ESS Letter: Rights of Children V Religious Rights

Relgion v Child rights

We were heartened to hear that a court in England has ruled against a Muslim father who wished for his sons aged six and four to have their genitals surgically altered in keeping with his religious beliefs.

The boys’ mother had argued that they should be allowed to decide for themselves when they are old enough.

Adult religious belief must be respected but it does not trump the rights of children who are too young to understand or consent to such a procedure.

Neil Barber – Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published Edinburgh Evening News 22nd April 2016

ESS Letter: Bible-based morality


To its credit the SNP government is to amend gender recognition laws to promote the freedoms and rights of transgender Scots.

This welcome initiative is of course opposed by David Robertson of The Free Church who has blustered about “the destruction of traditional Christian ideas of sexuality and marriage” and how it will mean “the destruction of humanity and cause chaos.”

Religious groups must be free to campaign on any issue so long as it is not from a platform of privilege: we might, for example, support their opposition to poverty or homelessness so we have no right to deny them a voice simply because we might disagree on this occasion.

However if bible-based morality creates ungenerous attitudes of such naivety, intolerance and gracelessness, is it any wonder that the vast majority of Scots aged under-thirty are now having nothing to do with Christianity ?

 Neil Barber – Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published in Edinburgh Evening News 4th April 2016

ESS Letter: Time to end religious privilege in Scotland

Relgious Privilege

With the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey showing that 52% of Scots are not religious it is official that Scotland is NOT a “Christian country.”

It must now be time to rethink the anachronistic advantages this particular religion enjoys: unelected representatives on local education committees, open-door access to the developing minds of state school children, taxpayers’ money given to “faith schools”, automatic stewardship of civic ceremonies, annual pageants proclaiming their affiliation with our judiciary. The list goes on.

As secularists we feel no schadenfreude at this predictable decline as all are entitled to their beliefs, but Christianity is now only a subset of a minority.

The state’s duty is to protect the right to private religious belief and not to privilege it.

Neil Barber – Communications Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published in Glasgow Herald 6th April 2016

ESS Letter: The “real meaning“ of Easter?


Deriving its name from Eastre, a goddess of Spring, Easter means different things to different people.

Rebirth is a universal theme: eggs work for everyone, garden centres are jostling and for Christians it is represented in the resurrection story.

With this plethora of interpretations of the Spring equinox why do posters on church doors continue to proclaim the “real meaning“ of Easter?

Might it be that the “intolerance” which Christians claim to experience would abate considerably were they to share their festival with the words “our meaning?”

Neil Barber – Communication Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published in Edinburgh Evening News 25th March 2016. 

‘Enlighten Up Campaign’


The Enlighten Up campaign calls for removal of unelected religious representatives from Local Authority Education Committees and exposes worrying details of current religious representatives in a new report.

Humanist Society Scotland has launched its new Enlighten Up education campaign calling on the Scottish Government to end the guessing game for parents and ensure that every member of local authority education committees are accountable through the ballot box.

Sign the petition here

Nathan Alexander: Exploring the deep roots of Scottish secularism

Scottish Secularism

PhD candidate at the School of History, University of St Andrews, Nathan Alexander examines the roots of secularism in Scotland

IN listening to opponents of secularism in Scotland, one would think that challenging Christian privilege was somehow a recent phenomenon here.

There is no doubt that the nation boasts a long Christian history, but one can equally find a long history of a bold questioning of the authority of Christianity – certainly not always prominent or mainstream, it is true, but present nonetheless.

Thomas Aikenhead (c. 1676-1697) might be one of the earliest figures in this alternative tradition. In his third year studying at the University of Edinburgh, Aikenhead was charged with blasphemy in late 1696.

Among his crimes were ridiculing the Bible, dubbing theology “ill-invented nonsense”, and asserting that both Jesus and Moses were merely magicians who had learned their craft in Egypt. Aikenhead’s indictment was based on blasphemy laws dating from 1661 and 1695, which prescribed death for those who denied God or the trinity.

Despite desperate pleas from the young Aikenhead that he had repented his irreligious views and that he was a minor, not yet 21 years old, he was convicted in December and subsequently hanged on 8 January 1697, though not, it should be noted, without some Christians arguing for leniency.

Aikenhead’s execution – the last one for blasphemy in Britain – sent shockwaves throughout Britain and continued to be infamous in later centuries and indeed up to the present day…….(full article here)

ESS Letter: Religion in Scots Law

The recently published Glasgow University report “Religion in Scots law” is quite an eye-opener in its revelation of vestigial religious privilege.

Who would have guessed for example that blasphemy, though not prosecuted for some time, is still a common law offence in Scotland?

The religious must be free to take their beliefs and their ancients texts as seriously as they like but it is quite absurd to insist, under pain of criminal sanction, that everyone else does too.

Neil Barber – Communications Officer  – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published in Scotsman newspaper 2nd March 2016.

Religion in Scots Law: Landmark report published by Humanist Society Scotland


A landmark report funded by the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), conducted by the University of Glasgow, has been released.

The report finds a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education, where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.

The report was commissioned in November 2014 with HSS providing £40,000 of funding to cover the costs of the research team including a full-time post-doctorate researcher. HSS are supporting the release of this report, in full, into the public domain, in the hope that it will inform the debate about the role of religion in public life.

ESS Letter: Cost of NHS religious chaplains


The NHS spends £25m a year on religious chaplains: the equivalent cost of more than 1,000 junior nurses.

Religious people are tax payers too but we pay into the NHS insurance pot to make sure, for example, that there is a brain scanner which we ALL might need one day.

Patients who might be comforted by religious words must of course be free to hear them but why should everyone pay for a religious counselling service which will only ever be used by a few?

Antony Lempert, Chair of The Secular Medical Forum has said “Our concerns are really about the conflation of religion and spirituality.”

The NHS must provide spiritual/emotional support for all patients but religious organisations can afford to fund their own specific pastoral care.

Neil Barber – Communication Officer – Edinburgh Secular Society

Published in Edinburgh Evening News 25th Feb 2016

ESS on Radio Scotland: Neil Barber debates about creationist Dan Walker

Link to debate