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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Islamic teacher kills 7-year-old for not learning Koran

A blind seven-year-old pupil at a madrassa (Islamic school) in eastern Pakistan has been killed by his teacher for not learning the Koran.

"Muhammad Atif was hung upside down from a ceiling fan and severely beaten by his teacher, Qari Ziauddin, at the seminary or madrassa in Vihari, near Lahore on Thursday," says Australia's Herald-Sun.

Police say the teacher's been arrested on charges of torturing and murdering the boy, and that a postmortem has confirmed physical torture as the cause of death.

A local police official, Akram Nazi (a surname the teacher might be happy with), tells reporters, "Qari Ziauddin, who teaches Koran to boys in Qari Latif Islamic school, hanged Atif upside down with a ceiling fan in the school after beating him with sticks, which caused his death."

Ziauddin also failed to take the boy to hospital after he fell ill and his condition deteriorated, said the official.

It's only one of hundreds of incidents of abuse (not all as tragic, thankfully), as this BBC story tells us. And violence in madrassas has happened closer to home, according to this story in the Manchester Evening News. And, according to The Times in 2006, quoted here by the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, up to 100,000 British kids of Muslim parents are at risk in the UK.

Out with the pervs, says bishop

Today's Tablet – the Catholic weekly – tells us that a German bishop is keen to get the subject of pervy priests into the open.

The subject should be tackled "unsparingly", he has said at a workshop during a festival in Osnabrück. The paper continues:

Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg said paedophile priests should not be moved from parish to parish but should be suspended. "The Church should be particularly ashamed when it is guilty in such situations because of the high moral pedestal on which it stands," Bishop Jaschke said after listening to the story of a victim who had been abused for years by a priest. The German Church had reacted far too late and the bishops had not issued guidelines on the subject until 2002, said Bishop Jaschke. He said in the archdiocese of Hamburg the Church was now cooperating closely with the police and the prosecutor's office.

But most of the damage has been done. Why weren't popes and prelates more upfront earlier, instead of covering this scandal up and producing secret documents?

Germany's memorial "mistake"

A prominent Holocaust scholar reckons Germany has made a mistake by dedicating a memorial to the gay men who were victims of Nazi oppression.

"Israel Gutman of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem said that the Nazis only targeted German gay men, and that they were the victims of political battles within Hitler's National Socialist Party rather than a campaign of homophobia," says a story in Pink News.

Gutman is reported to have told the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, "The location was particularly poorly chosen for this monument. If visitors have the impression that there was not a great difference between the suffering of Jews and those of homosexuals, it's a scandal."

He said the German people "understood the immense scope of the crime of the Holocaust which they had committed, but this time they made an error."

The first openly gay Mayor of Berlin opened the new memorial to the homosexual victims of Nazi oppression earlier this week. Pink News continues:

It is estimated that 45,000 to 100,000 German homosexuals were arrested under Nazi rule between 1933 and 1945.

Up to 10,000 of them died in concentration camps. Many survivors, far from being liberated, were transferred to prisons.

The laws used against gay people in Germany remained on statute books until 1969.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Interfere with Islamic "education" at your peril

A Muslim in Australia is warning that any hostility towards Islamic schools could force that famous oxymoron, religious education, underground. The implication seems to be that, if the kids can't be indoctrinated in a Muslim religious school, they'll learn all the wrong things from extremists.

Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, seems to forget, conveniently, that the kids could be radicalised whether they're at state schools or Islamic schools.

"Muslim children [are] being given their religious education in backyards and garages by teachers whose credentials no one could vet," he says in a story in today's Guardian. "You may have some very extreme imams or religious teachers getting through to the children."

He was commenting on a decision by a council on the outskirts of Sydney to reject a proposal for an Islamic school. The project was turned down on planning and environmental reasons, or so it is said, but the decision has obviously gone down well with the hundreds of residents who opposed it.

Ali Roude, president of the Islamic Council of New South Wales, says that other mosques, Islamic centres and schools are being rejected under a smokescreen of planning problems. "It does not help the image of Australia because we should be taking pride in setting an example to the whole world that we can live together," he says.

The best way to live together, chum, is for all kids not to go to segregated schools, but to be educated together, leaving religious differences for the home and the meeting house. But you jut can't tell that to religionists.

No poofters, says Lord Bigot

The Earl of Devon doesn't like poofters. And he's showing his bigotry by banning gay marriages at his stately home, Powderham Castle, one of the oldest family houses in England.

The place is popular for hitching ceremonies of the opposite-sex variety. So, to avoid breaching the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations, Lord Bigot (who is the 18th Earl of Devon) has banned all civil marriage ceremonies whether they are gay or straight.

But he faces a possible battle with the tax man after he refused a request to allow two gay men to hold a civil partnership ceremony. His stately home gets a conditional exception from inheritance tax because it's open to the public.

A report in the Daily Telegraph says:

Its regulations say that to obtain exemption the new owner must agree to look after the property and allow public access to it and that if the owner fails to fulfil their side of the bargain "the exemption is withdrawn".

Ben Summerskill of the gay-rights lobby group Stonewall tells the paper, "We shall certainly be asking the Treasury about Lord Devon's inheritance tax exemption. The inheritance tax regulations appear to suggest clearly that it should be withdrawn if his premises are not accessible to all members of the public without exception."

And just why is His Lordship so against having gays marry behind his centuries-old battlements? "I am a Christian," he said, "and therefore it [homosexuality] is objectionable to my Christian religion."

Lord Bigot insists that the complaint to the Treasury over the tax issue is unfounded, because he is not banning gays from visiting the house or its grounds but only from celebrating their civil partnerships there.

Interestingly, the 9th Earl (formerly the 3rd Viscount) fled to France in 1811 after being accused of sodomy. The Powderham website says:

The Third Viscount led a rather flamboyant lifestyle. He was a homosexual, and was forced to live abroad in consequence, first of all in the United States where he owned a property on the Hudson River in New York State, and later in Paris where he died in 1835. In 1831 he successfully applied to have the title of Earl of Devon, created in 1553, restored to the Courtenay family and became the 9th Earl. Despite having lived abroad for so long, he was dearly loved by his tenants who insisted that he be buried in stately fashion back at Powderham.

One of the stately homos of England, you might say.

The man who lied to take us into war says religion is a good thing. Do we believe him?

Father Tony launches his Faith Foundation in New York today. This is the man who became a Catholic last year and now "wants to spend most of his remaining years ensuring that religion is seen as a force for good in the world", according to The Times. Yeah, right.

The new organisation, for which he is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds of charitable funding, will focus on developing better understanding between faiths as well as fostering concrete action on fighting poverty and disease. “In the end, this will be what I dedicate a very large part of my life to,” he told The Times yesterday.

This bit is interesting from the man whose spinmeister, Alastair Campbell, once said, "We don't do God":

Mr Blair insisted that it would be wrong to interpret his decision to launch the foundation at the headquarters of Time Warner in New York as evidence that America, with its strong religious base, was more fertile territory for his message than a home country where he was forced out of office amid mounting unpopularity a year ago.

Are we supposed to believe that? Is this not the man who lied, or at the very least allowed himself to be misled, to get us into a war in Iraq? Is this the man who has so much faith in "faith" that he didn't like his relationship with his imaginary friend to be talked about too much, lest people thought him the fruitcake that he now shows himself to be?

