Author Archives: Steuart Campbell

Abolish blasphemy law

With the absurd police investigation in Ireland over Stephen Fry’s so-called “blasphemy” on The Meaning of Life TV programme, a show designed to air exactly such debate, it seems that The New Zealand Parliament is moving to remove its own version of this atavistic legislation.
“Blasphemy” is still a common law offence in Scotland.
While the law must protect religious individuals from harm and persecution that doesn’t extent to protecting religious ideas from scrutiny or criticism. Could it be that government’s resistance finally to abolishing this nonsense derives from a fear that any sort of attack on religious privilege is a block vote loser ?

Neil Barber– Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society
Published The Scotsman Friday 12 May – 2017 – The Scotsman

Facebook’s blasphemy” discussion in Pakistan

We were horrified to learn that Facebook is to send a team to Pakistan to discuss its government’s determination that “blasphemy” (with its associated death sentence) should be censored on social media.

In distinguishing between hate speech and so-called “blasphemy” let us hope that these talks take heed of the words of British Muslim commentator Maajid Nawaz who has said of this issue that, “No person is beneath dignity but no idea is above scrutiny.”

Neil Barber– Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published The Scotsman Friday 21 March – 2017 – The Scotsman.

Claused Minds

Its back to the drawing board for The Church of England after its latest Bishops’ report on homosexuality failed to win a majority approval from The General Synod.

Seems that the report suggested slight tweaks to the degree of politeness which LGBT Christians should expect but no change in its opposition to marriage equality : essentially that Gay people are not unequal, they just shouldn’t have access to the institutions of equality.

We welcome that The C of E are inching their way towards decency and modernity though as secular campaigners, do we have a right to intrude on private grief?

The problem is that as England’s “national” church, it’s not private. This is a minority Christian group who are exempt from equality legislation yet have access to schools and un-elected voices in government.

They should be disestablished so they can take all the time they need to sort out their anachronistic internal schisms.

Neil Barber– Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published The Scotsman Friday 17 February – 2017 The Scotsman

Letter also published in the Edinburgh News on the same date –  headed ‘Cof E needs to sort out its stance on equality’.


  

Remove crosses from Mortonhall Crematorium

I hope that the City of Edinburgh Council will take the opportunity 
another two months of repairs offers (Your report 14 January) to remove 
the crosses that loom over both chapels (they need to be covered with a 
curtain for non-religious funerals).
    The Crematorium is a secular building and should not appear to be 
supporting one particular religious faith--Christianity. Only a minority 
are now Christians and most Scots have no religion. That should be 
reflected in the appearance of the chapels.

Steuart Campbell – Secretary – Edinburgh Secular Society
Published Edinburgh Evening News 18 January 2017

mortonhall-interior

Secular prayer

This week will see the Church of Norway become officially disestablished.

Coat of arms of the Church of Norway

Coat of arms of the Church of Norway

Norwegians are now free to choose any religion or none but will no longer have their philosophic views assumed for them by the state. Scotland and England continue to be in a tiny minority of European countries where one branch of one minority religion is named the “national church.”

Let us hope that in 2017 religious leaders will continue to guide their own followers but take a lead in graciously and voluntarily surrendering these unrepresentative privileges.

The mixing of religion and politics causes some of the worst problems in the world. Combating that begins at home.

 

Neil Barber – Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published The Scotsman The Herald and Edinburgh News – 30 January 2017

Not-so uniform

Seems that the option to wear the hijab as part of the official uniform of Police Scotland is being adopted by a small number of Muslim officers. There is already provision made for Sikh turbans.
While we all support inclusivity and representation and applaud the commitment of those who wish to join the force, questions arise about religious neutrality in how our police are perceived.
Which other groups might now wish similarly to customise the state uniform ?

Neil Barber – Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published The Scotsman newspaper 30 December 2016

Open letter to Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Gary McLelland

Chair, Edinburgh Secular Society

admin@edinburghsecularsociety.com

November 5, 2013

The Right Rev Lorna Hood

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Church of Scotland

121 George Street

Edinburgh

EH2 4YN

Dear The Right Rev Lorna Hood:

I am writing in response to your comments in The Times (Saturday 2nd October, 2013).  I was concerned about your comments regarding secularism, in which you say – when asked if Scotland is a secular state; “a secular state would be one without religion”.

I am disturbed that in your role as Moderator of the General Assembly you appear unaware of the true meaning of secularism.  Secularism is a socio-political stance which calls for the separation of church and state: it simply advocates that in the public domain people should be treated equally whether they hold religious beliefs or not.  I would have expected that this is something that you and the Church of Scotland would support.

I am troubled that you see members of the Church of Scotland, and secularists as opposing forces. In my position as Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society, please be assured that this feeling is not mutual.  Indeed I know of members and clergy within your church, who are supportive of a number of our aims and objectives.

In the article you go on to mention the services provided by the Church of Scotland. I must point out that those services are also available for non-religious people by organizations such as the secular Humanist Society Scotland.  Indeed, the Humanist Society Scotland are Scotland’s third most popular provider of marriage services.

