News: ”It is our absolute priority to protect people’s health and our advice to the public is based on direct, continuous consultation with scientific and medical experts.

“There are many factors that could influence the number of cases in a particular area, including population density, age, general health, and the position of an area on the pandemic curve.”

Ed: Yes and a crowded racecourse and football stadium probably won’t help.

Cheltenham and Liverpool are examples of what happens when we follow neither common sense nor science.

Events that have happened previously in March  BGB muses

2nd March 1969 saw the maiden flight of the French version of the supersonic aircraft Concorde. The pilot was Andre Turcat from France

On 4th March 1681, Charles ll granted a Royal Charter to William Penn to establish a colony in North America. This ‘colony’ is now known as Pennsylvania

On 5th March 1987, 180 people died when the cross-channel ferry ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’ capsized due to the bow doors being left open. The ship was sailing from Zebrugge to Dover 

7th March 1806 was the birthday of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Married to fellow poet Robert Browning. She died in 1861 in Florence, Italy

7th March 1802 was the birthday of the artist Edwin Henry Landseer who was renowned for paintings of animals. His most famous painting is ‘The Monarch of the Glen’

On 8th March 1702 Queen Anne became Queen of Great Britain. She succeeded William lll who died in a riding accident

10th March 1886 saw the first Crufts Dog Show at London. It had been held occasionally at Newcastle, but the London show confirmed it as an annual national event. These days Crufts is held at the NEC in Birmingham

“Beware the Ides of March” (Shakespeare) is on 15th March. It was set in the Roman calendar as the deadline for settling debts. Julius Caesar was assassinated on 15th March 44 BC

16th March 1872 was the date of the first ever FA Cup Final held at Kennington Oval between Wanderers and Royal Engineers. Wanderers won 1-0

On 19th March 1834, 6 farm labourers referred to as The Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to transportation for swearing an oath to form a trade union. They were sentenced to 7 years as convicts in Australia. Due to public protests, 5 of the Martyrs returned to England 3 years later.

22nd March 1824 saw the establishment of the National Art Gallery in London. It is sited at Trafalgar Square   

On 23rd March 1956, Queen Elizabeth ll laid the foundation stone of the new Coventry Cathedral. The cathedral was designed by Sir Basil Spence and was opened by the Queen in May 1962

On 25th March 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland. The coronation of a Scottish King took place at Scone Abbey in Perthshire. The new king would stand on the Stone of Scone and be lifted by the nobles and clan chieftains (Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones? – or Scones!!)

27th March 1871 saw the first ever international rugby match. It was between Scotland and England played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh. Scotland won (obviously !) by 2 tries and a goal to England’s one try

At the annual Varsity Boat Race on 28th March 1012, both boats sank soon after the start. This is unique as this had never happened before or since. The Boat Race starts at Putney Bridge and ends at Mortlake by Chiswick Bridge 

Humanists UK at UN calls for the immediate release of the President of Humanist Association of Nigeria             March 15th, 2021

Nigerian Humanist Association President Mubarak Bala.

In an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has called for the immediate release of the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, who has been detained and imprisoned in Nigeria’s Kano state without charge for over 300 days.

In an intervention made by video during a debate with the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated,

  ‘First arrested in April 2014 and detained in a psychiatric ward on the grounds of his humanist beliefs, Bala since came to lead the Humanist Association of Nigeria and is an important figure for humanists and human rights defenders globally. He subsequently was arrested again in April 2020, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammed via Facebook, contrary to the Cybercrimes Act of Nigeria. However, Bala is yet to be charged for this crime, and so remains detained indefinitely, which represents a gross infringement on his human rights.

  ‘A court order issued last July granting him a meeting with legal representation was ignored by his captors who continued to deny him this basic legal right. It was not until October that he was granted preliminary access to a lawyer, meaning he was imprisoned without any legal representation for six months. Bala is also detained in Kano State, a region that allows for the operation of Sharia Courts alongside secular courts, where blasphemy carries the death penalty, and where riots and murder are not uncommon for accusations of blasphemy. There are fears for his safety even while he is held in custody.’

Copson went on to call for Mr Bala’s immediate release and for him to be given unfettered access to legal counsel. His treatment starkly illustrates how the global prevalence of blasphemy laws continue to threaten the rights and safety of non-religious people and others across the world

The Census 2021

The following article appeared in the local press:

One question in the forthcoming Census is more important than it might appear at first sight. The information gleaned will provide a basis or justification for many decisions on social policy taken by the government for years ahead.

