Newsletters from 2018

Coventry & Warwickshire Humanist

January 2018

Issued by Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

4 Collett Walk, Barrowfield Lane, Kenilworth CV8 1GZ

Website: cwhumanists.org Twitter: @CWHums

FB and Newsletter Editor: Derek Franklin

Tel: 01926 258413

Email: cwhumanists@gmail.com

A self-governing voluntary association affiliated to the International Humanist and Ethical Union [IHEU] and to the National Secular Society [NSS].

freedom / happiness / virtue
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Hamza bin Walyat

The following letter was recently received from Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK.
Dear George and C&WH members, By now you’ve probably heard the harrowing case of Hamza bin Walyat, the humanist who is being deported to Pakistan for failing a test of his ‘non-religiousness’ that required him to ‘identify classical philosophers’ like Plato and Aristotle. Because Pakistan is one of 13 countries where non-religious people are executed, we need your help today to save Hamza’s life. Hamza’s life is now in serious danger because the Home Office has completely misunderstood the nature of humanism and seems to have forgotten that non-religious people have equal protections from persecution on the grounds of their beliefs. This is unacceptable, and now we must act quickly to save Hamza’s life.
Please, take a minute from your day today to sign our petition to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, backing our demands to save Hamza’s life and re-educate the Home Office about humanism and the basic human rights non-religious people are entitled to in law.
Thank you again for your support, Andrew Copson.

From Humanists UK

A new survey conducted by YouGov for The Times has found that the British public overwhelmingly supports the removal of the bishops from the House of Lords, and more generally thinks that politicians should try not to be influenced by their religious beliefs when making decisions.

The poll, of 1,700 British adults, has found that 62% believe that no religious leaders should have ‘an automatic right to seats’ in Parliament, which 26 bishops of the Church of England currently do.

Only 20% want to keep the bishops in some sense or other, with just 8% saying the bishops should retain their present unique right, while 12% say that other religious leaders should gain the same automatic right as the bishops. The public was also asked whether politicians ‘should feel free to use their religious beliefs to inform their political decisions’, or should ‘keep their religious views separate and not allow them to influence their political decisions’. 65% support the latter option, while just 14% support the opposite.
This year has seen proposals to reduce the number of peers in the Lords, but the proposals leave the bishops untouched – meaning that they will make up a higher proportion of seats in a reformed chamber.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘It’s clear that the public doesn’t currently believe our politics is secular enough, and this includes very strong support for removing the bishops from the House of Lords. With just 3% of young adults saying they belong to the Church of England, how can it be right that the Church maintains its unique privilege of automatic seats for its clergy in parliament? The UK and Iran are the only two sovereign states to afford religious leaders such rights, and it is past time that this and other Church privileges in public life are brought to an end.’

In keeping with this trend this “Humanist Viewpoint” was published on the 5th January in the Warwickshire papers (Kenilworth, Leamington and Warwick), by Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists founder member George Broadhead.

Politics and religion should not mix, according to new survey

A new YouGov poll for The Times has found that a majority of people in the UK want religion kept out of politics and that Anglican bishops should not have an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords.

Sixty-five percent of those questioned in the poll thought that politicians should keep their religious beliefs separate from their decision making, with just 14 percent saying the opposite. The remaining 21 percent chose neither option or said they did not know. Sixty-two percent said that bishops should not have an automatic right to seats in the Lords. Only eight percent of people said they should retain their seats. The British Social Attitudes Survey found this year that the proportion of Britons professing to have “no religion” is at a record high of 53 per cent.

It is high time that politicians and the media as a whole took note of these polls and surveys. The BBC in particular is ignoring them by increasing still further its already extensive religious output which includes the blatant religious propaganda slot Thought for the Day as a part of its morning Radio 4 current affairs programme Today. In the past year, the prime minister, a vicar’s daughter, said that “faith guides me in everything I do”, while Tim Farron, a committed Christian, faced a barrage of questions over whether he believed gay sex to be sinful, as a result of which he felt he had to resign as Lib Dem leader.