In The Times you went on to say: “I do think that the Church has to speak out on issues, because if the voice of the Church isn’t heard, the voice of the secularists will be heard”.

It’s not the intention or objective of secularism to silence the voice of any church. The voice of religious groups in Scotland should be available alongside the many other voices and viewpoints in our vibrant society.  Your comments in the article appear to suggest that it can only be one or the other.

I am very glad to be able to reassure you that neither secularism in general, nor Edinburgh Secular Society specifically, is hostile towards religion.  The focus of our campaigning is the situations where religion seeks a privileged position in Scottish society.  Such privilege conflicts with current ideas of equality and democracy.

We not only look forward to a continued dialogue with, but the support of, the Church of Scotland.

Sincerely,

Gary M Signature

Gary McLelland

Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society

(pdf version available)

Scotland’s young people deserve better than this

Young people have a human right to sexual health and relationships education. Something which the religious minority in Scotland is taking away, argues Gary McLelland (originally published on www.secularism.org.uk on 29 October 2013).

Scotland, like many areas, is working to promote safe and healthy relationships, especially among its younger citizens.

As with many issues in Scottish education, religious sectarian divides exist to the detriment of youngsters.

The current guidance from the Scottish Government on sexual health and relationships education comes from a circular issued in 2001. This was produced just before the repeal of Section 28 (2A in Scotland), however as the guidance states, this was a key factor for consideration in the document.

The 2001 guidance states quite clearly that:

"Programmes of sex education should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour."

This was, at the time, a welcome progressive move from the Scottish Government, an acknowledgement that young people have a human right to appropriate factual education about sexual health and relationships, and given the political environment at the time, was clearly a sign of a move towards a progressive secular Scotland, where the reactionary cries of religious fanatics was being firmly put in its place.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has made LGBT equality a cornerstone of his political career, the slogan ‘It Gets Better’ is used to denote his party’s alliance with equality.

This image of progressive equality has taken a bit of a battering recently, with the discussions around the introduction of same-sex marriage. Religious groups have been the most vocal in Scotland against the introduction of marriage equality north of the border, with the meek and mild Church of Scotland being forced into embarrassing anti-social positions.

Despite the fact that many of Scotland’s religious citizens, including the majority of Roman Catholics, are in favour of marriage equality, and the Quaker Church in Scotland of the opinion that it would strengthen the institution of marriage, religious groups have not been shy in queuing up to claim ‘religious persecution’. Despite the Scottish Government’s clear plans to legislate for same-sex marriage, it has held a lengthy consultation period, seeking a range of views on either side.

It seems that despite their previous commitment to equality and a progressive secular society, the Scottish Government is keen not to offend any religious groups. So much so that they are intent to legislate a ‘conscience clause’ or backdoor opt-out for any person who considers their religious beliefs to overrule equality.

Not content with ensuring that any religious groups can discriminate against same-sex couples whilst they act on behalf of the State to solemnise marriages, the Scottish Government has now gone one further in effectively making sexual health, relationships and parenthood education optional.

In a draft revision of the 2001 Circular, the Scottish Government has inserted a very vague conscience clause:

"In issuing this guidance it is the Scottish Government’s expectation that if a teacher, child or young person is asked to do something against his or her conscience, he or she should be able to raise this with the school or local authority."

This clause is worryingly vague and has been written, by the Scottish Government’s own admission, as a response to the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. This is clearly an attempt by the Government to stop the requirement (of 2001) that teachers teach the law.

Even more worryingly is that this opt-out now applies to pupils as well. Unless this clause is seriously revised, or removed, we may see a situation in Scotland where religious teachers are not expected to teach the law, and parents and pupils may remove themselves.

It seems, for the Scottish Government at least, the vocal views of the religious minority have trumped the reasoned and sensible majority, and that the education of young Scots comes a mere second to the hurt feelings of the Godly.

As Scotland moves towards one of the most important periods in 300 years, is the Scottish Government really content to treat its young citizens in such a childish way.

The consultation can be viewed here.

Edinburgh Secular Society challenges undemocratic religious representatives

Click here to sign our petition.

handsred

Edinburgh Secular Society Vice-chair Colin Emerson has submitted a petition to The Scottish Parliament to ask it to instruct The Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to remove the legislation which places a requirement on the all 32 local authorities in Scotland to appoint three ‘religious representatives’ to their education committees.

Read More →

Prof Norman Bonney is appointed Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society

Norman Sept 2008On Sunday 29th September, Edinburgh Secular Society presented Professor Norman Bonney with a gift to recognise his services to secularism in Scotland.

Prof Bonney has been appointed as the Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society, a position dating back to the 19th Century.

Gary McLelland, Chair of ESS presented Prof Bonney with a book, Modern Humanists Reconsidered, by JM Robertson (1927), on behalf of the Society.

NPG x120271; John Mackinnon RobertsonThe book which was presented was a significant piece of literature, written by the JM Robertson, who was then the President of Edinburgh Secular Society.

JM Robertson was a significant person in the secularism movement in Edinburgh and throughout the UK.  He went on to assist Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Bessant in setting up the National Secular Society.

Prof Bonney will himself, later this year, release his book Monarchy, religion and the state (2013).

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