Newsletters from 2019/20

June 2020

Free Mubarak Bala

Mubarak Bala is a leading Humanist activist in Nigeria, arrested last April for alleged criticism of religion.  In 2014 he was detained in a psychiatric ward on the grounds that he was an atheist!!!

Humanists International believes “if Mubarak were to be charged with ‘blasphemy’ and he is found guilty, he could face the death penalty”.

We can contribute to the legal defence of Mubarak at:

gofundme.com/freemubarak.bala

George Broadhead writes

Tolerance of different people’s views, beliefs and practices that don’t intrude on the freedom of others is an essential part of a civilised society. In this country this has been largely achieved over many years with laws outlawing discrimination of various sorts as well as a change in cultural outlook. Other counties are not so progressive as revealed in a report Humanists At Risk: Action Report 2020, funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and published by Humanists International.

Local humanists have been very concerned by the report which shows that atheists and  humanists are facing discrimination and persecution in quite a few countries because of their beliefs and values.

Non-religious people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are often ostracised, and some women are forced into marriages. Evidence is growing that humanist and atheist activists are being targeted on the basis of their rejection of a majority religion or their promotion of human rights, democratic values and critical thinking. 

A range of tactics is used against humanists, atheists and other non-religious people, including the criminalisation of blasphemy and apostasy, impunity for attacks, social isolation and discrimination. One Malaysian respondent said: “Humanists and non-religious people are regularly attacked by zealous Muslims.” Another said people who expressed a lack of religious belief were “shunned and frowned upon”. An issue of great concern was “the practice of forced conversions in Pakistan. Girls and women from minority belief groups are often forced to marry into Muslim families.” 

This report shines a light on the targeted violence, continued harassment and social discrimination faced by humanists in many countries and opens the door to conversations on how best to protect humanists worldwide. What is clear is that all laws and policies which criminalise blasphemy should be repealed. 

Our local group will be putting pressure on the Government to use what opportunities it has to persuade other governments to honour the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which they have all subscribed 

George Broadhead 

Faith Schools – the campaign continues

In June 2014, President Obama visited Eniskillen in Northern Ireland and seemed to voice bewilderment and opposition at faith schools there:

“If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden – that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists held a Public Mt in March 2019, to consider the campaign against Faith Schools.  Dr Ruth Wareham, Humanists UK Campaigns Manager, spoke and asked this question: ‘Are Faith Schools dividing society?’

The Government is encouraging a growth in the number of Faith Schools.  We need to continue to ask about the place of priests, vicars and the church in our schools.

The National Secular Society’s Alastair Lichten, is organising a speaking tour setting out the case against Faith schools and perhaps we will greet him at a meeting early in 2021.  To introduce himself, Alastair hopes to pop in to our Zoom gathering on Wednesday 1st July.  You can get a link to this and all our Zoom Meetings by sending an email, expressing interest, to: rmjelley@gmail.com

Two C & W Humanist Stalwarts are leaving

Alison and Phil Rowland have been long standing, humanist activists, holding down many jobs within our C & W Humanists group and now, they are moving up north.  

Many of you have been involved in the group and known Phil and Alison, longer than I have.  Their contribution to humanism continues to be valuable, after all it’s based on decades of experience and keen and (where necessary) combative minds.  We will be sad to say farewell to the Rowlands but I have been assured by Phil that they will keep an eye on our work and continue to be critical friends, which is welcomed.

Phil and Alison have provided great support to me and I’d like to thank them for always being there, prepared to offer advice and an opinion whenever they’ve been sought.

At a Zoom Executive Mt last week, we asked Adrian Davis and Brian Goredema-Braid to act as temporary Executive members and they agreed to. Some of you will know of the work that Adrian is doing, hosting our Zoom Mts and the work that Brian is doing, putting together quizzes for those mts.

We had to find a replacement for Phil as Treasurer for the group and I am pleased to tell you that Adrian Davis has agreed to do the job, at least temporarily, until our next AGM.

Unfortunately, the group’s secretary – Panos, is unable to continue in the role.  It has been great to have Panos with us and he helped with some Web Page work but, as a young teacher, he is finding the demands of the job, time consuming and needing all his time.  Thanks Panos and the best of luck to you and Harriet.

