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Do religious leaders represent the views of the adherents of their sects?

Holyrood must listen to all views on new Bill – letter in the Scotsman 27 January 2015.

the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee will today take evidence from a range of religious leaders, many of whom are out of touch with the views and beliefs of their members.Humanist Society Scotland challenges religious objections to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. Under the 2010 Equality Act, religion and belief are to be treated equally. Despite this, the Scottish Parliament has decided to take evidence from a panel made up of religious leaders separately from other secular organisations.

A BMJ 2013 survey on assisted suicide found that the attitudes of members of certain religious groups was significantly out of step with the official position of that religion. The survey found that 61 per cent of Presbyterians (such as the Church of Scotland) were in favour of assisted suicide; 56 per cent of Catholics and 72 per cent of Anglicans also supported a change in the law to allow terminally ill people to end their own lives. The same survey found that less than 0.02 per cent of respondents said they look to religious leaders for guidance on assisted suicide, versus 65 per cent who said they look to science and their own reason and intuition.

Gary McLelland, Humanist Society Scotland  –

Worrying report shows religious zealots undermining Scottish education

A comprehensive report by Prof Paul Braterman demonstrates the worrying penetration of the Scottish school system by religious zealots with profoundly unscientific views of evolution. It can be viewed at;

Additional relevant research by ESS entitled ‘Evidence of evangelical organisations targeting and accessing ‘non-denominational’ schools in Scotland’ (including specific Edinburgh information) can be accessed at;

Edinburgh ‘a secular city’–councillor

Rejecting a plea by some city churches to abandon plans for car parking charges on Sundays Cllr Adam McVey, Deputy Convenor of Edinburgh City Council’s Transport Committee, stated that Edinburgh was a ‘secular city’. He continued that ‘the concerns of just one faith could not be allowed to influence city policy’.

Abandoning plans for Sunday parking charges on behalf of churches would probably offend equalities legislation since similar privileges might be required for mosques on Fridays and the synagogue on Saturdays.

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Debate about Charlie Hebdo Paris massacres raise free speech issues in Scotland as well

The Charlie Hebdo massacres raise major issues about the possible limits to free speech in a democratic society. Many of these issues are very close to home here in Scotland. In some of its communications the Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has referred to the ‘Church of Rome’ because it argues that the latter is an international organisation based in Rome which appoints bishops who govern the Church in Scotland according to doctrines and rituals decided in the Vatican. In contrast the Church of Scotland is a national self-governing organisation.

At a Scottish Parliamentary hearing into a petition by ESS to end the appointment of religious representatives, including some from the Roman Catholic Church, to otherwise elected Scottish council education committees, the latter Church accused ESS of using ‘hate speech’ because the term ‘Church of Rome’, which was used in supporting material and argument, was, in other contexts (Northern Ireland?), used in a critical and hostile manner to the Church. Cowed by this intervention MSPs and parliamentary officers made clear that the use of the term would not assist the case of the petitioners.

For good reasons of objective discussion, as stated above, and for vigorous political argument, there is a case for using the term ‘Church of Rome’. ESS is not engaging in ‘hate’ when it offers valid criticisms of the Church and the privileges that it enjoys. Indeed the secular principles of ESS have led it to argue that it is inappropriate for any religious group, like Catholics, to be excluded from succession to the throne.

It is not just extremist Muslims who seek to limit free expression. The Church of Rome attempts to control the very forms of speech that are used in parliamentary and public debate in Scotland.

The Queen is acting unconstitutionally in religious matters

The Queen and then Archbishop of Canterbury at the inaugural and interfaith event of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee of 2012 at Lambeth Palace. Picture credit Reuters.

Rev Dr John Cameron (Letters 27 December) commends the Queen for her steadfast Christian messages which she again propagated in this year’s Christmas broadcast.

However like her wayward son she is not averse to flirting with other faiths. Indeed in the first event of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, significantly an interfaith event organised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, she stated that the Church of England, of which she is Supreme Governor, had a responsibility to protect and support other faiths.

Constitutionally that Church has no such responsibility, Article 18 of the Church of England’s founding statutes, to be found in the Prayer Book, states clearly ‘THEY also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, ……. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved’.

In making that 2012 speech and indulging in inter-faith collaboration her majesty, and her son, go way beyond her constitutional responsibilities as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It is time for the UK Parliament to amend the laws that govern the Church to make them appropriate for a more secular age and to ensure that the monarch and the heirs to the throne act constitutionally.

Letter in the Scotsman 29 December 2015 by ESS Honorary President, Professor Norman Bonney

Conflicts between secularism and religious fundamentalism in public life and the world of work

Various views on the extent to which religious views should be allowed to influence how people perform their work duties and the challenges that secularism offers to religious privileges in public life – in the columns of the Scotsman.

End religious discrimination and sectarianism in Scotland’s ancient universities

New College, Edinburgh University

Because of the historical association between the Kirk and Scotland’s four ancient universities, (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews), these higher education institutions still prepare students for ministry, uniquely with the Church of Scotland.

Other denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and numerous others have to make their own training arrangements for ministers.

This discriminatory privilege should end. One way to discourage these arrangements would be bring in full cost fees for all courses which contribute to the vocational training requirements of candidate ministers of the Kirk or any other denomination. That way public funds would not be used to subsidise the preparation of ministers for a church which now has the adherence of less than one in three citizens and taxpayers.

Letter in Times Higher Education 19 December 2014 by Professor Norman Bonney, Honorary President, Edinburgh Secular Society

ESS comments on latest Scottish Government guidance on Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education

I was concerned to hear that faith schools have been granted an effective veto regarding new government guidelines on Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education.

Some religious groups have strong prescriptive doctrine on relationships and sexual behaviour but young people need to learn about the world as it is and not as the religious ethos of their school would like it to be.

The notion that teenagers will desist from sexual exploration simply because they have no information on how to do it safely and respectfully is naïve, cruel and a dangerous precedent for religious exemption from the law.

Letter in the Herald 15 December 2014 from Neil Barber, ESS Press and Communications Officer.



Ancient Christians borrowed the nativity story and mid-winter rituals from the Roman army cult of Mithras and other pagan traditions

More details of Christmas myths from ESS Treasurer and science writer Steuart Campbell at

Smith Commission additional devolution powers fail to confront the legislative power of Church of England bishops on non-devolved matters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales

In an assessment of the recommendations of the Smith Commission on additional powers for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, ESS Honorary President Professor Norman Bonney, observes that the proposals include no recommendations to remove the power of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords to affect legislation applying on non-devolved matters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

These powers enabled the bishops in 2010 to have a decisive influence on the Equality Act which exempted religious organisations from equality obligations that fall on other bodies.

Prof Bonney’s assessment of the Smith Commission proposals can be accessed at

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