01 December 2013
Leicester Secular Society says NO to Sex Discrimination in Universities.
Leicester Secular Society is opposed to such discrimination.
This policy is based on exactly the same grounds as used in the “Separate but equal doctrine” in United States constitutional law that justified racial segregation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the apartheid regime of South Africa. In a university segregation by sex on the grounds of religion and belief is no more acceptable than such discrimination on the grounds of race or religion. Some religions may object to adherents sitting with others with different beliefs. Would it be acceptable to divide an audience in this way by religion or race?
Human Rights relate to the individual and freedom of speech is not promoted in any way by allowing audiences to be segregated. If an individual chooses not to speak to others because he/ she objects to an unsegregated audience, there are many other forums available to express a controversial point of view.
Two of the key reasons for segregation are the subjugation of women, and a throwback to the times when lawlessness and a lack of control by men meant that women were subject to abuse and molestation even in public. Thankfully, we no longer tolerate either of these in our society and segregation is now unnecessary. Surely a primary role for Universities is to educate and promote understanding of these issues and not merely to pander to prior practice and prejudice?
The Society has sent open letters to three local universities (The University of Leicester, De Montfort University and Loughborough University) seeking an assurance that these Universities will not be segregating audiences at any events in this way.
The paragraphs in the document causing most concern are:
“Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.” (page 27)
“Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either female or male attendees.” ... “It should therefore be borne in mind that [...] concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.”... (page 28)
"Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.” (page 28)
The full document can be read at:
We are not alone in opposing these guidelines.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal has commented that:
"Universities are secular institutions, not places of worship, and sex segregation should have no place in secular spaces in which we expect to find equality between men and women. It would be completely unacceptable if a visiting speaker tried to segregate an audience along racial lines, so sex segregation should be equally unacceptable. Universities UK have characterised this as a freedom of speech issue, but this is misleading. A visiting speaker’s right to freedom of speech entitles them to express their political and religious views, but not to impose these views on the audience."
NSS Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, has said:
"A commitment to Freedom of Expression does not extend to submitting to speakers imposing their own conditions which are, or should be, contrary to the values of the institution, such as the segregation of audiences, or the refusal to allow questions or challenges."
Sylvia McLain in an article "Segregation on campus is never OK, whoever makes the rules" in "the Conversation" stated:
"A single speaker – whether hypothetical or not – requesting the segregation of an audience at a public university event should be told no, in no uncertain terms.
In the hypothetical case put forward by UUK, the requester did so on religious grounds. But you could think of any grounds you like. What if a white supremacist speaker demanded that races be separated? How would UUK advise them? What if the speaker demanded the audience be separated by religious belief – Sikhs on the right, atheists on the left, Christians to the centre right, Muslims on the centre left. Would UUK consider this arrangement equal?"
Sara Khan in the Independent writes:
"So let me spell it out for Universities UK, segregation results in ‘less favourable treatment.’ It enables the unequal distribution of power between men and women, resulting in gender based discrimination and inequality. It manifests itself in few female speakers being invited to speak to a mixed audience, limited decision making powers by female members, and how there have only been a handful of Isoc female presidents.
Segregation perpetuates discriminatory social norms and practices, shaping male attitudes about women and restricting the decisions and choices of women. By allowing gender segregation, Universities UK are complicit in the gender inequality being perpetuated by Isocs whose advice will only make it easier for Isocs to treat socially unequal groups, in this case women, even more unequally."
Louisa Peacock in the Telegraph has written:
Universities UK has effectively decided that institutions' duties under law, not to bar anyone on the grounds of their beliefs or views (the Education Act) outweighs other duties under law to help eliminate unlawful discrimination, and advance equality of opportunity between men and women (the Equality Act).
As Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, claimed earlier this year, universities are pandering to extreme religious beliefs before considering what is morally right from wrong.
Nick Cohen in the Spectator has written:
....academics are using a perverse notion of freedom. In normal language, you restrict my freedom if you stop me from speaking or writing. According to Universities UK, you are restricting the freedom of an extreme religious believer if you sit next to someone from the opposite sex, even if he or she is your husband or wife. Your behaviour is so outrageous it silences the believer and deprives him of his right to speak. This is akin to me demanding that everyone who hears me speak must agree with my sentiments. If they politely disagree or ask hard questions, I am a victim. I am at liberty to walk out and perhaps sue the event organisers for attacking my freedom of speech.