Yep. He's the one who thinks religion is going to solve all the world's problems.

If the no doubt large part of the expected dosh that is being used to create this understanding between "faiths" were put to the charitable part of his organisation, it might do better. Of course, there will be some practical good coming from it if it does what he says it will do, and helps to ease poverty. But his insistence on doing it through religion, which is the most destructive force on the planet, is wacky.

Yes, there are nice religious people and all that, such as Desmond Tutu and the sweet lady who makes tea at the church bazaar, but we're talking about it as a phenomenon. It's destructive and causes war and strife – and human-rights abuses and untold misery are caused in its name.

It's frightening to think this man once led the UK. He's seriously creepy.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Quite contrary

Filth, last night's BBC2 drama, was not what I expected – but, then, I'm not sure what I did expect. What I didn't expect (perhaps naïvely) was something like a kids' feel-good movie with the goodies prancing about to jaunty music and the baddies acting like clowns.

What we got was not a blow against bigotry but a paean to prudery, in which the goodies, in the form of Mary Whitehouse and her husband and friends, were set up against the baddies, personified by the director general of the BBC, Sir Hugh Green – a villain in a jester's hat.

Much as I'd have liked to see issues dealt with on more than a superficial black-versus-white level, the performances (notably from Julie Walters as Mary Whitehouse) were good and the piece itself worked well as an adroitly directed slice of drama with comedic elements. But, for me, that is as far as it went in what was clearly Mary's story, told entirely from Mary's point of view. More complexity in this analysis would have been welcome.

From the start, our sympathies were made to be with Mary – the underdog at that stage in her, no doubt well-meant, campaigning. And that's fine. Dramas often work that way. However, what we probably expected was a turning point. But there was no turning point.

Anyone of a neutral frame of mind watching this drama would have come away convinced that Whitehouse was always right, and that only wholesome, man–woman relationships among people with no social or personal issues should be depicted on television; that only wholesome comedy – definitely not of the satirical or Alf Garnett kind but comedy that didn't poke fun at would-be censors or pompous politicians – should likewise be depicted on television.

Life isn't like that, and mature people look to television for, yes, enjoyable, "wholesome" programmes of the type Whitehouse would have approved of, but also programmes designed to reflect real issues in challenging ways. Television, like film, can go too far with gratuitous violence sometimes (and a lot of what is on the box is pure crap shared around too many channels with moronic continuity announcers who should have been strangled at birth). But the type of censorship Whitehouse was wanting went far beyond calming down the gratuitous violence.

As for the Gay News trial, it wasn't mentioned, except in a caption at the end. The drama didn't go that far into her career as a busybody. It was an important step in that career, so one could have been forgiven for thinking it would be depicted. But, like most people, I was coming at it as someone who had read the little blurb in the listings, and that was that. Perhaps that is for another day.

Two humorous moments stick: one was a bit of verbal (no doubt entirely fictional) slapstick when the Whitehouse campaign team had decided on the name Clean Up National TV, and Mary's husband Ernest pointed out, with a polite cough, the acronymic possibilities (minus the V, of course); the second was when Whitehouse, already into her campaigning, said to hubby as she turned on the TV, "Just in time for The Wednesday Play: there's a masturbation scene ten minutes in."

They don't like it up 'em, Part II

Just as Catholics don't like to see criticism of their priests', ahem, more eccentric, er, shall we say, tendencies, such as kiddy-diddlng (see "They don't like it up 'em"), evangelicals don't like people to focus on their nutty side.

The outgoing leader of Britain's Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards, has urged programme makers not to focus on what he calls the "eccentric fringe" of evangelicalism, which he said was the focus of the recent Channel 4 documentary "In God's Name" – one of its Dispatches episodes – which examined the rise of fundamentalism in the UK.

The programme was chilling, and you can see what we made of it from the link above. But why should not programme makers go on about this "eccentric fringe" when, as we saw, it's this "eccentric fringe" that is allowed by our government and education authorities to get inside the heads of impressionable kids?

What Edwards didn't like according to Ekklesia, was the fact that the programme focused on such bonkers organisations as Christian Voice and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship.

In an open letter to Channel 4, Edwards labels Stephen Green of Christian Voice an "extremist". He also says that Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship may have been "naïve and controversial", although, says Ekklesia, he went on to defend her actions as legitimate and transparent.

Well, they were legitimate in that they were legal; they were transparent in that she didn't hide what a nutter she came over as.

Anyway, for those interested, here is Edwards's letter in full, thoughtfully provided by Ekklesia:

I watched this week’s (May 19) Channel 4 Dispatches programme, In God’s Name, with a strong sense of disappointment.

Dispatches has a reputation for being selective and sensationalist, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked. But as someone at the heart of the Christian community, I simply didn’t recognise the claims it made – echoed in the Sunday Telegraph – about a growing band of Christian fundamentalists trying to impose their will on society.

Stephen Green, a key example given of this fundamentalist movement, is an extremist. The vast majority of Christians who watched last night [19 May] would, like me, have recoiled in horror at some of the statements he made.

The kind of fundamentalism shown by Stephen is not growing in the UK. Unfortunately, the oxygen of publicity provided by the media has exaggerated his influence. What is increasing is a movement of evangelicals, which currently numbers around two million.

This group of people is hugely diverse, with a spectrum of political and theological leanings. Some, including Andrea Minichiello Williams, are active political citizens who lobby passionately on issues they believe are important for the public good. Christians are active on issues of poverty, debt, freedom of speech, the environment and more.

This is how a healthy democracy operates, and while Andrea may have been naïve and controversial in Dispatches, her actions were a legitimate and transparent part of the political process.

Dispatches is a hugely influential programme, so next time it tries to tackle modern Christianity, I would invite its producers to take an honest look at the full story rather than predicting a burgeoning trend on the actions of the eccentric fringe.

But it wasn't trying to "tackle" modern Christianity. What is there to "tackle". It's there, people go to church, people say grace, perhaps. No, it was one particular aspect of modern Christianity that it targeted. That was the whole point. No one was saying modern Christianity was all loonies and happy-clappy idiots, just this lot. And we mustn't forget that evangelicals are people who believe in the unerring authority of the Bible.

There is no mention in Edwards's letter, you will notice, of those schoolkids having young-earth creationism rammed into their skulls by a teacher who acted is if she were on something.

If they call themselves the Evangelical Alliance, then they're going to be seen as evangelists, who get tarred with the same brush as fundamentalists. Why don't they stop being evangelicals and just go to Evensong on Sunday and have tea and crumpets with the vicar at the whist drive, as any civilised, self-respecting British Anglican would do?

MEANWHILE: Another Christian group doesn't like the way the media are behaving. The Christian Broadcasting Council (CBC) has voiced concern over the portrayal of Christians and pro-life campaigners during recent coverage of their views on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The UK voted last week in favour of the creation of animal–human embryos for stem-cell research and “saviour siblings”, and threw out measures to lower the upper legal limit for abortion and to retain a reference to the need for a father for IVF children.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Bloody Mary!

It's 31 years next month that the law of blasphemous libel was last used in this country. It was against Gay News, and was brought by the rabidly Christian, horn-rimmed-spectacled Mary Whitehouse.

Why are we talking of something 31 years on? It's not the usual round-number anniversary. No, but you may like to look in on Filth tonight. It's a 90-minute drama on BBC2, which stars the wonderful Julie Walters as the formidable Mrs W. That famous – or, rather, infamous – trial will probably feature.