The question is “What is your religion?” It sounds straightforward but in practice is well known to give misleading results compared with the preferred question “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion. If so which?” The first question produces a very much higher level of religious belief than the second used in other polls such as the British Social Attitudes Survey which consistently shows that the majority of the British public have no religious belief.

The difference seems to come about because most people have been brought up in a particular culture which is associated with a particular religion. So when asked what is your religion (implicitly assuming that you have one} and you feel that if you have to pick one out of a list you pick the one with which you are familiar. If I come from a Christian culture for example, I am going to pick that rather than declare myself to be a Hindu. Probing deeper however about beliefs reveals that the affinity, if any, is cultural, rather a belief in the tenets of the chosen religion or a strong association with the Church. So the appropriate tick if you are in that category is the first. No religion.

Why it is important that this survey gets it right is that government and local authorities use the information in their social planning for all aspects of public life including health , education and social services. The continuous support for publicly funded faith schools for example which Humanists continually object to, is justified by saying that the majority of the public in that area are of that faith, when in fact the majority really want a secular state school.

The great anomaly of having bishops sitting in the House of Lords (unique in the UK compared with other democracies) is justified on the grounds that ‘we are a Christian country’, when that ceased to be the case many years ago in terms of the actual beliefs of the population.

So my strong plea to everyone filling in the Census form is :

If you are not religious, Say So.  (Ed. Emphasis)

Dr Brian Nicol,  Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

Poem for the month, chosen by Secretary Audrey.

‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

TV & Films to Look Out for in March

Saturday 20th March:

23.20 – BBC2: Love and Mercy – An excellent film for a Saturday night. A biopic of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, following the singer-songwriter at two periods in his life. In the 1960s, he is at his creative peak, but haunted by inner demons that take their toll on his mental health. By the 1980s, he is broken and dominated by a shady doctor. A new relationship offers a chance at recovery. Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. A definite ‘must-see’ film.

Sunday 21st March:

21.00 – BBC1: Line of Duty – The long awaited new series of the very best British police drama directed by Jed Mercurio and with Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar reprising their roles as DS Steve Arnott, DI Kate Fleming and Superintendent Ted Hastings. Kelly Macdonald is their adversary. “We’re only interested in bent coppers!” (Sorry I can’t write in a Belfast accent!)

22.00 – BBC2: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – Fact-based drama. A 13-year-old boy living with his family in rural Malawi comes up with a solution to solve a famine by creating a crop-saving wind turbine with the aid of a library book and a bicycle dynamo. First, though, he must persuade his father to allow him to use parts from his bicycle to build the windmill to irrigate the land. Directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, with Maxwell Simba.

22.00 – BBC4: Sylvia – Biopic of troubled poet and novelist Sylvia Plath whose creativity was deeply affected by her long and ultimately futile battle with depression and her turbulent marriage to Ted Hughes. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris and Amira Casar.

Monday 22nd March:

20.30 – BBC1: Fawlty Towers – A welcome return of the funniest ever sit-com. After all years of seeing all of the episodes umpteen times, I still laugh out loud every time.

21.00 – ITV1:  Unforgotten – The penultimate episode of this fascinating crime drama

Tuesday 23rd March:

21.00 – BBC2: The Detectives: New series. Police are called after a wealthy man suspected to be linked to drug crime was taken from his home by an armed gang.

Wednesday 24th March:

21.00 BBC2: The Terror – Further episodes of this enthralling thriller set in the Canadian Arctic Circle and based upon the fateful expedition of Lord Franklin. With the end of their provisions in sight, the officers contemplate a tough, risky strategy. The next episode is at 21.45

Thursday 25th March:

21.00 – BBC4: The Lone Ranger – Don’t expect too much ‘Hi Ho Silver’ in this 2013 comedy Western. The story of how a lawyer left for dead after an ambush is saved by a mysterious Native American fugitive. Concealing his identity behind a mask, he and his new ally hunt down the outlaws behind the attack. Starring Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

01.35 – Channel 4: Locke – Tom Hardy gives the performance of a lifetime. This one-man thriller is shot almost completely inside a car on the motorway. This slice of real-time drama is an unexpectedly thrilling treat. I definitely recommend this film. Record it to watch it at leisure – you will not be disappointed. Starring Tom Hardy, with the voices of Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott.

