27 January 2007

Secular Facts and Arguments 1

This is the first of a series of occasional postings aimed at helping secularists and humanists to counter misrepresentations and misperceptions and build the political, social and moral case for secularism and humanism.

We are winning the argument but we still need to convert this into political pressure and action.
In Leicester we prevented a second Church of England academy.
But in addition to preventing we need to project the idea of a better way, a secular way, forward that all can share in.

Apathy is the big problem.

Support http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/endfaithschools/

Allan Hayes

(1)Religion not a basis for most (http://www.humanism.org.uk/site/cms/newsarticleview.asp?article=2288)
(http://tinyurl.com/y2yejj )
In this poll:

62% chose ‘Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong’, against 27% who said ‘People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong’.

62% said ‘scientific & other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe’ against 22% who felt ‘religious beliefs are needed for a complete understanding of the universe’.

65% said that what is right and wrong ‘depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’. The rest split almost equally between two profoundly un-Humanist views: 15% said right and wrong were ‘basically just a matter of personal preference’ and 13% said what was right and wrong was ‘unchanging and should never be challenged’.

This supports the call for a radical reform of religious education in schools.

(2) Under representation of non-religious
20% of children in Leicester state schools are listed as having no religion (this is probably a gross underestimate). Seven years ago British Humanist was asked to provide help in meeting their needs, I am the third humanist representative on the Leicester Standing Advisory council on Religious Education, but I am hampered by being allowed to be only a co-opted non-voting member, and there is a move afoot to stop me from participating in some important

(3) Government pays too much attention to religious groups and leaders (http://www.humanism.org.uk/site/cms/newsarticleview.asp?article=2287)
The poll mentioned in (1) yielded the following ranking by percentage voting for each choice of the group that the government pays too much attention to.
Leaders of other countries 44 Religious groups and leaders 42 Newspaper headlines 35 Big Business 34 The Royal Family 20 Trade Unions 17 Ordinary people 3 None of these 9.

(4) Heads against faith schools(http://education.guardian.co.uk/newschools/story/0,,1963587,00.html)
A recent ICM poll of head teachers found:
47% felt there should be either fewer or no faith schools, while 32% felt there should be no change. Only 9% agreed with the government's policy of increasing the number of faith schools.
Only 25% believe the presence of schools with a religious character creates more religious tolerance in society; 18% reckon they make no difference, while 45% think they actively contribute to less tolerance.

(5) Faith schools not better
(http://cee.lse.ac.uk/cee%20dps/ceedp72.pdf)An LSE study, Faith Primary Schools: Better Schools or Better Pupils?Stephen Gibbons, Olmo Silva, November 2006 is the only the latest showing that any advantage in performance of faith schools is very small and is due to the difference in student intake.
But government praise and support might lead to damaging gaps developing as parents exercise their choice.

(6) Religion does more harm than good (23 Dec 2006)
This ICM poll found that 82% see religion as a cause of division and tension between people: only 16% disagree. A clear majority, 63% say that they are not religious

(7) Faith schools, numbers, funding, discrimination, purpose
One third of our state schools are controlled by either the Church of England (one quarter) or the Catholic Church. Church schools are not gifts from the churches: until last year all the running costs, salaries and wages, and at least 90% of building costs were paid for out of taxes, now, the 2006 Education Act allows the state to pay all building costs.
Faith schools promote their own religions and can discriminate on religious grounds in the admission of children and in the hiring, promoting and firing of staff.

Government policy is to encourage more faith schools: we are heading for half our schools being faith schools.

(8) £9,000,000 to Church of England for building conservation over next three yearshttp://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si2006/uksi_20061008_en.pdf
Compare this with the effort LSS has to put in to get money for the regeneration of Secular Hall.

19 January 2007

Burn The Burqa

Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi writer, who currently lives in exile in Calcutta, India, calls for Muslim women to Burn the Burqa, and to do away with all other forms of purdah. Perhaps the Muslim women of Leicester could take a lead in bringing about this modernising and liberating reform.

The article was published in Outlook India on 22 January. Taslima writes (page 2 of article):

Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women's oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact.

When I first moved to Leicester seven years ago the sight of women covered from head to foot in black, even covering their faces, seemed shocking and incomprehensible to me. I have now become accustomed to it, seeing it every day, but still see it as a way of effacing these people from view, as if they are of no account. It's not even as if it was an aesthetic custom, why does it always have to be the most depressing black?