16 September 2013
Sense about Science - Evaluating Miracle Cures
22 April 2013
Subordination of Muslim Women in Great Britain
How timely it is that Leicester Secular Society welcomes Anne Marie Waters (One Law for All) to speak at Secular Hall next Sunday (28th April 6.30pm), Having watched tonight's horrific Panorama on Shari'a Councils in Britain.
We need to know more. Where are the Shari'a councils in Leicester? Are they open to the public? Who are the judges? Who holds them to account? We need to know.
The terrible injustices and inequalities handed out to the women in the programme demolishes any idea that Islamic Law has any place in our Society.
Support Anne Marie, a brave woman, who is at the forefront in opposing this evil and inhumane form of 'justice'.
Shame on you Margaret
As for that other pillar of the Church and the Party – the Family – the evidence shows us that she and her family were either unchristian, hypocritical (a mortal sin the last time I looked), or incompetent. According to Prof. Bernard Crick, grocer daddy Roberts was a well-known ‘toucher-upper‘ of nubile shop lasses (in today’s post-Savile world that description would certainly not have sufficed). She in her turn committed all manner of sins both Christian and legal (after generally changing the law to suit her designs). As for that world-renowned gun-running son Mark, the less said the better. No wonder Denis preferred the G&T.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher (née Roberts), as the first democratically elected female leader of these Isles you had a unique and special opportunity to change the political and social face of this country for the better after two thousand years of patriarchal testosterone-fuelled wars and an under-civilised society. What did you do instead? You practised and perpetuated patriarchy and nepotism with your hereditary baronetcy to Denis. You blew it Lady.
26 March 2013
Secular Hall Mini-Modernisation Plans
Unfortunately this Grade II listed Victorian building doesn't any longer come up to the modern standards we'd expect, especially for an organisation as committed as Leicester Secular Society is to equality and diversity.
We have no accessible toilet for disabled people, no hearing loop, and our kitchen is frankly a shambles.
So we're raising funds for a mini-modernisation. You can read more about it - and I hope, make a donation - from the project page on our website.
Here are some extracts from the modernisation plan (click to enlarge):
|New accessible toilet for disabled people||Refurbishing the Kitchen||New store and office / meeting room|
Read more about it and make a donation from the project page on our website.
09 February 2013
What can people learn from Humanism?
Humour, love and respect for each other.
We all have so much in common'
That's the title the Leicester Mercury placed above an interview piece about me and my work in the community as a non-religious celebrant and volunteer hospital chaplaincy visitor (More Mercury, 9 Feb 2013, pp 10-11).
I couldn't find it on their website, so here it is:
I was 8 years old when I decided that I didn’t believe in god. I’d thought about it a lot, and worked out that it simply didn’t stack up. It wasn’t a subject that was often spoken about at home. My grandmother had an expectation that I attend Sunday School, which I did until I was 11. I spoke to my mother about my atheism, who thought it was no big deal and that I should be allowed to make my own mind up about such matters. It’s only in recent years that people have started to identify themselves by their religion. We used to simply refer to each other as ‘people’ rather than as Christians, Sikhs, whatever. It’s very sad to see society being segregated like this. It is tragic that children are being educated in segregated schools, not mixing with each other.
During my late twenties and early thirties I attended the Church of England, and looked into other branches of Christianity; I explored Buddhism and Islam. I enjoyed the journey to some extent, as a learning exercise, but then got on with life without further recourse to religion.
Humanism came into my life through my passion for reading. Its positive slant on life encompassed my feelings in that I don’t believe in gods but I do believe in other human beings; that we should make the very best we can of our lives – not only for ourselves but also for the wider community.
The latest Census revealed a significant cultural shift, with a 67% relative rise in the number of people identifying themselves with ‘no religion’. A huge proportion of us here in Leicester are non-religious and hold humanist principles, whether or not we call ourselves humanists!
I realised that non-religious people were getting a raw deal when it came to provision for rites of passage. People who choose to live without religion in their lives should be afforded dignity and respect when it comes to funerals, weddings/civil partnerships, baby namings, memorials. I trained with the British Humanist Association to become an accredited Celebrant.
Humanist wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships reflect the wishes and lifestyles of the bride and groom/partners for life. I help them to design their ceremony, and to write their own vows from the love in their hearts. Humanist baby naming ceremonies are also popular, because the emphasis is on a ceremony tailored to suit that particular family, bringing joy and hope to everyone involved.