Friday 26th March: Two great Oscar nominated films and a good night for fans of Elton John

21.00 – Film 4: The Shape of Water – An excellent Oscar winning fantasy. A mute woman who cleans up at top-secret government lab makes a life-changing discovery when she finds an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held captive, and they embark on an extraordinary relationship. Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones.

23.35 – BBC1: La La Land – The film that came so close to winning Best Picture Oscar. A jobbing actress and a struggling jazz pianist fall in love and attempt to realise their respective dreams in Los Angeles. A Bafta-winning musical, starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend.

19.00 – BBC4: Elton John Electric Prom – 21.00 – Elton John at the BBC

There are currently some excellent new films available on Netflix:

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – A great drama of the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927. A posthumous Oscar nomination for the late Chadwick Boseman and starring the excellent Viola Davis and Colman Domingo

The Dig – Based on a true story set in the 1930’s, a wealthy landowner hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate mounds on her property. He and his team discover an Anglo-Saxon burial ship. Starring Ralph Fiennes in one of his finest roles and Carey Mulligan.

News of the World – Set in Texas after the Civil War, Tom Hanks is brilliant as usual visiting remote townships to read newspapers to the people. On his travels he rescues a young German girl who has been bought up by the Kiawa Indians. In my view, the star is the 12 year old Helena Zengel who almost steals the show from Hanks. Look out for that name in the future!

Moxie – Inspired by her mom’s rebellious past and a confident new friend, a shy teenager anonymously publishes a magazine calling out sexism in her school. Ironically, I watched this film while all the furore following the murder of Sarah Everard and the clashes at Clapham Common was happening. Very poignant!

Mank – I haven’t yet seen this 2021 Oscar nominated film set in 1930’s Hollywood and is centred on the scathing wit of alcoholic screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz as he finishes the script for ‘Citizen Kane’. Starring Garly Oldman as ‘Mank’ and Tom Burke as Orson Welles.  BGB

‘The Armchair Audience’ by Jacquie Campbell

The theatre world and its loyal supporters are all now holding their breath in the hope that live performances will actually be able to start in the summer.  But, in the meantime, there’s still plenty of theatre to enjoy from home.  Here are a few ideas – in each case, the ticket price covers the whole household.

Last month I said that we had bought tickets for Barnes People, a series of four monologues produced by the Original Theatre Company.  Each monologue is just around 20 minutes long, so easy to watch whenever the mood takes you.  We enjoyed all four of them, with funny and poignant performances from Jon Culshaw, Matthew Kelly and Jemma Redgrave.  But, if you only fancy one, then we recommend A True Born Englishman – from Adrian Scarborough, playing a Buckingham Palace footman.  Tickets are £7.50 per performance from http://www.originaltheatre.com.

The RSC have been doing some wonderful work online throughout the last year to keep audiences and students engaged.  I recently did a couple of their ‘Deep Dive’ workshops on pieces of text from Romeo & Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream and can’t recommend them highly enough if you’re a Shakespeare fan.  But even if you’re not, their latest production Dream should be worth a look.  It’s an online performance, narrated by singer/songwriter Nick Cave, and set in a virtual midsummer forest.  The actors are performing live, but you see them as avatars.   You can simply watch it for free, or you can pay £10 and become part of the interactive performance, turning into a firefly and exploring the forest using your mouse or other tracker on your device.  I’m definitely taking the firefly option!  It promises to be magical, but you need to be quick – performances are only on until Sunday 20 March.  http://www.rsc.org.uk 

And, finally, if you’ve got young children or grandchildren, then The Old Vic are doing performances of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax as the fifth in their ‘In Camera’ series of live productions.  The Lorax was a big hit when done in the theatre, and has been specially adapted to work as a live-streamed show.  It’s only on from 14-17 April and booking has just opened. The cheaper tickets go fast, so get in quickly!  We saw A Christmas Carol like this in December and can’t recommend it enough.  A wonderful family activity, or maybe even an Easter gift to the family you can’t be with yet.  http://www.oldvictheatre.com.

At last!  A joke with a humanist in … although he was only just squeezed in by BGB

A Humanist was having a drink in a local pub. After finishing his drink he decided to make his way home. When he stepped outside the pub he noticed a Nun raving and shouting about the sins of alcohol and the ‘demon drink’ and the debauchery and squalor caused by drink.