Separating religion from the state would not only reflect the reality of changing times, but would also ensure that every citizen is treated fairly and valued equally whether they are religious or not. Britain is now one of the most religiously diverse and, at the same time, non-religious nations in the world. Rather than burying its head in the sand, the Government should respond to these fundamental cultural changes and initiate reform. Given the public support for such reform, a change is long overdue. Politicians of all parties should find common cause in promoting secularist principles by making sure that our public institutions do nothing to support any religious belief or philosophic view point but equally welcome and respect the right to free expression of all faiths and none.
George Broadhead

From the NSS: education secretary must keep faith-based admissions cap

The National Secular Society has urged the new education secretary Damian Hinds to drop plans to remove the 50% cap on religiously selective admissions to faith-based academies and free schools.

Damian Hinds replaces Justine Greening, who resigned as education secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle. It was understood that Greening opposed plans to drop the 50% cap, but Hinds is a proponent of religiously selective schools and in 2014 led a debate in Parliament where he advocated for the removal of any cap on faith-based admissions to Catholic schools.

In a letter Stephen Evans, the NSS chief executive, called on Mr Hinds to rethink his stance and consider not only the effect that the lifting of the cap would have on Catholic schools, but the way it would impact on all other faith schools, including minority faith schools.
He urged the new Secretary of State to “strike a blow for cohesion, equality and fairness” by abandoning plans to remove the cap.

“A further expansion of religiously selective faith schools is the antithesis of inclusive education,” Mr Evans wrote. “Rather than facilitating segregation along religious lines, we would urge the Government to make every effort to ensure that children of all faiths and none are educated together in inclusive schools”.

In 2016 the Government launched a consultation on proposals to create a wave of new faith-based schools and allow religious discrimination in 100% of new faith school admissions.

It has now been more than a year since the consultation closed, and the Government is yet to confirm whether it intends to proceed with the plans.

Groups such as the Catholic Education Service (CES) lobbied for the changes. The CES is refusing to open free schools because of the cap – arguing that canon law dictates that Catholic schools must give priority to children of Catholic parents.

In its letter to Mr Hinds the NSS said the proposals had “the potential to significantly increase religious discrimination and social and ethnic segregation within publicly funded schools”. It said they would “allow more children to be schooled in a completely immersive religious environment, surrounded by pupils of the same faith and, in many cases, the same ethnic background”. The “broad consensus”, it added, was that the plans would harm social cohesion.

The Sutton Trust has warned that removal of the cap would be “likely to make [faith schools] even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good school places available to pupils across the socio- economic spectrum.” The Education Policy Institute has warned that the policy is unlikely to increase social mobility, which is one of the supposed objectives behind it.

And Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has said “admission 100% on faith leads to increased levels of segregation within communities”.

The NSS added that lifting the cap was inconsistent with the Department for Education’s own guidance on ‘promoting fundamental British values’. The guidance says it is “unacceptable” for schools to “promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background”.

Research reveals systemic bias against secular schools

The National Secular Society has said more must be done to safeguard non-faith schools’ secular ethos after research revealed faith-based provision is treated preferentially during school reorganisations.

An NSS study examined official data on all schools in England that closed and re-opened between 2010 and 2017, noting whether a change in the designated religious character had taken place. The research revealed that most schools that change their character become faith schools.

Sixty-one schools were found to have closed and re-opened with a different religious character. Out of these, 70% of all schools that changed their status between 2010 and 2017 went from being religiously-neutral community or foundation schools to faith schools, usually under the control of the Church of England.

And whilst faith schools make up around a third of schools in England, they make up fewer than 16% of the 713 schools closed as a result of amalgamation since 2010.
Stephen Evans, the NSS’s chief executive, said the problem was being exacerbated by official guidance on opening and closing maintained schools which means the system is loaded against secular schools in favour of religious ones.