In 2002, Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine produced a 25th-anniversary special on that trial, containing a number of articles by different people, each bringing a different angle on things. Brett Humphreys looks at the background to the trial and the events surrounding it; one writer, Rictor Norton, claims responsibility (he was working at Gay News at the time); another asks whether we were really "glad to be gay" in the seventies (all right, that one's my article); Neil Richardson, a priest, sat through the trial; John Beyer, is the current head of the organisation Mary Whitehouse founded: it was the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association then, but it's Mediawatch-UK now, and, give him his due, he wrote an article for a magazine whose views he was very much at odds with.

There is a cultural look-back, too, by Stephen Blake (one of the team of writers for this blog): what were we doing and listening to and wearing back then? In an article called "Justice ancient and modern", a veteran humanist campaigner, George Broadhead (another of the team of writers for this blog), reviews two important books relevant to the case. And one of Britain's veteran gay-rights campaigners, Griff Vaughan Williams of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), looks at the trial through the eyes of, well, a veteran gay-rights campaigner.

See also "An immaculate conception", an article in which George and another of our team, Dean Braithwaite, muse on the news of Whitehouse's death in November 2001 and look back to the start of the gay humanist movement. And visit the Knitting Circle website for more information on Gay News and its editor Denis Lemon.

This special issue received shining praise from several quarters, including this from no less a personage than the current president of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson, who said:

I want to congratulate you on the absolutely superb "blasphemy" edition of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist – surely the best in its whole history! The depth of research and the sheer excellence of the content will keep me happy for hours. And this is one journal that is going into my archive for future reference as a goldmine of eyewitness history.

The Beeb's press release on tonight's Whitehouse drama says:

Remarkably, in the middle of such a liberal decade – an era that spawned Carnaby Street, the Profumo scandal and the Fab Four – Mary Whitehouse was the voice of a majority that had no desire to join the permissive age. Armed only with her own sense of good Christian values and a sharp tongue, Mary Whitehouse embarked on a David[-]versus[-]Goliath mission to stop "filth" entering family homes via the television. Backed by her loyal husband Ernest (Alun Armstrong), Mary set out to fight an almighty war with some heroic and surprising victories along the way.

And one of those "heroic", though, given the climate of the times, not entirely "surprising", victories was the one over Gay News. Read the articles before seeing the drama. They'll be good background on what was a major campaign in Mary Whitehouse's campaigning life.

Before she died in 2001, aged 91, Whitehouse campaigned against everything from Romans in Britain to Pinky & Perky, Alf Garnet to Jackanory and Dennis Potter to Doctor Who – goodness knows what she'd make of Russell T Davies's version.

You may also be interested in this piece from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in Monday's Independent, which asks whether Whitehouse may have sometimes been right; and this one from Bel Mooney in the same day's Daily Mail, which is headlined "I may have been a fully paid-up Sixties liberal – but now I believe Mary Whitehouse was right".

Islamisation of Britain

While the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, keeps banging on, rightly, that Britain's future could be Islamic if we're not careful (but would rather see Muslims converted into Christians than see religion dumped altogether), Melanie Phillips, writing in The Spectator, agrees that "Britain is being steadily Islamised", but that "hardly a word is being breathed about it".

She cites a comment piece in the Church of England Newspaper, bemoaning the fact that Britain's Christian heritage is being trampled under the marching feet of encroaching Islam.

"If recent reports of trends in religious observance prove to be correct," it says, "then in some 30 years the mosque will be able to claim that, religiously speaking, the UK is an Islamic nation, and therefore needs a share in any religious establishment to reflect this."

One way to stop that is to outlaw any establishment of any religion, of course, but that wouldn't halt the kowtowing of officialdom, which seems to want to fall over itself to bring about the C of E Newspaper's dire prediction.

The article goes on:

This progress has been enthusiastically assisted by this government in particular with its hard-line multi-cultural dogma and willingness to concede to virtually every demand made by Muslims.

[. . .]

At all levels of national life Islam has gained state funding, protection from any criticism, and the insertion of advisors and experts in government departs national and local. A Muslim Home Office adviser, for example, was responsible for Baroness Scotland’s aborting of the legislation against honour killings, arguing that informal methods would be better. In the police we hear of girls under police protection having the addresses of their safe houses disclosed to their parents by Muslim officers who think they are doing their religious duty.

It talks of how white-men-only clubs have been outlawed, yet swimming pools can have Muslim-women-only sessions; and of how Islam is being "institutionalised, incarnated, into national structures amazingly fast, at the same time as demography is showing very high birthrates".

As secularists must be weary of repeating by now, if religion itself were taken off the national agenda; if it were confined to the private sphere; if people were allowed to get on with their beliefs in their homes and meeting places, but not allowed to impose them in the workplace or the public square; if schools taught about religion rather than inculcate its wackier claims to truth into the minds of students – if all this happened, no religion would have precedence, but all religions would get on with things and live side by side.

Some might even disappear, deprived of the oxygen of constant official encouragement and appeasement.

But we keep making allowances for "sensitivities" that are born of nothing but irrational belief in the unproven and unprovable. And we pay officials and legislators to do it in our name.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Hay, there – thanks!

The writer Salman Rushdie (pictured) has been praising those who refused to be cowed by the fatwa imposed by the Muslim nutcase Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 20 years ago.

Rushdie has been speaking at the Hay Festival in Powys, Wales, as one of the keynote speakers (and, of course, promoting his latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence).

Rushdie – Sir Salman, after he was knighted last year in a move that (surprise, surprise) brought protests from wailing Muslims – praised the many "acts of courage" by those who continued to promote and sell his book, The Satanic Verses, after the death fatwa had been imposed because the novel made references to some illiterate beardy guy who had mad delusions a few thousand years ago and invented a death-cult religion, and the Muslims didn't like it.

Roll up, roll up! Get your half-price Koran here!

If you're a cop in Amsterdam you'll be able to buy a Koran at half the normal price. That's according to the Religion News blog, which says they'll get the special deal if they buy Dutch writer Kader Abdolah's new translation.

The authorities seem to think the police need to read the Koran in order to understand more about Islam. If that's the case, do they all read the Bible to learn more about Christianity? The Tanakh, the better to understand Judaism? The Ramayana to understand Hindus? How about the entire shooting scripts of the Star Wars movies to understand the Jedi?

One has to wonder whether police have enough paperwork to deal with without having to read ancient scriptures in order to understand the minds of potential criminals. If a person commits a crime, be he/she Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist or druid, is that not what counts? Or is there going to be a religious excuse now?

Do police need to understand just why a Muslim might make a death threat towards a fellow human being? "Oh, it's a fatwa. That's OK, then."

Religion News says, "Right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) MPs are outraged by the plan, with Sietse Fritsma calling it 'Islam propaganda' and saying that public money should not be spent on it. On Tuesday, the PVV will demand the government intervene to scrap the plan."

I'm just waiting now for the protests. How dare they sell the Holy Koran at half-price. Have they no decency? This is an insult to the Holy Prophet (pbuh). It is most un-Islamic! Where are the Dutch flags? Pass me the matches.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Mad as a fish

What is going on at the Humanist Celebrants Association (HCA)? According to its website, the organisation “exists to assist you in your search to locate a humanist, non-religious, secular speaker”. It also claims that each of its associates is an experienced celebrant of nonreligious, secular funerals, weddings and baby-naming/welcoming ceremonies.