The Humanist asked the Nun if she had ever had a drink

The Nun said, ‘No – I will not touch it – it is evil’

So, our Humanist, being a bit of a rationalist chap said, ‘Well how can you make these statements about alcohol if you have never had a drink? ‘Surely you should have a drink of alcohol first before you start telling people how bad it is’

The Nun said, ‘Well I wouldn’t know what to order if I was to have a drink’

So, the kindly Humanist said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I will buy you a drink, so you can see what alcohol tastes like – and afterwards, then you can criticise alcohol, because you will then know what it tastes and feels like!’

The nun said, ‘Well that is very kind of you, but what do ladies usually drink?’

The Humanist said, ‘Well, most ladies I know drink gin’

The Nun said, ‘OK, I will have some gin. But can you please ask them to put it in a small cup because I don’t want people to see me drinking alcohol from a glass. If they see me drinking from a cup, they will think that I am drinking a cup of tea’

The Humanist said, ‘OK, I will do that, I will buy you a glass of gin and I will ask the barman to put it in a small cup for you’.  And off he went into the pub

He said to the barman, ‘Can I have a glass of gin please and can you put it in a small cup for me please?’ 

The barman laughed and said, ‘Is that blooming Nun still outside? – She stands outside every night to get someone to get her a cup of gin!’

Next week will be our 50th Zoom Meeting!!!

Since Lockdown, Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists have met most weeks

not (alas} physically but in zoom gatherings, hosted by Treasurer Adrian.

In these meetings:

we remember and try to support individual humanists who are in peril, recently Zara Kay, imprisoned in Tanzania and Mubarak Bala, now imprisoned in Nigeria. 

We follow Humanist UK’s campaigns, for example, opposing the growth of Faith Schools.

Alistair introduces us to a favourite artist, or school of painting.  Yesterday a theme was ‘Eye’, some of the images he chose are sprinkled in this newsletter.

Brian (BGB) provides a quiz, which is less like Pointless, more like The Inquisition.

Mo and Andrew, describe their last week, working as foresters/woodlanders, in Warwickshire’s green woods, as the seasons change around them.

Egghead (code name for a sub group of members) offers issues and cartoons.

Increasingly, Bedworth members introduce us to pieces of music, yesterday it was Faure’s ‘Listen With Mother’.

Sometimes, Jacquie, talks about the splendid virtual theatre performances that we can watch in lockdown and flamboyantly, speaks some lines (from her Stratford home!)

Mayor’s Chaplain Jane, who works as a school speaker and representative on the local SACRE, can be counted on to provide accounts of the meetings and issues that she faces.

These zoom meetings are strange events for strange times:  Audrey seems to partially or completely, disappear from view;  John is always a welcome contributor, how we love to see his collection of braces; Bill joins us from Lichfield, how we love to identify him, through his aliases/disguises.

We hear about what each of us has: read, watched, listened to in the previous week, assisted by BGB with his TV recommendations.

These virtual get-togethers, have a serious purpose (promoting humanism) and a light hearted side, which usually takes over, a weekly antidote to COVID depression.

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists zoom sessions occur on Wednesdays, starting at 7.30 p.m.  If you would like to pop in, please contact rmjelley@gmail.com and an invitation will be supplied.

At this week’s gathering, John promised to provide details about a programme about a Japanese Tsunami, here they are:

Japan’s Tsunami: Caught on Camera – Amateur footage and eyewitness accounts of the Disaster that struck Japan on March 11th 2011.

Broadcast at 11.10pm on Saturday 13th March on More 4 Freeview 18 and Freesat124 now on All 4 Catch up.

Look after yourself, look after each other, take care, stay safe.

Poverty – and on our watch

Dear All,

 

There’s more in the news today about the report of Professor Alston, who was appointed by The United Nations to report on Poverty in the UK.  

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/16/key-points-un-envoy-philip-alston-report-poverty-britain-uk

His findings may have been pushed aside by our current fascination with other topics but they deserve and cry out for our attention.

much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos’.

Government policies have led to the ‘systematic immiseration’ of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty’

‘Some observers might conclude that The DWP has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the19th Century workhouse made famous by Charles Dickens’.

Many politicians have rushed to deny the report but in our towns and cities, there are ubiquitous signs of austerity and hardship.  Soiled cardboard and sleeping bags, in shop doorways.  Schools bear witness that they now operate as a 4th Emergency Service; responsible for clothing and feeding children, before they can begin to learn.