Statutory guidance from the Department for Education on opening and closure proposals warns: “the decision-maker should not normally approve the closure of a school with a religious character where the proposal would result in a reduction in the proportion of relevant denominational places in the area.”

Mr Evans said the research highlighted a “systemic bias” against preserving non-faith-based schools which has enabled the Church of England to “hoover up community schools”.
“When a religious and non-religious school merge, the usual result is for the faith school to determine the religious character despite opposition from the families whose children will be directly affected. Current rules privilege religion by explicitly protecting faith school places and leaving community schools vulnerable to religious takeover. At a time when the population is becoming increasingly irreligious, there’s a very good argument for reducing the number of faith school places. The presumption that the proportion of such places shouldn’t be reduced is outdated and unfair and needs to change.”
The NSS has now written to education ministers calling for the guidance to be revised and for a new positive duty to ensure every pupil has the right to an inclusive secular school within a reasonable distance.

Gaining a religion

Forty-three per cent of changes in religious character were a result of an amalgamation or merger between religious and non-religious schools. The research demonstrated that in these cases, the most likely outcome was for the faith schools to have their character and ethos retained and for the neutrality of the non-religious school to be lost.

Nearly 20% of the schools closed and reopened specifically because they became Church of England schools. Academisation also resulted in non-religious schools becoming religious.

The NSS has previously warned of religious organisations (mostly Anglican) gaining control of and influence in the running of non-faith schools through mixed multi-academy trusts and other sponsorship agreements.

Schools that converted to voluntary aided Church of England schools were frequently those getting low grades or poor Ofsted results. Forge Lane Primary School in west London, which became St Richard’s Church of England Primary School in 2014, converted because it felt the switch from community to voluntary aided status would help it to be recognised by Ofsted as a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school. However, in its last inspection in October this year, St Richard’s was given a rating of ‘requires improvement’.

Other recent cases demonstrate that converting to a faith school is no guarantee of success. In 2010, Beechfield Infant School in Somerset merged with St John’s Church of England Junior School to form a new faith school, Churchfield CofE VC Primary School. Following the merger, the new school was put in special measures by Ofsted. Churchfield became a Church of England academy in 2013, and in its last Ofsted inspection in 2015 it was rated as “requires improvement.”

Converting schools with no religious character into faith schools has met with disapproval. When Ladymead Community School in Somerset was proposed to become a faith school through merging with The St Augustine of Canterbury School in 2009, a survey at a consultation meeting showed 100% opposition, while a petition calling for Ladymead to stay open received more than 120 signatures. Ladymead governors expressed their concern that the merger would not be in the best interests of the school or community, with the faith status being a primary concern. Chairman Nick Evelyn said in the Somerset County Gazette: “Many parents chose to send their children to Ladymead and now fear for their education. They don’t want a faith secondary schooling for their children or they’d have sent them to St Augustine’s, which is a church school.”

Despite the opposition from parents, governors and school staff the merger went ahead in 2010, resulting in the establishment of a new Church of England academy, The Taunton Academy. In its last Ofsted inspection this January, The Taunton Academy was rated “inadequate”.

Plans to merge non-faith schools into religious ones continue to spark protest. One recent example was the demonstration held by parents of Trafalgar College over plans to merge with the Christian Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, reported by the NSS in October.

In 25% of religious character changes, religious schools lost their official religious character. But the NSS study noted that most of these schools still retained a distinctly faith-based ethos.

Nearly 60% of all Church of England schools that ‘lost’ their religious character were found to make reference to “Christian values,” “Christian ethos” or ties with their “local church” on their website. This meant the number of faith schools that had genuinely ‘lost’ their faith school status was significantly smaller than the official change in religious character suggested.

The remaining 5% of schools that had changed their religious character were Church of England schools which had merged with Roman Catholic schools to gain dual ‘Church of England/Roman Catholic’ status.

