29 September 2005

Our new season of programmes starts this week. Until Friday there is an exhibition on display (9.30am - 4.30pm approximately, except Thursday morning) of photographs and maps, with accompanying text, telling the story of the epic march of some 400 and more of the Leicester unemployed to London and back in 1905. Many of the photographs are hand-coloured as was the practice at that time, before colour photography was developed. Members will have seen some of these before from Ned Newitt's talk given in June on the exact 100th anniversary. There are also photos of his previous exhibition in October 2004 on Leicester's Radical and Working Class History among the past talks pages. This new display has been put together with help from the Records Office at Wigston. I hope to include a photograph shortly.

Ned Newitt's site: The Labour Movement in Leicester from 1883:

The Record Office:

The first lecture in the new series, on Sunday 2nd October at the usual time of 6.30pm will be given by Colin Hyde, Director of the Leicester Oral History Project, and will include voices from the past that may be familiar to many older members.

East Midlands Oral History Archive:

21 September 2005

Thanks to Shani Lee of Frontline Books there is now a version of the programme for September - December on the LSS website. This is a provisional version and may be revised once the printed version comes out. The first meeting 27-30 September, is another showing of Ned Newitt's fascinating collection of historical material, with emphasis on the 1905 March to London.

There is now a link at the top of the home page, leading to this blog. I've also revised the layout of past talks; there is now a separate page for each year, accessible via the Programme page.

Having started off with a post a day we will probably settle down to a more sensible one or two per week. There is a facility on Blogspot to allow other people to post to the blog by joining as a Team member. Members of Leicester Secular Society who think they may have regular news items, and would like to post themselves, can apply to me to be included in the team (or I may contact you direct). You would not have the facility of editing the posts after they were published. That would remain with me or any other Admin member appointed. Alternatively, send me your news item and I will publish it. Write to the email address at the bottom of the LSS home page.

17 September 2005

The winter programme of events at Secular Hall is expected any minute, from our Secretary Michael Gerard, but all I know at present is that it begins with an Exhibition at the end of September.

Meanwhile I've been doing some research on the history of the Society. We have some microfilms made in 1981 based on material in Leicester Record Office, which I've started to view on the reader in the Central Reference Library. The first Reel contains F. J. Gould's History of Leicester Secular Society written in 1900 (part of which is reproduced on our website), and G. J. Holyoake's eulogy written on Josiah Gimson's death in 1883. Then there are some copies of LSS Minute Books 1852 to 1902.

In a historical introduction, written by Edward Royle of the University of York, there is an account of the Leicester Secular Hall Company. This was set up in 1873 to raise funds to build the Hall, by issuing 1000 shares at £5 each. Half of these were bought by Gimson, 60 by John Sladen and 40 by Michael Wright; these were the main shareholders. The Gimson family later bought more shares as they came on the market. The Company was legally separate from the Society but with overlapping membership. The Company let the Hall to the Society.

The Leicester Rationalist Trust was set up in 1907 (see further details on our website), and the Hall was sold by the Company to the Trust, on behalf of the Society, for £2500 in 1923. At that time Sydney Gimson was president of the Society. In his will (he died 1938) he left £300 to the Rationalist Trust. Sydney Gimson also left a typescript Random Recollections, which is apparently at the LCRO. Thanks to our member Dave Ray I've been able to read a photocopy of Part I of this which covers the period up to 1900. It is rather chatty and drops the names of everyone of any significance who was involved in that era. (I will try to put some extracts on the website.)

One of the names that I'd not come across before, now largely forgotten, is that of Auberon Herbert, at one time a Nottingham MP and advocate of "Individualism" or "Voluntaryism". He died in 1906 (the same year as Holyoake), and Gimson seems to have thought very highly of his ideas. Tom Barclay in his Memoirs and Medleys mentions him, saying: "We annihilated all the arguments of Teetotallers, Co-operators, Malthusians and Individualists like Auberon Herbert and W. H. Mallock." Speaking at Secular Hall in those days must have been a frustrating occupation -- it still can be!

13 September 2005

I went to the meeting of the 'Leicester Campaign to Stop the War', with Manzoor Moghal, of the Muslim forum, and Akram Hawwash, from Palestine, as speakers. There were 18 people in attendance in all, including myself and the speakers. Alas very little was said about what can be done now, rather than raking over old history.

At the end I was able to ask Mr Moghal if he could say why there were (as far as I could tell) no Muslims in the audience, when the speakers were Muslim and the topic so obviously of interest to the Muslim community, and seems to have been well publicised. We had the same problem when Ziauddin Sardar spoke to Leicester Secular Society on 'Islam and Secularism' last January. (Dr Mukadam of the Islamic Academy was the only other Muslim evident.)

Mr Moghal spoke of Muslims having the duty of prayer five times a day, and of family duties. This may be so, but is surely not sufficient. I pointed out that when I took part in a debate at a Leicester University Ideological Society (a Muslim student organisation), two years ago, at a similar time in the evening, the lecture hall was packed out.

My conclusion is that Muslims will only attend meetings organised, or approved, by Muslim organisations. This failure of Muslims to participate in the wider society is a serious problem.