Political realignments generate heat and excitement but they don’t focus on the human cost of austerity, which we will be paying for generations. 

 It’s all a long way from ‘the good life’ that Humanists hold dear and it’s happening on our watch.

Bob Jelley

Chair, Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

Measles, The Vaccine, The Scare……..

The news that cases of Measles are increasing nationally and globally has led to me thinking about what I know, or think I know, about the issue.

Some years ago, I attended a splendid meeting organised by Coventry Skeptics in the Pub.  The speaker was Brian Deer, The Sunday Times journalist who had investigated the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield. 
Dr Wakefield proposed a link between the MMR vaccine and cases of autism and bowel cancer.  Many people were very concerned by this link and many parents refused to have their young children immunised.  
The alleged link, led to a dramatic drop in MMR vaccination rates and a rise in cases of measles.  Had Dr Wakefield made an honest, reasonable mis-assessment, that would have been one thing, however The General Medical Council investigated Dr Wakefield’s work and conclude that the doctor  was “dishonest, irresponsible and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain” of children.  The GMC ruled that he carried out clinically unnecessary and invasive tests on children without ethical approval or appropriate qualifications.  It has to be noted that Andrew Wakefield, did rather well financially from the situation.
Today we have social media sites criticised for posting footage that may encourage/ reinforce self-harm or recruitment to terrorist groups.  Do we need to ban coverage of scientific/medical conclusions, that could lead to harmful social reactions, until those conclusions are verified by the medical establishment?
Bob Jelley
Chair, Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

Humanism and republicanism: shared values and common goals

Humanist, republican and Green Party candidate Mark Summers shares his thoughts on the relationship between Humanism and republicanism. This guest blog post coincides with the eve of a Royal wedding and the annual Leveller’s Day celebrations in Burford. Mark who is also a Shelley expert and parish councillor for Long Lawford can be found at @New_Leveller on Twitter and newleveller.net

“If someone claims that in an earthly government things can go on perfectly well without the king’s ordering or dealing with anything, we can reasonably suspect him of wanting to get rid of the king altogether. Similarly, anyone who maintains that the world can continue to run its course without the continual direction of God the supreme governor has a doctrine that does have the effect of excluding God from the world.”

Exchange of papers between Leibniz and Clarke – Clarke’s first reply (26 November 1715)

This literary exchange between Isaac Newton’s close friend, the philosopher Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) and German natural philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) illustrates a fundamental historical link between republicanism and humanism. Viewed as a twin threat by the traditional ‘King and Church’ establishment they shared a common notion that facts and social structures should be determined by reason, being open to contestability and revision.

Modern republicanism and humanism were born in the same intellectual space. Inspired by the ethical and political writings of the classical world, especially the Greeks Aristotle and Polybius and the great Roman senator and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero they share a common heritage in the Renaissance. Indeed, Classical Republicanism was often used as a synonym for Civic Humanism. Since these beginnings in the Italian City States of the 15th and 16th centuries, republicanism and humanism have drifted apart slightly in terms of their objectives, with modern republicanism placing the advancement of liberty in political and constitutional terms as its central concern. This allows members of religious groups such as Quakers to espouse republicanism but not humanism.

So what were the historical commonalities and how are they reflected today? Central to the concern of Renaissance thinkers such as Niccolo Machiavelli was the provision of a public space as an environment for human fulfilment. Living in tumultuous political circumstances, Machiavelli was principally concerned with power and the responsibilities of those who wielded it to build a safe and secure society for all citizens. But during the seventeenth century, especially in England and Scotland, republicans started to build a case focusing on rights, albeit on the same foundation of public spaces.

Along with a concern for individual rights came an eagerness to question assumptions, to accept no authority as sacrosanct. As J.G.A. Pocock put it:

“…the Enlightenment generally [was] based on a complete rejection of prophecy, revelation and the Hebrew mode of thought at large.”

J.G.A. Pocock (1975) The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition

Putting together the related issues of human rights and a rejection of uncontested authority provides a core set of shared republican and humanist values for the modern world. The Humanist UK main webpage (retrieved March 2018) features the following definition of humanism from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy:

For a Humanist the crucial factor in deciding whether an action is moral is the welfare of humanity rather than the pursuit of the will of a deity or a sacred text.