On its About HCA page, the association claims that its celebrants are the frontline ambassadors of the humanist cause. Well, correct me if I’m wrong but when did the humanist cause embrace hypnotherapy, psychic mediums, readings and drawings, aura drawing, earth angel healing or crystal therapy? Anyone visiting the HCA’s Links page would be forgiven for believing that all of this is part of the humanist tradition! Among other gems (I’m being ironic), the site also recommends online Tarot readings, online and DVD recordings from the Temple of Isis Organisation and psychic awareness workshops from Jewel Marie Leaf.

But perhaps the most bizarre recommendation is for Pet Paws Animal and Pet Care Services, who offer “pet care services [and] have a genuine love of animals [and] feel every pet has its own personality and character”.

Roy Brown, who is a former president of IHEU (the International Humanist and Ethical Union) and, since 2004, the IHEU representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, is not impressed:

What on earth do they think they are doing? Are they unaware that Humanism is defined as “reason in the service of compassion”? Yes, reason. What on earth has possessed them to get alongside all this New Age garbage?

Perhaps the answer is contained in the contact email address given on the site, And try clicking on the “Members” page, which should actually read “Member” because that’s all you get – one member, Anthony Roberts-Moore of Birkenhead, where the HCA is based!

We're all spawn of the Devil

If you're a secular humanist and happen to be gay, you're blinded by the Devil himself to the inhuman nature of your affliction. Oh, that goes for people who favour abortion, too. Oh, and secularism. And bits of scientific research.

The thing is, the organisation that has published the words of the lunatic who wrote them is laughingly called the Catholic Truth Society.

Pardon me a moment . . .

Ha, ha, ha. Tee-hee. Chuckle, chuckle.

Sorry about that. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, truth. (Titter! Oh, stop it!)

Father Jeremy Davies is described in this story in Catholic Review as exorcist of the Archdiocese of Westminster. This is what it says:

In a new 56-page book called Exorcism: Understanding Exorcism in Scripture and Practice, Father Davies wrote that Satan had blinded secular humanists from seeing the “dehumanizing effects of contraception and abortion and IVF [in vitro fertilisation], of homosexual ‘marriages’, of human cloning and the vivisection of human embryos in scientific research.” The result, he said, was that Europe was drifting into a dangerous state of apostasy whereby “only [through] a genuine personal decision for Christ and the church can someone separate himself from it”.

This chap says atheism is largely to blame for, as the paper puts it, "entrapping people in states of 'perversion' ".

He called occult practices such as magic, fortunetelling and contacting the spirits of the dead “direct invitations to the devil which he readily accepts”. He said such practices involve the abandonment of self-control, making them as corrupting an influence as hard drugs, demonic music and pornography.

He even says using yoga for relaxation is the thin end of the wedge.

This loon, ordained in 1974, was trained as a medical doctor. Mind you, some of them can be bonkers, too, but you do tend to expect a bit more from those who have trained in the sciences.

He goes as far as to warn Catholics (just Catholics?) to be wary of the “idolatrous demonic side” of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and druidism. So, not happy with knocking atheists, he gets other religions in his sights, too.

The exorcist denounced “new revelations” and criticized Mohammed, founder of Islam; Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Rev. Sun Moon, founder of the Unification Church, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. He called them “heretical prophets and false messiahs” who led their followers to a “demonic bondage of conscience”.

The words pot, kettle and black come to mind.

Hat tip Freethinker.

Jesus, Mohammed, God, Allah – for entertainment only

"Fortune-tellers, astrologers and mediums are among those affected by the rules, which require them to say their services are for 'entertainment only'." Thus says the BBC story on new measures that have come into force today requiring business to deal fairly. (What, you mean business doesn't play fair already? Get away!)

While this affects all kinds of businesses, be they rogue traders, tradespeople with feet inside doors or bogus closing-down sales, it's the New Age stuff that interests me. You see, if you're peddling fortune-telling or astrology, you have to have a sign saying this is for entertainment only.

The story talks of "a duty for companies not to trade unfairly and to avoid misleading statements or omissions" (my emphasis). Well, I guess you're ahead of me. What about the statement that "Jesus saves" and many similar statements that offer salvation? Will churches' claims and other religious nonsense be included, given that churches have collections and contrive other ways of asking for your dosh? You bet your sweet arse they won't.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Convert Muslims into Christians, says Christian

A senior lay member of the Church of England says Muslims should be converted to Christianity. Paul Eddy is a member of the General Synod (the arse-kicking body of the Anglican Church), who is training for the priesthood.

He's come under "intense pressure" from bishops to withdraw his plan to continue with his campaign, according to the BBC. "But he has secured enough support for his motion to be debated at the next meeting of the Church's ruling body," says the story. "The motion calls on the Church to proclaim Christianity as the only route to ultimate salvation."

Eddy says he has the backing of at least 124 members of the Synod for his proposed motion, including the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.

Nazir-Ali is right behind him, and is quoted in the Mail on Sunday as saying the Church isn't doing enough to convert Muslims. The story goes on:

Dr Nazir-Ali, who faced death threats earlier this year after saying that some parts of the country had become "no-go areas" for non-Muslims, said that it was important for faiths to talk to one another without diluting their core beliefs.

Well, converting Muslims to Christians is at least one step in the right direction, I suppose, considering the dwindling church attendance among the alleged faithful compared with the rapidly increasing number of active Muslim worshipers. Convert them into Christians, and perhaps they'll then drop religion altogether.

But a nation of Christians is a better prospect than one that that sees the encroaching and damaging Islamisation of British culture as councils and government bodies fall over themselves to appease.

Catholics say pulling out is best option

The Catholic Church would rather not help kids get loving homes than comply with a law that provides equality for people of different sexual orientations. Yes, they're so bound up with matters of sex that they lose sight of the more charitable role that Christians claim it is their mission to fulfil.

A piece in the Mail on Sunday says the Catholic Church is pulling out of three of its top adoption agencies because "it cannot comply with Labour's new gay equality laws".

The Catholic Church will, it says, "this week cut its ties with the Surrey-based Catholic Children’s Society, one of the biggest in the country covering much of the South-East. The dioceses of Nottingham and Northampton have also decided to pull out of their agencies."

The Mail on Sunday says insiders believe that "the Catholic Children’s Society for the dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Southwark and Portsmouth will this week agree plans to cut its ties with the Church and be renamed the Cabrini Children’s Society". It doesn't explain the mechanism by which that will impact on the agencies, but we assume funding will be hit.

The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) is calling it a tragedy. "We are taking the ethos out of these adoption agencies and leaving them with a crisis, all because the government wouldn’t listen," he says.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

"Dangerous cult" boy not to be charged

Well some common sense has prevailed in the story of the young protester who was censored by police, who told him he couldn't say Scientology was a cult. It seems from this BBC story that he won't be charged.

The 16-year-old held up a sign saying, "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult". Police didn't like it. They told him to take the sign away. When he refused they threatened him with prosecution.

We learn that City of London police said they'd had complaints. From whom? From the Scientology people themselves, perhaps? It would not be surprising, since he held up the sign outside their HQ in London.