‘Stealth’ Faith Schools

The figures in this study did not include schools in which the designated religious character did not change on paper, but the ethos changed in reality. An example of such schools are the Oasis Academies. These may not be recorded as having a religious character or religious ethos by the DfE, but previous NSS research has demonstrated that they all have a Christian ethos according to their websites. Over 80% of all Oasis Academies were established as a result of taking over an existing school, and in every single case the preceding school was non-religious.

The increase in schools that do not have an official religious character or religious ethos but do have one in reality means that the number of schools that have become religious since 2010 is likely to be even higher.

The David and Goliath battle in our schools: parents versus religion

As NSS research highlights a systemic bias against secular schooling, Megan Manson explores the tactics used by religion to infiltrate education – and how parents are fighting back.In November, the National Secular Society got a call from a parent whose daughter was being forced to pray against her wishes.

The girl, who attends a non-religious primary school, was told that she must bow her head during prayers held in an assembly by an external evangelical group that comes to the school to tell Bible stories. She was happy to attend the assemblies with her peers, and to sit quietly and listen attentively, but her strongly-held atheist worldview meant that she did not wish to participate in the act of worship. The school argued with the parent that the pupil should bow her head in order to ‘conform’ with the other pupils, and as a sign of ‘respect’.

But what happened to respecting the child’s fundamental human right to freedom of conscience? Or the father’s right to a secular education for his daughter? He had, after all, opted for a non-religious school. So why were his wishes for a non-religious education for his daughter not respected?

This case is testament to a battle being waged in Britain’s education system. On the one side are families, community members and (often) class teachers who just want to see pupils get a good education without religion sticking its nose in. On the other side are headteachers, government representatives, academy chains and religious institutions who want to assert their authority and their particular ideology on school communities. In this battle, it’s clear to see who is David and who is Goliath.

More high-profile cases of parents speaking out against school evangelism have come to light in recent times. In October, parents in Tunbridge Wells mobilised against CrossTeach, an evangelical group who had reportedly been telling pupils that “men can’t marry men” and that if they did not believe in God “they would not go to a good place when they died”. Working together, the parents raised their complaints with their school, with some taking the step of withdrawing their children from CrossTeach assemblies.

The school in question, St John’s Church of England Primary School, is an Anglican faith school. But one of the parents pointed out: “In Tunbridge Wells the vast majority of primary schools are affiliated with the Church so it’s not like you have a choice whether you expose your children to this.”

In this case David fortunately triumphed over Goliath. As a result of the complaints, the school decided to cease inviting CrossTeach to lead assemblies or take lessons – but not without a great deal of indignant foot-stamping. Headteacher Dan Turvey told Kent Live that he did not believe the parents’ concerns “have any real substance” and their decision to exercise their right to withdraw their children from CrossTeach assemblies “made the situation unmanageable and a distraction”.

The local church also saw fit to howl disdain and disgust at the parents and their dissent. Rev Giles Walter, who had been taking assemblies at St John’s Church of England Primary School, accused the parents of being “extremist”, saying: “The behaviour of this small group of parents has hurled a hand grenade into a previously happy and harmonious environment. They seem determined to drive mainstream Christian teaching out of our church school: and it is they and not ourselves who should be charged with extremism and non-inclusiveness.”
Far from David throwing a rock, the Church portrays upstart parents as extremists hurling hand grenades. In common with bullies everywhere, it paints its victims as the villains.
The truth is that more often than not, the Church wins. Back in 2009, parents and governors at Ladymead Community School in Somerset petitioned against a proposed merger with the St Augustine of Canterbury School. The primary cause of contention was that the new school resulting from the merger, the Taunton Academy, would be a Church of England faith school. Ladymead governor Chairman Nick Evelyn said in the Somerset County Gazette: “Many parents chose to send their children to Ladymead and now fear for their education. They don’t want a faith secondary schooling for their children or they’d have sent them to St Augustine’s, which is a church school.” A survey was held at a consultation meeting for the proposal, which showed 100% opposition.

