06 September 2006
Secular Hall Open Day
This year is the 155th anniversary of a Leicester organisation that has done perhaps more than any other in the city to create a society in which all can live together as full members without discrimination by race, belief or social status. Without its work and that of similar groups across the country, we would today be a less tolerant society, less welcoming of newcomers and less able to live together as equals.
When Leicester Secular Society was founded in 1851, few men - and no women - had the vote.
Those who did not belong to the established church suffered serious discrimination, people were sent to prison for criticising Christianity, elected MPs could not take their seats without swearing a religious oath, tithes still had to be paid to the church and contraception was not openly available.
The society fought to address these inequities, and, on the whole, succeeded.
People are now much more accepted, and participate more as fellow human beings whatever their social status or beliefs, and the open debate essential to a democratic society is less impaired.
In 1881, the society completed its present home, the Secular Hall, in Humberstone Gate. This is now a recognised national heritage asset, a grade II listed building and home of the oldest secular society in the world (a Leicester first).
It is a lively community asset, providing for a dance school, martial arts academy and bookshop, and is a central meeting place for numerous organisations.
The principles of the society are as important now as in 1851. It promotes them with debates and lectures by leading local and national figures on a wide range of topics, by the work of individual members in youth activities, religious education, conflict resolution and other areas, and by providing non-religious ceremonies for weddings, births and funerals. A recent first in the country has been the appointment of one of our members to the Hospital Chaplaincy team.
Social responsibility, dialogue and robust argument have always characterised the society's activities. Currently, we are engaged in opposing faith schools and creationism at the same time as organising a series of meetings with a Christian group, and developing contacts with other faiths.
The society is working hard to bring the hall's facilities up to modern standards. A study has estimated that this will cost about £2 million. We are seeking financial support and have been greatly encouraged by the appreciation shown of the importance of the building and the society.
You can see for yourself by coming to our open day at 75 Humberstone Gate, Leicester, LE1 1WB this Sunday, from 10am to 6pm, followed at 6.30pm by a talk about the building's architect.
More to the point, it gave us the chance to talk to a lot of ordinary punters about what we're about and why.
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