We now have to find a new  group secretary.  If you might be interested, you could talk to Andrew or I and we’ll tell you (honestly) what the role might involve.  

Three main strands, that I can think of,  are:

1   preparing for actual (as opposed to virtual) C & W Humanists meetings

2   sending out a group email (which the Chairman writes)

3   assisting with Zoom gatherings.

We also have to find someone willing to manage our website and Twitter account.

 Alison and Mo, have been two active female members of our group.  Audrey, Jane, Heather and others also contribute significantly BUT – speaking personally now – it would be a massive boost, should one of our female contacts/members, volunteer to be secretary.  We are, at present, a largely male Exec, and we long for gender balance.  Can you help?

We hope that the easing of lockdown will enable us to hold an AGM in September, that’s the month set down in our constitution.

 Best wishes and stay safe.

 Bob Jelley

Here is the latest Humanist viewpoint to be published in the Warwickshire press:

Local Humanists have joined their Welsh counterparts in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. This happened on 31 March 1920 and has led to the devolved administration running along more secular lines. In Wales today more than 58% of adults have no religious belief and there has been a rise in those belonging to non-Christian religions, showing the need for everyone to be treated equally in public life.

In meetings of the National Assembly for Wales, unlike in the UK Parliament, there are no Anglican prayers as part of Assembly business. Policies in recent years have seen Wales become a world leader in inclusive education. The Welsh Government is currently legislating to ensure that schools must teach Humanism equally alongside the major world religions, reflecting its obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998, and it has renamed ‘Religious Education’ ‘Religion, Values and Ethics’. After a long campaign by Welsh Humanists it is currently adding compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) to the curriculum, giving children the information they need to grow up happy, healthy, and safe.

Since devolution, Wales has proved to be the most pluralistic nation in the UK, forging strongly secular approaches to governance, education, and in areas such as healthcare policy with its visionary organ donation law which is saving more lives. But there are still policies that must be urgently overhauled to ensure that people live in a fully inclusive society where all are treated equally.

In both England and Wales state-funded Schools still hold a daily act of Christian worship and religious bodies still receive public money to run schools in line with their religious ethos, when there should be inclusive education. Hospitals and prisons should have equal provision of pastoral care for non-religious people and those with other beliefs. Moreover, there is still an unequal marriage law which does not give legal recognition to Humanist marriages though these were legalised  in Scotland in 2018 and have now overtaken those conducted by the Roman Catholic Church.

George Broadhead

Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

Winter 2020

I hope you are well, not too storm-blown and prospering.


Andrew I., John G. and I met in an executive meeting yesterday and we were delighted that Brian G-B could join us.  Perhaps you would like to hear about one or two of the subjects we considered:

    Our February group meeting was enriched by a lead-off from Brian G-B, on the subject ‘Are humanists elitist?’  It was an interesting, flowing debate. Brian’s questioning left us wondering how our group might become more diverse.
    It would be good to welcome more people on to the executive.  We meet approximately every 6 weeks and encourage those with ideas about how we can spread humanist views.  Many of those interested locally, have roles on other causes, charities etc, we are busy people.  However, if you could spare some time … come along to our next meeting, to test out the ground.
    Many of us are happy to get humanist news and articles through Facebook or our Website pages but one or two prefer information sent by post.  Are you happy that you are receiving regular information bulletins?  If not, please tell us and say what is your preferred means of communication.  Do we need to telephone some members, to remind them and get them along to meetings?
    George and Roy used to produce frequent newsletters, should we try to re-create this service?  The posting you are reading now, could become a re-start of a more regular and frequent  newsletter, especially if someone has an urgent desire to be Newsletter Editor.
    Laura Grimson, a Leamington based Humanist UK Celebrant, has been named Best Celebrant of the year at the UK Wedding Awards.  If you are reading this Laura –Congratulations.  Here is an open invitation to you, come to our next meeting and meet local humanists, some of them may want to get married!
    School speakers, including Jane S, have been active in the area, talking to pupils in primary and secondary schools about Humanism as a world view alternative to religion.  Brian G-B is soon to train to be a school speaker, perhaps if he tells us about his experience it will encourage readers to apply for the training.