Further good news comes from the fact that human-rights lawyers are still going to make a case against the police. Well, they have to be made an example of. That's what they'd say of others in society who did twattish, stupid things of which they should be thoroughly ashamed. The story says:

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman said: "In consultation with the City of London Police, we were asked whether the sign was abusive or insulting.

"Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness (as opposed to criticism), neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression."

A spokeswoman for the City of London Police said: "The CPS review of the case includes advice on what action or behaviour at a demonstration might be considered to be 'threatening, abusive or insulting'."

The police add that their "policing of future demonstrations will reflect this advice".

What took them so long to realise that we have a tradition of free speech that should be upheld?

Well, the human-rights campaigners Liberty have said they'll take action. Their lawyers represented the teenager in his legal battle. James Welch of Liberty said, "The police may have ended their enquiries into this tawdry incident but, rest assured that Liberty's enquiry will continue. Democracy is all about clashing ideas and the police should protect peaceful protest, not stifle it."

See also this James Welch piece in yesterday's Guardian.

His conclusion is this:

There are many who consider that Scientology has all the hallmarks of a cult – secretiveness, pressure on its members to cut themselves off from their former lives. If Scientologists object to this description, they should engage in the dialogue. And if they do so, they may no doubt be forceful in their criticism of their critics. It is not the role of the police to protect either side from the views of the other.

They don't like it up 'em

It must be American Catholicism's worst nightmare. An Australian bishop who's written a book critical of how the Catholic hierarchy handled the pervy-priests scandals is now doing a speaking tour.

But, according to a story in today's Tablet, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Church in Britain:

On the eve of his first overseas trip to promote Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, retired Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson was "den[ied] permission" to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Cardinal Roger Mahony after a statement from the Australian bishops cited "doctrinal difficulties" in Bishop Robinson's "questioning of the authority of the Church".

Oops! Big mistake. Mustn't question their authority. They don't like that. But that's not all:

In a private letter to the prelate leaked by an Australian website, Cardinal Mahony urged Bishop Robinson, whose book examined how the Church handled the sex-abuse crisis, to "cancel the entire speaking tour", which began last week in Philadelphia and includes stops in New York, Seattle, San Diego and Boston, where the US Church's sex-abuse crisis came to international attention in 2002. The cardinal noted that the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, had likewise insisted that Bishop Robinson not appear in America.

Well, Bishop, I strongly suggest you do as the mafiosi of the church tell you. Go back to Oz this instant! Apologise now! Admit you're wrong, and the entire Catholic Church is right.

You can read the Introduction to Robinson's book here. It's a PDF.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Mother Kelly's sidestep

Weird Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly – whom the UK government entrusted with education, among other things, till she eventually took over transport – wants to do the dirty on Prime Minister Gordon Brown and defy him by voting against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill when it comes to the Commons for its final reading.

Brown allowed MPs a free vote on some aspects of it, because they go against their irrational religious convictions, but the moves got through, anyway, as we've seen. However, he expected that they'd all obey the whip when it came to voting on the entire measure. Oh, but mother-of-four Ms Kelly doesn't want to do that.

Let her suffer the ire of the whips, then, and be removed from her Cabinet post of Transport Secretary. Surely that's the appropriate and fair fate for her if she defies the whip as a Cabinet member – a member of the government that's paying her far more for being a Cabinet member than she would get as a backbencher. She's had her say; she's made her choices. Things have gone against her.

Now she's acting like the kid who says, "If you don't let me have another innings I'm taking my bat home."

Now you may or may not agree with the system of whipping, but it's in place, it's what we use, it's a fact of life in politics and, given that it's the system in use, a Cabinet post is usually a reward for loyalty (and not a small amount of arse-licking, I'm sure). Kelly doesn't seem to want to show that loyalty.

"The Transport Secretary was among a number of Catholic Labour MPs who attempted to block the legalisation of hybrid human–animal embryos and saviour siblings, and legislation to make it easier for lesbians to obtain fertility treatment," says the Telegraph. "She also voted to lower the abortion time limit – a position which the Prime Minister opposed but most Conservative MPs supported."

The Telegraph analyses it thus:

Mr Brown had been reluctant to offer a free vote on the measures, all of which he argued strongly for, but his hand was forced by the prospect of a rebellion by Mrs Kelly and two other Catholic Cabinet ministers. Sources said that Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, were under the impression that the Prime Minister had consented to a free vote on the condition that the three back the Bill at the third reading.

Insiders say they expect her to sidestep the issue by obtaining a "leave of absence" and abstain from the vote.

That's just cheating.

Kelly has a crap record on gay rights (as you'd expect from a Catholic of her stripe), and tellingly has absented herself from votes she's not comfortable with. Isn't it time she was given the heave-ho?

Muslims and squiggles

Mad Muzzies are at it again, with more than 300 Arab and Islamic web forums complaining about a few squiggles. Yes, it's another cartoon. This time it's in Japan.

According to a story in Japan Today, Shueisha Inc., a Japanese publisher involved in the production of a cartoon called JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (and its animation version), decided to suspend sales of some of the original comics and the DVD series yesterday, but said the material in it, showing a man reading a book, was not intended to be offensive.

Material like this is rarely intended to be offensive: it's sometimes intended to poke fun or satirise or just be amusing or diverting. Sometimes, as in the case of this one – which shows the baddy looking at the Koran as he contemplates assassinating the goody – a piece of fact taken from the real world is depicted as part of a storyline, in this case the Koran, which exists as a published work, as does the Bible, as do any number of editions of the complete works of Shakespeare and the latest Coldplay CD.

The perceived problem with this one seemed to be that it depicted Muslims as terrorists. Do terrorists not read books, and some of them the Koran? Don't perceived good people read pornography or material that religionists would find distasteful? Was this character, anyway, a terrorist, or just the villain you see in all comic books, whether it's the Joker or Lex Luther?

If the goody had the Koran in his hands, that would be OK, would it? You never know with these bleating whingers. Perhaps the goody would have to have a beard and be called Ali or Mahmoud rather than Nigel or Ron.

No, as with the cartoons that were published in 2005 in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, Muslims seem not to be enjoying their religion unless someone is perceived to be insulting it and they can then jump up and down and burn things and march about demanding people's heads be separated from their bodies.

A Shueisha official said it was "a simple mistake". "Neither the original comic nor the animation intends to treat Muslims as villains," he said. "But, as a result, the cartoon offended Muslims. We apologise for the unpleasantness that the cartoon may have caused and will carefully consider how to deal with religious and culture themes."

That's what the Muslims want. They won't be happy until anyone who ever contemplates publishing anything, anywhere has to have it vetted by some High and Most Eminent Fatwa Committee blessed by Almighty Allah.

Well they've certainly ensured that the entire world has seen something of this cartoon.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Christians continue to want a law for themselves

In the United Kingdom we have the Equality Act, which gives gays and lesbians – among others – the right to equal treatment in the provision of services. We have the Civil Partnerships Act, which allows them to take advantage of those services when it comes to wanting to get spliced.

So why, when the legislation is there – voted for by, among others, Christians – do Christians want a law for themselves, and demand to be let off certain duties, as the civil registrar Lillian Ladele is doing (see "Two sexes good, one sex bad", and you can hear Ladele discussing the case here)?

If this fundamentalist doesn't want to marry same-sex couples, why doesn't she just piss off? Instead, she's taking Islington Council through a tribunal, at which another Christian has said some of these religionists are "terrified" of being found out to be so bigoted, lest they be booted out of their jobs.