The ceremonies contain no religious liturgy. A typical funeral ceremony is customised to pay tribute to the deceased, outlining their life and character with respect, compassion and often humour. Poetry and favourite music reflect the deceased's personality, and family and friends usually contribute to the ceremony. Photographs, paintings, mementoes which meant a lot to the person who has died might be displayed. Space is set aside during the service to remember the deceased in accordance with mourners' personal beliefs. The ceremonies are inclusive and bring consolation to those who are grieving - whatever their beliefs. A growing number of people like to arrange the style and content of their funeral ceremony before death.
What happens to us after death? We simply cease to exist. Our bodies go back, either in the form of cremation or burial, to the earth or to the seas, back to star dust – just like before we were born. But we carry the dead with us in the love and memories that we keep for them; that’s how they live on. Some people leave tangible memories like paintings, writing, architecture. I believe that if you have made someone’s life breathe just that little bit easier, then it’s all been worth it. Love never dies.
What I say to people who state that there must be a point to life is that The Point of Life is Life! Humanists find meaning, beauty and happiness in the one life we have. We are lucky to be here; let’s make the most of it. To attain any kind of life at all in this great universe is quite an achievement. To quote Bill Bryson in his ‘A Short History of Everything’: For us to have come into existence, trillions of drifting atoms somehow assembled in an intricate manner. Without atoms there would be no water or air or rocks, no stars and planets, no distant gassy clouds or swirling nebulae; no you and me. It’s great that nowadays we have easy access to the wonders of scientific exploration. We can watch Brian Cox on television, read Richard Dawkins’ erudite and poetic essays on evolution. Dawkins has clarified so much – filled in the blanks between Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and ecology, and made biology into a rigorous science unified around evolution.
One of the lessons I learnt from Dawkins is that every single creature that exists is at the pinnacle of an evolutionary tree, a whole continuum of survivors.
As a story or fairy tale Creationism doesn’t worry me although it amazes me that people entertain Creationism, and horrifies me that it might be taught in schools. When folk put their faith in a creator god they think they’re absolved from responsibility – a very dangerous notion to promote as part of education. We’re living in the twenty-first century; it is pointless to drag civilization back to a despotic, grim and authoritarian past.
I see Fate as a device used by authors in theatre and literature, but it’s not part of real life.
Our guide to living a worthwhile and moral existence is to analyse the effect of the things we do and say. It is futile and cruel to promise people a ‘better life in the hereafter’; we should encourage everyone to grab life by the shoulders, shake it up and enjoy it. Look for adventures but take responsibility for our actions. Above all, demand justice and peace.
On a voluntary basis I am part of the Leicester Hospitals’ Chaplaincy Team, available to anyone in the hospital community who would prefer to seek pastoral and spiritual support from someone of their own life-stance. Religious chaplains (some full-, some part-time) of several denominations plus chapels and offices are funded from taxes paid by all whereas there is no paid chaplain for the non-religious, although about a quarter of the Leicester population is not religious. It’s a good thing that the NHS provides chaplaincy, but it should be there on equal terms for all and adhere to NHS equality and diversity provisions.
Apparently, research shows that society is becoming more secular. Sadly, I see society becoming more polarised in many ways as feelings of identity, particularly religious identity, are fostered to the detriment of initiatives like anti-racism of just a generation ago. Everyone should be free to practise their faith, just as they should not be disadvantaged for not having one. As a Humanist I campaign for the separation of religion and State, for an end to religious privilege – be it in the Lords or state-funded faith schools. It is inappropriate to include prayers as part of local council meetings. I believe it imperative that the Council reflects the diversity of our community and excludes no part of it, and it should therefore move away from prayers enabling councillors to serve the community without bias. We need those in power to promote equal treatment in law and policy for everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
We are fortunate in Leicester to host the world’s longest surviving Secular Society. Members have met in Secular Hall since 1881 and we continue to challenge the status quo. It’s the natural home for anyone who is not religious. We warmly welcome anyone to our weekly talks and events. It is monumentally important to acknowledge that – whether we are religious or not – we all have so much in common. Our common humanity bonds us, and we should all fight to keep these bonds strong, to build on them and to look to the future as an integrated and harmonious community.
What can people learn from Humanism? Love, humour, a way to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity, and respect for each other. We could all have better lives if we pay attention to the welfare of everyone in all countries and if we act as if we’re the trustees of the world and its resources for future generations.