 

Saw this on Humanists UK website today –


80% of parents think state schools should have a mix of pupils from different backgrounds, new report finds

February 27th, 2020


80% of parents think state schools should admit pupils from a variety of different backgrounds and a further 76% believe that they should reflect the make-up of the local community, according to new research by the Sutton Trust. The poll, published today, also found strong support for reducing segregation and improving social mix among seniors.

Now that could be out of Humanists UK’s Campaign against Faith Schools!


Bob Jelley

Here is the latest Humanist viewpoint to be published in the Warwickshire press.

Lets re-evaluate our treatment of animals

It is tempting to see the Corona virus as a warning message from the planet’s wild life to Humans. The messenger is a virus that can cross species doing great harm to the new hosts.

Humans, and in particular the Chinese, have long exploited wildlife with very little thought either to the morality or the consequences of their actions.When I lived in Hong Kong it was common in street markets to see wild animals penned up waiting slaughter. I particularly remember seeing a young deer cowering fearfully in the corner of a cage and probably sensing what was to come.

It is perhaps a silver lining of the Corona outbreak that in future there will greater efforts to curtail the poaching of wild life which in some cases like the pangolin ( an ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine) is pushing species to the brink of extinction. It was encouraging to read that “The coronavirus epidemic is swiftly pushing China to re-evaluate its relationship with wildlife,” Steve Blake, chief representative of Wild Aid in Beijing, told the Guardian.“There is a high level of risk from this scale of breeding operations both to human health and to the impacts on populations of these animals in the wild.”

Humanism as part of its philosophy advocates a rational and factual approach to solving human problems. It also promotes actions and policies that are likely to enhance human welfare in the long and short run. In our view everyday kindliness is an important virtue that we would like to be taught in all schools preferably not a part of religious teaching, but as a natural instinctive reaction to life’s problems. Kindliness cannot be applied exclusively to any one group, race or country but include everyone.  It should also include our treatment of wildlife not only as a moral principle but also as we are seeing every day to our cost, for the benefit of the human race which is far from immune to whatever is happening to our planet and its wildlife.

Brian Nicol (Dr)

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

Diary dates

Next meeting: Next Meeting of Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists is on Thursday 19th March 2020, Waverley Road, Kenilworth.

Richard Moore, Deputy Chief Constable, Warwickshire Police will talk to us about issues facing the Police, including the rise of knife crime and how they survive reductions in funding.

See you there.

Summer 2019

Below is the Humanist viewpoint published in the Warwickshire press 27th July

 

Scientific rationalism has overtaken religious beliefs

 

Local Humanists have welcomed the latest figures published by the British Social attitudes Survey and called on the Government to make an appropriate response.

 

Of almost 4,000 people  polled by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), just one in three people now identify as Christian whilst the number of people who define themselves as “confident atheists” has risen from 10% in 1998 to 18% in 2008 and a record high of 26% in 2018. Just one per cent of 18-24 year olds said they belonged to the C of E. Seventy-six per cent said religious officials should not try to influence elections, with just nine per cent saying they should. Sixty-three per cent said religion brought more conflict than peace around the world.

 

Nancy Kelly, deputy chief executive at NatCen, said that the steady decline in religion among the British public is “one of the most important trends in post-war history. As our society has become more secular, the role of religious institutions in determining our moral and social norms has weakened. Other world views such as scientific rationalism and liberal individualism, now play a more significant part in British society.” Humanists, who adopt a rational outlook, agree entirely with this analysis.

 

With these trends set to continue, policymakers in every field, from education to constitutional law, need to wake up to such dramatic social changes. Also it should be noted that the decline in belief is not reflected in diminished religious influence. There are Anglican bishops sitting in the House of Lords (the UK is the only democratic country in the world to give seats in its legislature to religious representatives as of right), compulsory religious worship at morning assemblies in state schools, taxpayers money funding faith schools, and prayers as part of the official business of parliament and local councils.