Elizabeth Thatcher has been giving evidence at Ladele's tribunal (which is continuing). Faith "creates a problem for any Christian" if they're expected to do or condone something "they see as sinful", she's said.

Seems your "faith" is creating a problem for everyone else, too. Is this what your "faith" is for: to bugger people about? Well, if you think it's sinful, you know where the door is, just as do others who refuse to carry out their duties out of a deference to unproven, unprovable deities.

Thatcher has worked as a registrar for eight years. She told the tribunal, "I have heard of one Christian who has had to resign, but I know of others who have been accommodated. She [the woman who resigned] told me that she was terrified about herself or her authority being identified because she could be vilified or the authority put under pressure to remove her."

Well, that's the way of the world, sweetheart. We live in a democracy, of sorts. Laws are passed and you public servants are paid to work for us. How many things would you expect to be exempted from on the grounds of some religious "conscience" before you were satisfied that you were being treated fairly?

It's one thing not taking part in, say, ritual slaughter because that's cruel to an animal. It's quite another doing something that's purely on the grounds of irrational belief that there is a god somewhere who's so small-minded that he, she or it can't stand the thought of a couple of guys or a couple of gals getting it together.

Just go and have a nice cup of tea and a lie-down, and, when you've recovered from this folly, perhaps you can start treating people equally.

Save the wail (from soaring over Oxford's dreaming spires)

The wailing of a call to Muslim prayer over the dreaming spires of Oxford would be "un-English", according to the rector of one of the city's largest Anglican churches.

Damn right! It's not just un-English, but un-British, un-Western and downright unholy. But that is to Western ears. And this is the West. And this is Britain. And Oxford is in England.

So perhaps Charlie Cleverly of St Aldate's Church has cleverly made a good point when, in a seven-point statement to his congregation, he calls on the Central Mosque to drop its plans to broadcast the muezzin's message, wailed through a loudspeaker at high volume.

And that, lest PC types should start getting a bit frothy around the gills, is nothing to do with racism. Indeed, Cheerful Charlie "said he welcomed Muslims in Oxford and hoped a local dialogue between the faiths could be established", says Ekklesia, citing the Oxford Mail.

Charlie says, "I think it's to do with nuisance noise affecting the inhabitants that have to hear it. I feel it is un-English and very different from a bell. When such an area is subject to such a call to prayer, it may force people to move out and encourage Muslim families to move in.

"You do risk creating a kind of ghettoisation of the city a few years down the line. I think many people who are not Muslims have not got a text of the meaning of the Arabic in the call to prayer. I don't think words are neutral and I don't think the people of Oxford necessarily want to hear a call to prayer to Allah in the same way people don't want someone loud in their face asking them to buy coffee.

"There is a world of difference. Bells are just a signal and have been around for 1,500 years. They are a terribly English part of our culture."

And sound a damned sight better than the wail. While we're well aware of the significance of church bells, and the nonreligious among us would not be answering their call, they have, after all, been with us for centuries, we've enjoyed their peals, they're mostly euphonic and bells have traditionally been used as a signal to communities for all kinds of purposes, not just a summons to talk to invisible people in the sky.

Muslims disagree with Charlie's objections, as you would expect. Munir Chisti, the Imam at the mosque, says, "This is once a week on a Friday afternoon. I do not think it is going to cause problems for anyone. I think 60 to 70 per cent of people are happy with this, and think it should go ahead. The majority of people are happy and they know there is a freedom of speech and a freedom of religion."

He thinks 60 to 70 people are happy. If he merely thinks it, then he won't have done a scientific survey, so we can dismiss that one. And he misses the point that it's not a freedom-of-speech matter, since no one is telling Muslims they can't have opinions and state them in public places. Nor is it a freedom-of-religion thing. They can continue to head-butt their magic carpets till the cows come home.

But religion should not be wailed and bawled over a British city with a clear wording that says "God is the greatest", that "I bear witness that there is no lord except God", and "make haste towards prayer". That's just treading on everyone else's freedom not to listen to the racket.

Anyway, how would you tell it from a fire siren?

Pill of rights

That little pill has again provoked religious fervour. As if we didn't have enough encroachments on our freedoms, Muslims are telling us we can't take the morning-after pill.

The latest lunacy is in Greater Manchester, where a couple, an adult couple, two grown-up people, Chris Mellett and Kay Walsh, went to a Sainsbury's pharmacy in Denton, and the Muslim pharmacist told them he wouldn't dispense the pill because it was against his religion.

Against his religion! Why on earth are these people allowed to work as pharmacists in this country if they can't do the job? Well, it's because the supine Royal Pharmaceutical Society allows the superstitious to refuse to do their job if they believe their chosen sky fairy believes it evil. To put it in more polite terms, as this story in the Manchester Evening News has it, "The society's ethics code says if the morning-after pill is against a pharmacist's personal, religious or moral beliefs they are within their rights not to supply it."

And to hell with the ethics of allowing people to buy what it is their lawful right to buy and what they expect to be able to buy when they go to a chemist's counter. If Sainsbury's really, really insist on allowing this individual to continue to work on their counter, why don't they just put up a big sign saying, "Mr So-and-so is our dispensing chemist today, so, if you wish to purchase certain products, tough shit"?

Kaye Walsh, a mother of two, said, "I was absolutely flabbergasted. I'm a 36-year-old woman, not a child. I respect other people's religions, but when it affects my life it's not on." And her partner, Chris Mellett, 29, said, "[W]hy should we be discriminated against because of someone else's religion? It's my right to buy that pill."

Walsh added, "Surely the pharmacist has a duty of care. If religion comes into it he should change his job."

Or just be fired.

Scientology: "not a religion, it is a dangerous cult"

As if we didn't know it, Big Brother is all around us, and not just in a house used for a well-known crappy television programme.

The BB phenomenon seems to have reached new depths, with police confiscating a placard from a peacefully demonstrating boy. The placard read, "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult". No, the last word was not misspelled, with an n instead of an l. There was nothing obscene, and no single person was defamed, as far as we can make out.

But the lad, said to be a minor, was ordered to dump the sign. "When he refused, he was issued with a form of summons for an alleged breach of public order," says the Daily Telegraph. "Police plan to pass a file to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether charges can be brought."

The boy wrote later on the Internet that he had been told that he couldn't use "that word".

This is Britain in the twenty-first century.

Chief Superintendent Rob Bastable (so easy to mispronounce it "BastardBabble", isn't it?) tells the Telegraph, "City of London Police upholds the right to demonstrate lawfully, but we have to balance that with the right of all sections of community not to be alarmed, harassed or distressed as a result of other people's behaviour."

And where, Mr Rob BastardBabble, is the distress? Where is the alarm? Who is being harassed? Why are you being such an almighty Orwellian prat? Is it because it's religion (well, so-called)? Is it because big business is involved? Are you a Tom Cruise fan?

So it's official, is it? We can't call certain religionists crazy nutjobs any more? Is calling an alleged religion a cult now to be proscribed? Have the police overstepped the mark? Or are they just being total arseholes?

Well, I'm not alone in thinking the police are barmpots in this. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human-rights group Liberty said, "They will be banning words like 'war' and 'tax' from placards and demonstrations next. This is just barmy."

One reader's comment under the Telegraph story sums it up: "Poor England, to have survived Hitler only to face this long sad spiral into an Orwellian nightmare."

