Newsletters from 2019

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.