 

George Broadhead

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

 

Bob Jelley reports on the Humanists UK Conference

If you went to Humanists UK Conference in Leicester, we are seeking your thoughts on any of the sessions you attended.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Saturday Session 1 taken by Sir John Curtice, the opinion polls expert on ‘Navigating a polarised society: Is Brexit beaking British politics?  An hour of – chart after  graph after chart – with an overall judgement that we are now two tribes, Remainers and Leavers, there being little inter-tribal movement.  ‘Leavers’ includes many of the older voters whilst ‘Remainers’ include a majority of the younger voters, with time, the implication is that the Leave tribe will decline and the remain tribe will grow.

Here’s someone who knows his stuff, our leading and most celebrated Psephologist but … I won’t need to see another chart for some time.

Second session on Saturday ‘Defending the Human Rights Act’ led by Sanchita Hosali. The UK’s Human Rights Act seems to be increasingly under attack.  Yet it is rooted in a United Nations declaration of 1948 and European legislation and it defends rights that many humanists would think essential. The right to life, liberty and security for example.  Our HRA stands up against: torture, slavery and for freedom of conscience, religion, expression.

‘We won’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone!’

A splinter group!?

A group of humanists wanted the issue of climate change to be have more emphasis in conference.  It seemed that the following leaflets were distributed by supporters and immediately collected up by disapproving stewards, so here’s the leaflet, you can judge for yourself.  I thought the leaflet to be reasonable and the views deserving of a wider audience.

Fourth session Saturday ‘Ending segregation and intolerance in schools’ led by Fiona Millar, Andrew Moffat, Aliyah Saleem and Dr Ruth Wareham.  Religion continues to play an outsized and outdated role in education; the number of tax-payer funded faith schools increases.  Andrew Moffat is Deputy Head of Anderton school in B’ham where there has been a loud, pressing demonstration against the school’s teaching that LGBT people exist.  The protests have attracted and been inflamed by  religious conservatives from across the country.

Fifth session Saturday ‘The Art of Not Falling Apart’ was led by Christina Patterson, who John Gainer identifies, as a Sky News Contributor.  A presentation style that was unusual for me.  Christina walked around the stage, talked without autocue or notes and told of the varied and severe challenges in her life.  An example of the human spirit triumphing, against the odds.

6th session Saturday ‘On being human: an evolutionary humanist journey’ led by Dr Adam Rutherford. ‘Darwin cemented our position on evolution’s tree, an animal begotten not created’.

Last session Saturday, the local lad, Andrew Copson, in conversation with Joan Bakewell.

The venue for conference was The Athena, a splendid and opulent, ex-cinema, art deco, in Leicester’s cultural quarter.

It was packed with expectant, reverential humanists to hear Dame Joan speak about her experiences in parliament, where she is co-organiser of the Humanist Group.

I heard, with dismay, that should a group of the Lords stand to speak, preference is given to any Bishop who stands, amidst cries of ‘Bishop! Bishop! Bishop!’

Progressive movement in parliament ( towards the legalisation of Humanist Weddings for example) continues to be blocked, ambushed, saboutaged by the un-elected Bishops.  Surely democracy demands that this situation is corrected.

Bob Jelley

Summer Social

Many thanks to Andrew Ireland for organising a very successful Summer Social. It was good to see some new faces. Also, thanks to Bob for the quiz. It looks like this will become a regular part of our socials!

Humanist viewpoint published on 7th June by Warwickshire newspapers.

NB The title is the editorial.

 

We should support the LGBT groups not pander to the mobs

 

Humanists are staunch defenders of human rights and these include those of minorities like LGBT people. This is why they welcomed the same-sex marriage legislation introduced by the present Conservative Government and opposed by religious institutions, notably the Roman Catholic Church. This is also why Humanists take issue with those religious people, mostly Muslims, who have been protesting vigorously about including homosexuality in Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) lessons in primary schools in Birmingham and elsewhere.

 

There are parallels in this with the Salman Rushdie affair of 1989. Once again Muslims are protesting about something which many of them haven’t even read. Then it was a novel; now it is the No Outsiders programme or the government’s position on RSE. Again mob rule is winning. Then the author was forced into hiding and those who translated his book physically attacked. Now schools are being forced to change what they teach.

Politicians are pandering to those behind the trouble. Witness Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff, publicly doubting whether the lessons there were “age appropriate”, despite Ofsted’s judgement that they are. Witness another Birmingham MP Shabana Mahmood, defending the protesters who forced Parkfield School to suspend its lessons earlier this year.

RSE programmes which protect LGBT rights and women’s rights are under threat. Muslim intolerance and intransigence is playing out publicly adding more fuel to the culture war between Islamists and anti-Muslim bigots. This episode is undermining the idea that we should live in a cohesive society where human rights are universal.

The government must resist this growing attempt to undermine RSE education. The government says it defends teachers’ ability to do their jobs in the face of unreasonable pressure. But the attempt to undermine teaching which acknowledges LGBT people’s existence is a well-coordinated and deeply intimidating campaign which requires a national response. Leaving individual schools to face the wrath of vocal, intolerant, reactionary religious groups is not good enough.

George Broadhead

Coventry & Warwickshire Humanist

April/May 2019

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

 

This religious takeover has got to be stopped

Humanist Viewpoint published in Warwickshire newspapers on Friday 12 April 2019

The turmoil in the House of Commons over Brexit has many obvious unfortunate consequences such as the neglect of normal government business and a lack of concern about the effects of austerity on our increasingly unequal society.

As a Humanist I am also concerned at the way that organised religion in our legislature is slowly but surely increasing its power and influence away from the spotlight.  Humanism UK our national organisation  has been tracking this development since 2010 and is worried about the consequences including the increasing support for, and expansion of faith schools.  We have frequently talked in  this column about the virtues of a secular state where there is complete freedom of religion and other beliefs but none are favoured or supported by the state. Subsidising churches to to propagate their creeds  as part of main stream education cannot be accepted.  Religious education is the job of parents and the churches not schools.

There are other worrying developments.  The government’s Minister for Faith is taking seriously proposals to give 85 religious leaders reserved seats in the House of Lords in addition to the 26 Anglican bishops who are already there. The only other country in the world to have religious leaders as of right in parliament is the Islamic Republic of Iran, a totalitarian theocracy.  Does no-one reflect on the irony of this situation when the population of the UK must be one of the least religious in the world?

We also  have a House of Commons with strong  religious leanings that effectively drowns out the humanist voice on important ethical  issues like Assisted Dying (overwhelmingly supported by the public at Large) and putting up barriers to legal humanist marriage ceremonies in England and Wales although they are legal in Scotland and Northern Ireland

This increasing religious take over has got to be stopped and perhaps after Brexit we can give it more attention.

Dr Brain Nicol

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

Thanking Derek

Derek Franklyn has stepped down from his role as Facebook Pages manager for Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists.  We owe Derek our thanks for the work and time that he has given, thanks Derek.  His efforts are especially appreciated, since Derek has faced health challenges for the past months.

In recent times, whilst our group struggled to continue, Derek sustained our Facebook presence.  This has kept members up to date with news, meeting arrangements etc and it has been a point of contact for new members, indeed our new Secretary Panos, first contacted Derek and was lured in!

A group of members will follow on from Derek.  Panos, Phil and Alison will embed material from Humanists UK and The National Secular Society.  We want to continue to use the splendid articles that Brian and George contribute to local newspapers; the Chairman (me) has promised to offer responses to news stories.

Our Facebook pages will be enriched if other members contribute.  Articles and responses to news stories etc will be welcomed.

Bob Jelley

Diary dates

Next meeting: Science and Religion

Waverley Centre’s Back Room is booked for our meeting on 9th May, 7 for a 7.30 p.m. start. Glyn Evans has kindly agreed to lead us in a discussion on Science and Religion. All welcome

June Social

Our June social will take place on Thursday 27th June 7 for 7.30 at Kenilworth Cricket Club, Warwick Road, Kenilworth CV8 1FE. The cost will be £13.50 per person including a cold finger buffet. Contact us to book or for further details.

March 2019

Are Faith Schools dividing society?

After a long break we have arranged an event in March and hope as many of you as possible will be able to attend. We look forward to seeing you.

In Coventry we have: Church of England Schools, Catholic Schools, and more recently, Sikh and Muslim schools. Who actually wants religious schools?

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey (Sept 2018) found that in England and Wales, 52% of people said they were non-religious.  Just 14% said they were Anglican, yet the Church of England runs 25% of state schools!

In June 2014, President Obama visited Eniskillen in Northern Ireland and seemed to voice bewilderment and opposition at faith schools there:

“If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden – that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”

We need to have a renewed conversation about the place of: the priests, the vicars and the church in our schools.

To encourage that discussion, Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists invites you to a meeting, at 7 p.m. on Thursday March 7th 2019, at Sidney Stringer School.

Dr Ruth Wareham, Humanists UK Campaigns Manager, will speak to this question: ‘Are Faith Schools dividing society?’

Faith Schools Meeting poster

Larkin’ about

Members may be interested in a new book ‘Larkin About in Coventry’ by local author Chris Arnot.

Larkin grew up in Coventry (in a house later demolished to make space for the ring road) and was the son of the Coventry city treasurer, Sydney Larkin. From the age of eight he attended King Henry VIII School until he went to Oxford University.

Larkin was often sceptical of religion, for instance in his 1977 poem Aubade where he describes it as ‘That vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die’.

Plans for a formal launch of the book (published by Takahe Publishing and available on Amazon) including a talk by the author are being advertised on the Coventry 2021 City of Culture website (www.coventry2021.co.uk) for 28 November 2019 at King Henry VIII School, Warwick Road, Coventry.

New Year Meal

Our New Year meal and celebration in honour of Dr Brian Nicol’s work as Convenor of C&WH at The Almanack was well attended.  Bob Jelley led the tribute to Brian.  Many thanks to our Social Secretary Andrew Ireland for arranging this event.

The assisted dying debate: Why can’t we have a change?

The following Humanist viewpoint was published in the Courier series of newspapers in Warwickshire.

The editor has invited readers to write in with their views so please consider writing something, however short.

The email address to send a letter to is philip.hibble@jpress.co.uk   Please make it clear that it is a letter for publication and give your full postal address

Assisted dying is in the news again. A retired accountant suffering from motor neurone disease, who ended his own life, has just written an open letter to MPs imploring them to change the assisted dying law after it “robbed him of control over his death”.

Geoff Whaley, 80, died peacefully in his wife’s arms shortly at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. After been diagnosed with MND two years ago, he decided he wanted to end his own life rather than endure the weeks or months of immense suffering that he knew were otherwise in store. The experience made him determined to use his position to call for a change in the law and to highlight the agony it had forced his family to endure.

Mr Whaley’s letter to MPs began: “By the time you read this, I will be dead.” He went on: “The law in this country robbed me of control over my death. It forced me to seek solace in Switzerland. Then it sought to punish those attempting to help me get there”

Geoffrey Whaley’s story Is a heart-breaking reminder of the cruelty the UK’s assisted dying law inflicts on the terminally ill. Banning assisted dying does not make it go away. Every eight days someone from the UK travels to Switzerland to have the choice denied them at home, but this is only an option for those who can afford it, are well enough to travel, and have loved ones willing to risk prison time. Most dying people are not so fortunate. Around 300 terminally ill people end their lives every year in England, often frightened, alone or in pain. Many more will endure immense suffering even with the best end-of-life care.

Parliament had the chance to change this in 2015, when an assisted dying bill was put before the Commons. It would have allowed terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life. the option to request an assisted death, providing two independent doctors and a High Court judge could confirm that they met the strict criteria and were making a clear, settled decision of their own choosing. But despite overwhelming public support (the British Social Attitudes Survey, taken in 2017, shows that 78 per cent of the UK supports a change in the law), MPs including our own Jeremy Wright, rejected the proposal.

Millions of people in other countries (Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, Finland and seven US states) have access to assisted dying laws that provide choice and compassion to dying people and protection to others Why can’t we?

George Broadhead

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

‘Freedom of movement and social mobility undermine family life which is the most successful form of social security the world has ever known.’

Canon Dr Giles Fraser writes a Thursday column for UnHerd. He is Priest-in-charge at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze and also regularly delivers the Today programme’s Thought for the Day.

His recent article on how family life is affected by geography quoted above ruffled a few feathers. The full text can be found here.

January/February 2019

Repeal the blasphemy laws

The following Humanist viewpoint was published on the 16th November 2018 in the Courier series of newspapers in Warwickshire.

Humanists have warmly welcomed Irish voters’ decision to repeal the medieval blasphemy laws in their country’s constitution and have called for international pressure to encourage other countries to follow suit.

Voters in the Republic of Ireland have voted for the repeal by a large majority in a referendum. This offence could incur a hefty fine and was cited as the justification behind a police investigation into the Humanist actor Stephen Fry in 2017.

Irish voters have taken a welcome stand for free speech and removed any doubt that this constitutional provision could at some point be used to justify cracking down on people for what they say about religion. Politicians in the UK should take note of this and the most obvious next step should be the repeal of Scotland and Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile the UK government must use the momentum this decision generates to increase the pressure on countries around the world to repeal their blasphemy laws and protect those who face restrictions on their speech about religious issues.

Last year a report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found laws restricting free expression on religious issues in 71 countries. Many Islamic countries had severe punishments, including the death penalty, for those transgressing the laws. A recent appalling case is that of Asia Bibi,  the Pakistani Christian woman who has been acquitted of blasphemy. She spent eight years on death row after she was accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad. The acquittal sparked widespread violent protest and the government seems to have caved in and forbidden her from seeking safety by leaving the country.

Ireland has now passed three major secularising measures through referenda in the last three and a half years. In 2015 voters approved legal same-sex marriage equality and in May this year they chose to overturn the eighth amendment, which effectively banned abortion in almost all circumstances. Last month the health minister introduced parliamentary legislation which would allow abortion services to operate.

The trend clearly indicates that the Catholic Church’s influence is declining.

George Broadhead

Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

A Child of our Time

To paraphrase Sir Michael Tippett’s oratorio A Child of our Time, which he began in 1939, the world can often seem to be turning on its dark side.  However, occasionally a ray of sunlight breaks through.  Here is a poem by a 14-year-old Syrian boy Mohammed Assad, a former refugee now living in Britain who spent a year in a refugee camp.  What a final line!

This year, last year

Last year, I heard the bombs.

This year, I listen to music.

Last year I couldn’t buy football to play with.

This year I’m bored of playing football.

Last year I slept with my family in one room.

This year I got my own room.

Last year I couldn’t go outside the house.

This year, I can go out whenever I want.

Last year I walked on brown grass.

This year I’m walking on green grass.

Last year they laughed at me because I had nothing.

This year I have something to give.

Invite a potential Humanist to your house

HOST is a small UK-wide charity, set up in 1987 to promote international friendship and cultural exchange.  They arrange for adult international students to spend a short time in a British home, enjoying a warm welcome and experiencing company, conversation, different foods and traditions in the hope of providing an insightful exchange of ideas and invaluable understanding.

The organisation contacted us as they are constantly looking to welcome friendly people on board who would like to act as volunteer hosts to these students, and who are interested in sharing their culture and customs for a day, weekend, or a few days. Christmas is their busiest time but volunteers are sought all year round,

If you are interested further details can be found at www.HostUK.org

New president of Humanists UK

Humanists UK have announced that their new President, Professor Alice Roberts, will headline their conference on science, politics, comedy, and philosophy in celebration of World Humanist Day at the annual Humanists UK Convention on 21 -23 June.

The Convention will be held in Leicester and will also feature Hamza bin Walayat, a humanist asylum seeker whose claim was rejected because he couldn’t name Aristotle and Plato, neither of whom were even humanists; Felicity Hannah, a freelance journalist who has written online about faith schools; and Adam Rutherford, geneticist and author of The Book of Humans.

Further information and details of how to book can be found on the Convention webpage.

SGM update

At our SGM on 1st November, Bob Jelley accepted the post of Chair of the group, taking over from Dr Brian Nicol who has held the reigns since the group ceased holding regular speaker meetings in 2016. As there were no volunteers to take on other committee roles, we agreed to remain as an online presence but with occasional social events organised for us by Andrew Ireland.

In December, members of the Committee met Panos Tsallos who had contacted Derek, our Facebook Page and Newsletter editor and expressed a willingness to take on the role of secretary.  Panos is new to the area, lives is Daventry, teaches History at a school in Rothwell and comes from Greece. The Committee were delighted to accept Panos’ offer and so we now have a secretary.  There will be an opportunity to meet Panos at the meal, planned by Andrew, for 17th January 2018 at the Almanac in Kenilworth (see Diary Dates for more details).  This is the occasion when we will thank Brian Nicol for his work as Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists, so do come along if you can.

With an augmented Committee, Bob intends to revive our face-to-face events in 2019 and organising these events will be the key task for Panos. More news about that will follow. We are talking to Humanists UK about what events are being successful with other groups.  Bob hopes that we can continue to serve members who enjoy Kenilworth gatherings, whilst introducing Humanism to folk in Coventry and the towns of Warwickshire.  So what themes might such events involve?  We will keep you in touch with our emerging ideas.

Renewed affiliation to Humanists UK

C&WH’s application for a Partnership Agreement with Humanists UK (formerly the British Humanist Association [BHA]) has been accepted.  In practical terms this delivers insurance for group activities; access to resources, including promotional material and speakers, and a link with Humanists UK web-pages.

2019 will be a struggle to get things back on track

Below is the latest Humanist “Viewpoint” to be published in the Courier Series of newspapers in Warwickshire. The heading is the one given to it by the editor and it appeared next to a “Westminster Briefing” from Jeremy Wright, MP for Kenilworth and Southam and a cabinet minister.

What do Humanists have to anticipate in 2019? Our aim, as ever, is to advance the cause of a fairer society and human rights particularly when,  they are threatened by religion. With over half of the UK population saying that they have no religious beliefs (see the latest British Social Attitudes surveys), it is unjust and undemocratic that religion is increasing its influence on public policy.To the dismay of most people, including many senior clerics, mixing religion with politics is becoming acceptable in a way that it hasn’t been for many decades.This is perhaps not surprising when many of the levers of power are held by religious believers  some of extreme views. The Prime Minister herself is a devout Anglican and not a good person to restrain people like Jacob Rees-Mogg who has said “ I take my whip from the Catholic Church”. And, as we know only too well, the  Government is dependant on the DUP for power – a creationist, homophobic, sectarian political party.

We now have a Minister of Faith  whose job is to advance the agenda of faith groups in society. Whereas the majority of the citizenry question the presence of a bloc of bishops as of right in the House of Lords, the Faith minister supports their presence and proposes a similar sized bloc of other faiths to match them, thus pushing us towards a theocracy rather than a democratic secular society. Secularism defends freedom of religion but would not give faith groups any legal privileges, not just seats in the Lords, but special exemption from human rights legislation where it conflicts with their beliefs. Nor would they be given civic funds to propagate their belief through religious schools. Rather than cutting  back on faith schools the government’s policy is to set up many more.

Most people have taken it for granted, naively as it turns out, that there would be an inevitable progressive advance towards a fairer open society. That ‘progress’ has suddenly gone into reverse.

2019 will be a year of struggle to get things back on track.

Brian Nicol (Dr)

Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists

Diary dates

New Year Meal

There is still time to sign up to join in our New Year meal and celebration in honour of Dr Brian Nicol’s work as Convenor of C&WH.  The dinner will take place at The Almanack, 89 Abbey Lane, Kenilworth CV8 1QJ on Thursday 17th January at7.30pm with a two course set menu for £21.50 in a dedicated room.

Menus are available in advance so you can make your choice of meal beforehand and book for contacting our Social Secretary Andrew Ireland on 024 7644 1009

Further details for the venue can be found here

Skeptics in the pub

On 16 January former Humanists UK president Ariane Sherine (the person behind the Humanist bus campaign ‘There’s probably no God…’) will give a talk entitled ‘Talk yourself better’ at the Twisted Barrel Ale Brewery and Tap house, Fargo Village, Coventry at 7.30 pm.