12 September 2005

A Report on the 'Law, Religion and Secularism' Conference

This is a necessarily short note on a four-hour conference. Suleiman Nagdi spoke of the difficulties of meeting the requirements of Muslim customs particularly in the case of deaths in hospital, where burial within 24 hours may not be possible, due to post mortem delays. He also indicated that autopsy procedures might be seen as violation of modesty. In the question and answer session he indicated that the views of Muslims on transplants were divided; those from the Indian subcontinent tending to be against, and most other areas in favour.

By far the most impressive talk was given by Peter Veitch, Consultant Transplant Surgeon, on his experience with kidney patients. He made quite clear the ethical dilemmas faced by such surgeons. He would never in practice use a kidney from a deceased patient without permission of the coroner and the patient's family, even if the patient had signed a donor card. Jean McHale described the legal position as regards the opt-in or opt-out alternatives; in various countries the patient's family may have no say. Deborah Baker described the practical problems of race relations in the Leicester hospitals, such as providing an interpreter when 85 different languages are spoken in the city.

In the second half of the programme, Ibrahim Mogra (bearded and turbaned but very young looking and speaking excellent English) supported the proposals to introduce a law against incitement to hatred on religious grounds, and the idea of extending the blasphemy laws to protect other religions. He also seemed to indicate that he would like these laws to cover cases of ridicule, since no-one likes to have their cherished views laughed at, even secularists. (As a secularist I'm all for being ridiculed by anyone. It's good for us.)

Andrew Copson presented the Humanist case very well, though I thought he was unnecessarily apologetic in thanking the organisers for inviting a humanist speaker. He emphasised the role of human rights legislation, and there being no privileged position for any belief system, to resolve conflicts in a multicultural society. Mr Sandhu spoke as a Sikh, and about such activities as the introduction of prayer rooms in hospitals (and at police HQ!), and in setting Home Office guidelines on forced marriage. I found the final speech, by Hazel Baird on the work of the Commission for Racial Equality, almost impossible to follow, since it seemed to be entirely composed of vague generalities and platitudes, like a PR brochure.

Chris Eyre, the Deputy Chief Constable, spoke only in the final question and answer session. There was a session at the end of each part. One speaker, originally from Kenya, expressed the view that he would not be willing to make kidney donation on religious grounds. A Somali speaker, new to Leicester, sought clarification of the powers of the coroner. Secular views were well articulated and given a fair hearing. I made the mistake of sitting next to Tom Morris who, after a long trip to get to the conference, made good contributions in both sessions. (I hope he will pass on his impressions in comments to this post.) There was also a good exchange between Andrew Wyngate for the Church of England and Allan Hayes for Humanism. (Again I hope one or both will provide comments.)

11 September 2005

Activities at Secular Hall

A lot more happens at Secular Hall than just the meetings of the Secular Society, which are held in the Library on the ground floor. The much larger ballroom upstairs is used by the ABC Dance company and occasionally by the Society for specially large meetings. The basement is occupied by Leicester Martial Arts. A bookshop has been a feature of the building since it was opened in 1881, and part of the frontage is now occupied by Frontline Books.

The Library and the adjacent Members' Room are available for hire, and are well used by numerous different groups. Bookings for these rooms are now made through Frontline Books: http://www.frontlinebooks.co.uk/. There are some restrictions on who can hire the rooms. Obviously, for instance, we do not permit them to be used for religious services. There are higher rates for hire by commercial companies than for social groups.

There is a Public Meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, 13th September, 7:30pm organised by the Leicester Campaign to Stop the War (which war is not stated!) at which named speakers are Manzoor Moghal (Chairman of the Muslim Forum) and Akram Hawwash (from Palestine). The Secular Society held a discussion prior to the invasion of Iraq, at the time of the big demonstrations in London, and the views of members expressed then warned of just the disastrous outcomes that we have seen. The question now is, can the US, British and other forces be withdrawn leaving a reasonably stable situation, or is such a situation unattainable?

10 September 2005

I've been thinking of starting up a weblog for a while, but didn't want it just to be a place to impose my own views on the world, or to chat inconsequentially about anything that came to mind, since my mind is anything but orderly and disciplined. One of my favourite sayings is from Lewis Carroll: "never do anything without a porpoise". The purpose of this blog is therefore to provide a News Service related to Leicester Secular Society, whose website I set up and maintain at: http://homepages.stayfree.co.uk/lss/index.htm.

By reporting activities of the Society and other relevant events I hope it will be possible to stimulate greater interest, especially among younger people. Someone recently said to me that the Society is seen as a club for grumpy old men! Unfortunately I fear that there is some truth in this observation. That was one of the stimuli that led me to set up this site. We regularly attract younger people to look into our meetings, but the trouble is they tend to come one at a time, see few people of their own age, and unless they already have a commitment to the reforms and ideas for which the Society stands, have little incentive to return.

The immediate event that triggered my action in opening this blog was an email I received from an enquirer, that brought to our notice a conference on "Law, Religion and Secularism" organised by the University of Leicester, but which the organisers had not seen fit to tell us about, although they had informed all the local faith groups, and had got a speaker from the British Humanist Association. For details see here: http://www.le.ac.uk/law/lrsconference/. One of my next posts will be a report on that meeting. (I understand Hanne Stinson is not able to come, so the BHA will be represented by Andrew Copson.)