Since that Telegraph story appeared in its online edition yesterday afternoon, writer George Pitcher has pitched in in with a comment in the same paper and reminded us that, if you're name's Ali or Mohammed, it's OK to waltz about with placards saying off with his head. Well, OK, he didn't quite say that, but this is what he did say in that same paper:

By coincidence, it was in 2006 that militant Muslims demonstrated at the Danish Embassy in London over the publication in Denmark of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Their placards variously read "Slay/Annihilate/Butcher/Massacre/Behead . . . those who insult Islam." I am unaware of any charges that were brought against the bearers of these placards under either the Public Order Act or, more pertinently, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act. That's because the provisions of the legislation are almost meaningless in action.

He reminds us that, although Scientology does not bring the "brutish violence of the Islamists", it does play around with people's brains, and that was why the BBC's John Sweeney memorably "lost it" on air (and subsequently apologised for doing so) while shooting a documentary on these loons (sorry, my word there, not Pitcher's). He adds, "The pity is that they've now warped the minds of the City of London Police."

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Two sexes good, one sex bad

There could be implications for same-sex marriage ceremonies throughout the UK if a homophobic registrar gets her way at an employment tribunal.

Forty-seven-year-old Lillian Ladele, a civil registrar, has refused to tie the knot for same-sex couples because it's "sinful" and against her religion.

She's now brought a legal case against Islington Council in north London, accusing it of religious discrimination and victimisation "because it asked her to perform the ceremonies as part of her £31,000-a-year job", says The Times. "More than 18,000 same-sex ceremonies are performed each year under the Civil Partnership Act, which came into force in December 2005." The Times's story continues:

Ms Ladele said that Islington council was forcing her to choose between her beliefs and keeping her job by requiring her to undertake civil partnership duties. Giving evidence yesterday, she told the employment tribunal in Central London: “I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations. It creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or condone something that they see as sinful. I feel unable to facilitate directly the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God’s law.”

Ladele has worked for the council for 16 years. She alleged that she was accused of being homophobic by gay colleagues and was shunned by staff after she refused to carry out civil partnerships. She also said she was “ridiculed” by her boss, the superintendent registrar Helen Mendez-Childs, when she raised her concerns about the new ceremonies in August 2004.

"Ms Ladele said that her superior had told her that her stance was akin to a registrar refusing to marry a black person," the story continues.

Ladele was in the job before the new legislation came into force. Does that have a bearing on her case? For 15 months she's been swapping shifts with colleagues in order to avoid doing gay weddings, and eventually there were complaints. The council has in effect said do the job or you'll be fired for gross misconduct.

Until December last year, she, along with other registrars, was effectively freelance and could opt out of ceremonies. Now, though, the job has been brought under town halls' control. One assumes she could see it coming, and knew she would have to make a choice, even if you have some sympathy with her (and I suspect few reading this will) because she's been doing a job whose requirements have suddenly changed.

But, then, many jobs change and people have to retrain or maybe even move home. All kinds of new obligations are brought about in a changing world. Many employees just have to shape up or ship out.

Stonewall, the gay lobby group, says public servants are paid to uphold the law and shouldn't discriminate. But Mike Judge of the rabidly homophobic Christian Institute says it's an important case for religious liberty.

The case, when it's decided, is expected to lead to a landmark ruling over whether employees can be required to act against their consciences.

Humanist answers needed, too

Good to see humanism getting a good airing in one of the heavies over the weekend. It's not often it gets an article to itself in the mainstream press.

Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, who's also the chair of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) presents a profile of what has been a much-misunderstood philosophy in the Guardian's "Comment is Free" slot (with the usual comments from readers).

I rather liked a description of humanism from GALHA's immediate former secretary, Cliff James, who said in a magazine interview earlier this year that it was atheism with values. And I agree with the description given by the veteran humanist Roy Saich: "Humanists are agnostics and atheists who apply reason and goodwill to build happy lives." (You can read more on the Humanists website.)

Copson goes further, of course, since the whole article is about humanism, triggered by the fact that the OCR exam board will now include it in its RE curriculum in schools (see here and here). Copson's article concludes that humanist points of view should be part of the typical RE lesson, alongside the usual ones.

It goes without saying that we at the Pink Triangle Trust welcomed the move, too.

What strikes me is how lazy journalists have treated humanism in the past. Copson talks of how the Observer had the headline "Children to study atheism in schools" back in 2004 when the idea of including humanism was mooted. The Sun (but, then, I'd expect nothing less from the Sun) had "Schools are told to teach atheism" (as if atheism could be taught, since it's just a lack of belief in deities, the default belief system (i.e. no beliefs) that a child has when it emerges from the womb).

Interestingly – ironically, perhaps – Copson's article is also labelled as being part of the Guardian's "Face to Faith" section, which is subtitled "a weekly walk on the spiritual side".

And we should be clear that, in talking of humanism, Copson is, we assume, talking mainly of secular humanism. As one reader's comment points out, "[T]here are about twenty kinds of humanism, and lots of them are religious."

This comment goes on, "If I was teaching it, I'd start with Renaissance Humanism, and go from there. I think it's important to let kids know that believing in God doesn't disqualify them from humanism or secularism."

True, but it probably gives them a predisposition to ignore rational thought in favour of beliefs based on thousands-year-old scriptures, on certainties and on beliefs that not believing in these things makes one inferior – especially if one's sexuality doesn't quite come up to the religionist's ideal.

Abortion and IVF: it's as you were

Free-voting MPs have decided not to change the abortion laws to bring down the upper limit from 24 weeks to 22, and there will be no change in IVF treatment to require that doctors consider the need for a father. (See our previous posts on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill here, here and here.)

A BBC news website story quotes the Tory MP and former nurse Nadine Dorries, who proposed a 20-week limit, and said in the debate last night, "There comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life." But her plan was defeated by 332 votes to 190. A move to bring in a 22-week limit was opposed by 304 votes to 233.

The IVF vote will come as a relief to lesbian couples seeking to have children by artificial insemination.

You can see the BBC video of some of the debate here.

Objections to leaving the abortion limit where it is and to allowing IVF without considering the need for a father have mainly come from Catholic MPs, and it was this religious lobby that persuaded Prime Minister Gordon Brown to allow Labour MPs a free vote on certain aspects of the Bill, rather than whipping them.

One Tory MP, Edward Leigh, pressed for a 12-week limit. He claimed that 89 per cent of abortions are for social reasons, 1.3 per cent are for foetuses that are damaged and 0.4 per cent are performed in the case of risk to a mother's life. This Catholic father of six children, all by his wife Mary, said, "I believe we should give that silent child a voice."

Around 54.9 per cent of abortions are reckoned to be carried out under nine weeks in England and Wales; 34.3 per cent in 9–12 weeks; 9.2 per cent in 13–19 weeks; and 1.5 per cent in 20–24 weeks. The BBC (very helpfully) has a handy little chart of abortions from 1971 to 2006.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Let's have more segregation, says Scottish leader

A Muslim school would just hinder integration in Scotland. That's the view of most sensible people, of course, but it's also that of Sam Galbraith, a former Scottish education minister, who's against a move that the Scottish Nationals' Alex Salmond, the First Minister, supports.

Galbraith says it would be a "retrograde step" in this Scotsman story, which says, "Campaigners are planning to submit a detailed proposal for the faith school to Glasgow City Council within two months and officials last night confirmed they would consult on the proposal."