There are two aspects of this statement which is reflected directly in republican thinking. Firstly, the word ‘deciding’ implies freedom of individual action, to weigh up evidence and come to a conclusion based on that evidence. Such an ability, free from coercion and the possibility of being punished in some way is part of the explicit goal of republicanism.

Secondly ‘welfare’ implies an interest in the general health and well-being of a group. This is a recurring republican theme, with thinkers such as Montesquieu emphasizing that a well-functioning republic requires widespread civic virtue, by which is meant the active participation of citizens united by a concern for the common good.

Over the past two decades political philosopher Philip Pettit has been instrumental in developing a modern view of Republicanism both as a theory of freedom and a system of government. Pettit has put forward what he calls the ‘eyeball test’ as one indicator of the level of freedom in a society. The test states that in an ideal society any individual should be able to look another squarely in the eye without fear or prejudice. This is yet another fundamental principle which the republican shares with the humanist, that each person should show respect to his or her fellows irrespective of class, political, racial or religious background.

Although republicanism encompasses a much broader view than narrow antimonarchism, it is still a touchstone issue for the principles I have briefly outlined. But with a British Monarchy apparently tightly constrained by custom and statute is the republican concern with rights in such a constitution relevant to the humanist? I believe it is, for the following reasons. Consider, for example, the Royal Prerogative, an essentially accountable power which can be used to bypass Parliament and the judicial system. Though today mostly exercised by Cabinet Ministers this dangerous appendage to the monarchial system must be dismantled and the powers controlled as Parliament sees fit. This is before we consider the status of the Monarch him/herself as Supreme Governor of the Church of England with its enshrined right to have 26 Bishops in the House of Lords is taken into account. Likewise the fact that all legal and executive authority derives from one single source means that the monarch is above the law and cannot be prosecuted or called as a witness in a criminal trial. To do so would effectively mean the Queen prosecuting herself or possibly giving evidence against herself! The existence of a person above the reach of the law not only causes a fundamental problem of accountability but certainly fails the eyeball test.

As both republicans and humanists argue for a society based on open communication, discussion, criticism and unforced consensus, the fact that the Monarchy not only enjoys exemption from Freedom of Information but also forces the media to sign restrictive contracts effectively handing editorial control of any interview material to the Palace presents us with further problems. Finally, that one particular family are kept in a privileged position in perpetuity without being subject to accountability cannot be regarded as promoting the common good.

I have aimed to show that while the modern ideas of republicanism and humanism have diverged in some ways the root concepts of open rational-based decision making, contestability and respect are fundamental core values. The enlightenment which began in the sixteenth century was powered by a willingness to contest ideas and when necessary replace them with new, better or more appropriate ideas. Both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz lie at the foundation of the rationalist enlightenment programme. That they equated republicans to atheists in a heinous category shows just how far we have come in the last three centuries. The fact that we retain a state religion while British republicans are still viewed with suspicion and occasional hostility shows how far we have yet to go.

Supporting the right to die

The following has been published today as a “Viewpoint” in the Courier Series of newspapers (Leamington Courier, Kenilworth Weekly News and Warwick Courier).
This is the latest of regular contributions to publicise the Humanist outlook and the local group.

This was published next to an article by the Attorney General Jeremy Wright who is MP for Kenilworth and Southam.
Supporting the right to die
Humanists UK, the national Humanist organisation, is supporting its terminally ill member Noel Conway who wants the right to die, and this support is endorsed by the local group, Kenilworth-based Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists.
Noel has said that he wants to say goodbye to loved ones “at the right time, not to be in a zombie-like condition suffering both physically and psychologically”.
Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his or her own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about his or her own life so long as this does not result in harm to others. Humanists do not share the attitudes to death and dying held by some religious believers (notably Roman Catholics) in particular that the manner and time of death are for a deity to decide, and that interference in the course of nature is unacceptable. Humanist firmly uphold the right to life but recognise that this right carries with it the right of each individual to make his or her own judgement about whether his or her life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering.
It is completely wrong that people who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice to die with dignity. The deliberate extension of suffering as a matter of public policy is a stain on our humanity. The majority of the public want change but as long as Parliament is unwilling to act, it is up to brave individuals such as Noel to fight for all our rights. We will always stand with such courageous and public-spirited champions. The right to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing, must be understood to be a fundamental human right.
Legalising assisted dying must of course ensure that strict legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care free from coercion. It is very important that there are strong safeguards in any assisted dying law, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that such safeguards are effective.
George Broadhead
Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists