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.
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.
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
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.