But the pleas from parents, governors and school staff at Ladymead went unheeded, and the merger went ahead in 2010 with the support of the St Augustine headteacher and Taunton MP Jeremy Browne. Perhaps they regret not listening to the parents now. In its last Ofsted inspection this January, the Taunton Academy was rated ‘inadequate’.
The combined might of church and state, and its awesome power to crush the right of ordinary families to freedom from religion, revealed itself more recently in a similar case of a school merger. In October, parents and children of Trafalgar College were stirred into action when they discovered that as a result of a merger with Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, the College would lose its religious neutrality and become a Christian school. The families were so opposed to this move, and so frustrated that their concerns were not being listened to, that they took to the streets in protest. Their banners, which bore slogans such as “Say no to forced religious designations” and “Our children deserve a choice & a voice”, said it all.

But all to no avail. It turns out that the merger had been agreed months before a public consultation was held. The academy chain behind the merger, Inspiration Trust, didn’t even give families the chance to fight back.

This underhand method of giving parents the illusion of choice and control when in fact that choice is being ripped away from them is the latest weapon in the faith schools’ arsenal: stealth tactics. It seems that education and religious authorities are aware that families are increasingly rejecting the very concept of faith schools, and are doing their utmost to sneak in religion through the back door. Mergers of faith and non-faith schools are one way to do it; another way is to exploit the academy and free school system.

As the NSS reported in 2015, academies and free schools can be designated as ‘religious ethos’ without adopting a formal ‘religious character’, blurring the line between what is and what is not a religious school. There are even academies that clearly operate under a faith ethos, but are not registered as such with the Department for Education. The NSS investigation into Oasis Academies revealed the extent of the problem. Although less than a quarter of Oasis Academies are registered as having a religious character or ethos, every single one of them says that their ethos is “inspired by the life, message and example of Jesus Christ” and that they are “schools of religious character” on their websites.
Every school that has been converted into an Oasis Academy was previously non-religious. That’s approximately 40 new faith schools which have sprung up to effectively replace secular schools within the last decade. And thanks to the Christian nature of these schools being omitted from DfE data, they have emerged with little notice.

But with the UK becoming more irreligious and religiously diverse, how long can the church’s sneaky bully-boy tactics prevail? The public is rightly getting tired of being told what to do by religious institutions, and fed up with the encroachment of religion into their family lives. Thanks to rapidly-improving social media and other internet technology, parents are finding it easier than ever before to communicate with each other and organise themselves to resist religion. And in the long run, religious institutions would be foolish to ignore their increasingly louder, bolder voices. For if anyone knows what happens at the end of the story of David and Goliath, it’s the Church.

Megan Manson, campaigns officer at the National Secular Society

 

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Another Bible contradiction or inconsistency

God is everywhere {omnipresent} sees and knows all things. Prov. xv, 3: The eyes of the Lord are in every place. Ps. 139, 7-10: Whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up to heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall my hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Job xxxiv, 21, 22: There is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves, for his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he see’th all his goings.

God is not everywhere {omnipresent}, neither sees nor knows all things.
Genesis xi, 5: And the Lord came down to see the City and the Town. Genesis xviii, 20-21: And the Lord said, because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether, according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and, if not, I will know. Genesis viii, 8: And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord, amongst the trees of the garden.

Green drinks

Local humanist friends are invited, along with other green thinking and socially aware people e.g Friends of the earth, Greens, etc, to Green Drinks every 1st Wed evening of the month, 7.30 onwards, at The Engine, 8 Mill End, Kenilworth CV8 2HP. Next meeting Wednesday 7th February 2018. Look forward to seeing you. In case of re-arrangement and for any other queries contact Tracey Drew tracey@wildflower.plus.com or phone 01926 857782

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