Tag Archives: Scotland

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.

Scottish Inter-faith week–the lack of Christian charity in Aberdeen


Earlier this year ESS revealed that the Scottish Government had granted over £376,000 this year to faith and inter-faith organisations.

Most faith organisations are charities and benefit from numerous tax subsidies, so why do they need additional public funding to engage in friendly relations with other religious denominations? Should that not be part of their raison d’etre? Why should the public pay for problems brought about by religious short-sightedness? Should denominations not rectify them by their own endeavours?

In the week when faith organisations are celebrating and attempting to bridge divides between denominations with Scottish Government funding, ESS can reveal that on 27 June 2012 Aberdeen City Council convened a meeting of local religious interests to determine who would be the third legally-required religious representative nominated by religious organisations to serve as a voting member on the Education Committee in addition to the nominees of the Church of Scotland and the Church of Rome. Present were representatives of the following denominations;

Aberdeen Hindu Association;  Aberdeen Mosque Islamic Centre;  Aberdeen Vineyard;
City Church;  Crown Terrace Baptist Church;  Deeper Life Bible Church; St Devenick’s Episcopal Church; St Mary’s Episcopal Church; The Mission Church.

On a vote, the representative of St Devenick’s Episcopal Church was elected by 7 votes to 2 over the Islamic representative. So much for Christian charity, inter-faith collaboration and support for diversity. 

All three religious nominee voting places on the Aberdeen Education Committee are thus controlled by Christians in a city where only 40 per cent of the population were recorded as Christian in the 2011 census

Grand Orange Lodge in Scotland plan march in Edinburgh on 13 September–five days before the Scottish independence referendum

Orange Order March in Edinburgh 2011

ESS Honorary President, Professor Norman Bonney, writes about the significance of the planned parade in a posting in the London School of Economics British Policy and Politics Blog. Visit


For a video of an Orange Order parade in Edinburgh in 2009 visit http://bit.ly/1s8H5n9

The informative website of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland is at http://www.orangeorderscotland.com/

Scottish Government religious subsidy of the week–10. Multi-million pound state funding of Roman Catholic schools

Religion around the world is part of the vast tapestry of human diversity and creativity. Secularism seeks the separation of church and state because it argues that freedom and diversity is compromised if the state seeks to impose one or more sets of religious doctrines on its citizens.

One of the biggest affronts to secularism in contemporary Scotland is the existence of a substantial sector of the state funded education system in which the Roman Catholic Church, an international organisation headquartered in Rome, is able to dictate the religious curriculum, forms of religious observance and the overall religious character of these schools.

Central to the doctrines of this church are the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, the cult surrounding the alleged virginity of his mother and the belief that bread and wine turn into the body of Christ in the communion service.

If people want to hold and propagate such views they should be free to do so but the state should not finance such activities. Churches should compete in the adult free market for adherents. The state (taxpayers with all types of religious belief and none) should not subsidise some churches in trying to shape the minds, loyalties and identities of the young.

14 per cent of Scottish schools are Roman Catholic. In 2007/8 Scottish Government expenditure on schools, directed through local authorities, was £4.7bn. This figure will have grown since then. ESS estimates that current annual public spending on Roman Catholic schools in Scotland will be in the region of £750 million – three quarters of a billion pounds. More precise figures are currently being researched.

The Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office –monitoring and influencing the Scottish Parliament

The head of a foreign state arrives in Edinburgh with the Duke

The power and influence of organised religion in the Scottish Parliament and with the Scottish Government is evident in the handling of recent issues raised by secularist groups.

One of the strongest lobbying groups focussed on the Scottish Parliament is the Catholic Parliamentary Office. It employs a staff of four. Its only major defeat in the 15 years of the Scottish Parliament is the same sex marriage legislation. Its website is http://www.rcpolitics.org/index.html

Secularist groups in Scotland are staffed entirely by volunteers. They have made a great impact and they will continue to do so.

Read ‘Parliamentary Focus’ on the front page of its website for the Catholic Parliamentary Office’s view of recent secularist initiatives in the Parliament.

Comment on the feature. The UK state, for historical reasons, does regard the Church of Rome as a potentially hostile foreign power since the monarch cannot is not allowed to be of that faith. No political parties propose to change the relevant laws either in a continuing UK or an independent Scotland.

The hierarchy of priests, bishops and archbishops in the Church are answerable to the head of a foreign state. The Church is an international organisation headquartered in Rome with local paid priestly staff following the decrees of headquarters and with their careers dependent on their superiors as the experiences of exiled former Archbishop of Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien, demonstrate. It has no democratic annual conclave like that more democratic deliberative Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Like all multinationals the organisation may have interests that conflict with local ones.

1700 petitioners spurned by the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government

Iranian mullahs guide the state in Iran. Some analogies in Scotland?

On Tuesday 6 May 2014 the Education and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament ended consideration of a petition led by Edinburgh Secular Society and supported by 1700 signatories urging that legislation be brought forward to end the practice of three religious voting nominees being added to Scottish local council education committees.

The brief discussion included no reference to a letter from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission that stated that the existing laws needed review in the light of the UK Equality Act 2010 which offers equal protection for religious people and for the non-religious. Members of the Committee with its SNP majority meekly acceded to the inaction on the matter by the Scottish Government with the Convenor, Stewart Maxwell, SNP MSP, saying there was no point in taking action because the Scottish Government had decided not to act.

What a weak apology for a legislature! The Committee did not entertain any discussion of Equality and Human Rights Commission’s letter which challenges the legal basis of the current arrangements and did not even consider summoning and interrogating  the responsible Scottish Government minister, Mike Russell, to investigate his reasons for not following the suggestions in the letter,

Scotland and the petitioners need better practice than this if representative democracy is to thrive under the present constitutional arrangements or any future ones.

END rule by Scotland’s mullahs!

ESS will continue to pursue this campaign by other democratic means. Scotland’s education committees do not need mullahs to check on the work of their elected council members.