Our worthy leaders won't be happy, of course, till all children are in ghettos saying their religion is better than the other kids' religions.

Scotland is lucky in that it doesn't have any Muslim schools yet, whereas south of the border there are more than a hundred, both private and state-supported. However, Scotland does have more than four hundred publicly funded Roman Catholic schools.

A spokesman for Alex Salmond said, "We are very much sympathetic to the idea [of a Muslim school]. The First Minister is supportive. He thinks that faith schools are a good thing and they make a great contribution to Scotland. The issue is whether there is a sustainable demand for them."

Well, of course there'll be a demand among the religious, who think their children should be made to talk to the same invisible people they talk to. As we've already seen with the London government, those in power don't like to upset the men in frocks. And don't forget the madness evident in our earlier story below.

In God's name

Yes, they do it in God's name, they would have you believe. Be absolutely raving bonkers, that is. And you thought it could happen only in America. Don't you believe it! We get the swivel-eyed loons in the UK, too, big time. In fact, they come over as so out of it that you want to rush up to the nearest ordinary churchgoer you know and say, "Thank you for being normal. To think that you could have been one of them!"

"In God's Name" was the subtitle given to Channel 4's Dispatches offering on Christian fundamentalism last night, and I urge you to see it if you can: it's on again at 9 p.m. on More4 on Wednesday and on Channel 4 again at 3.45 a.m. on Thursday. Get it on tape or disc. Show it to friends on special occasions over beer and crisps when you want to chill out with some comedy.

Stephen Green of Christian Voice was prominent, as you'd expect, sometimes wanting the camera on him, sometimes telling it to piss off, getting bird shit on his shirt and treating it as a message from God. Because he'd had to go off to clean it off, you see, it had providentially prevented him from taking part in one of the interviews he'd decided God didn't want him to partake in after all.

Then there was a seriously disturbed barrister who's given up her law career to try to convince people that homosexuality (among other things) is a heinous sin.

Laugh as you see these people swaying from side to side as they sing tunelessly to their invisible friend. Marvel at just how credulous they can be. Grimace as little children in a classroom are indoctrinated into all kinds of nonsense by a mad teacher. Gloat at how much brighter you are than these freaks, even if you're a lobotomised whelk (my pet whelk thought it was hilarious).

Normally, I'd say why give these people airtime? But full marks to Channel 4 and its reporter David Modell – who also directed and produced it – for revealing what a load of nutters these evangelical types are. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

You can also read Modell's article on it in the Sunday Telegraph. In it he talks about a school he visited for the programme, Carmel, which has the full backing of education authorities and the relevant government departments. Here in the UK. Now in 2008.

The uncompromising creationist curriculum taught in Carmel has been imported from the US. It is called Accelerated Christian Education; the motto of the Florida-based company who produce it is: "Reaching the world for Christ, one child at a time."

With 50 small schools in the UK teaching this curriculum, a total of more than 2,000 children are being "reached for Christ". Yet these schools are not operating outside the education system. Carmel is a government-endorsed faith school, complete with an Ofstead [the education regulator] report that describes the teaching as "satisfactory".


But don't go without clicking on the video below and watching Green get his shitty message from the Almighty.

Embryology Bill: the debate continues

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill gets a second day of debate. Today it's abortion. Yesterday it was saviour siblings and hybrid-embryo research. The Commons rejected a ban on the former, and backed the latter. I agree with embryo research, in principle, and have mixed feelings about saviour siblings. But there were cases put for both sides of that argument in the chamber, and interesting points made.

"[A] cross-party attempt to ban hybrid human animal embryos was defeated on a free vote, by 336 to 176," says this BBC story. (The site also has an interesting Q&A on the hybrid question.)

On abortion, the Health Minister Dawn Primarolo says there is no evidence requiring a change in the abortion laws to be changed. "There is no science that shows us that the survival rates have changed since we took the decision to have the time limit at 24 weeks," she says.

A Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries, who tabled the amendment to change the abortion time limit, believes the right of a woman to choose has its limits. "If a baby feels pain as part of a barbaric abortion process," she said, "which is what happens post-twenty weeks, and if we know that baby could live if it was allowed to be born, then there comes the point when that baby has rights which are of equal parity to the mother's."

MPs are also set to vote later on the role of fathers in IVF, which of course affects the fate of lesbian couples who want to have babies with IVF.

Many of the objections to many aspects of the Bill have come from Catholic MPs and others of a religious bent.

Monday, 19 May 2008

A "balanced and impeccably sourced documentary"

A "balanced and impeccably sourced documentary". That's how Nick Cohen in the Observer describes Undercover Mosque, the Channel 4 documentary that led to a row that led to a row that led to an apology from the police.

Its undercover journalists infiltrated radical mosques. They recorded assorted preachers calling for the subjugation of women, the murder of homosexuals and Jews, the replacement of the "man-made" laws of a democracy with the religious edicts of a theocratic state and the eternal damnation of Muslims who did not follow Wahhabi doctrine and infidels who did not accept the true faith.

So secularists, humanists, freethinkers and those non-PC types who can spot the PC in a PC PC from a mile off are not the only ones who think West Midlands Police were stupid for wanting to prosecute Channel 4 for allegedly fiddling with the footage. Cohen contines:

The station took every care to ensure the accuracy of the programme. I speak from experience when I say that being edited by Channel 4's commissioning editors is like having a team of revenue inspectors going through your accounts. Its lawyers swarmed over the script of Undercover Mosque to make sure it complied with the law and Ofcom's regulatory guidelines. Two weeks before transmission, they sent letters to every cleric criticised in the film explaining what Channel 4 had accused them of and offering them a chance to reply.

It's in the "Comment is Free" slot – Guardian Unlimited's blog – so there are a fair few comments there for your reading pleasure.

Embryo research gets PM's backing today

Gordon Brown says he'll support embryo research. (One has to wonder whether his predecessor would, now he's a Catholic.)

There's another vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Commons today, and he's urged MPs to vote in favour of stem-cell research using human–animal embryos.

But then he goes and spoils it all by saying that he has "deep respect" for those MPs opposed to the Bill, which will update embryology laws, "because of religious conviction". Why? Why? It's one thing to respect people as people (whether they're religious or not); it's quite another to say you respect them because they oppose something that could save lives, and their objection is because of their belief in invisible people and willingness to bow before misguided, probably mentally unstable, men in frocks.

For the main objectors are, of course, Catholics. Not all, perhaps, but the main ones, the more vocal ones.

Brown did a piece in the Observer yesterday, in which he said that Britons should not turn their backs on vital scientific advances that could speed up treatment for cancer and conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. His younger son Fraser, who will be two in July, has cystic fibrosis, which is life-threatening because it disrupts the way the digestive and respiratory systems work. It's a hereitory disease, and, it is believed, could benefit from stem-cell research.

"The scientists I speak to are committed to what they see as an inherently moral endeavour, that can save and improve the lives of thousands and, over time, millions," he writes.

Labour MPs will get a free vote on three aspects of the Bill: the creation of so-called "saviour siblings", created to donate tissue to an older brother or sister; the creation of hybrid embryos; and giving lesbian couples equal rights to IVF treatment. They'll also get a free vote on amendments that would reduce the upper limit for abortions to 22 or even 20 weeks from the current 24 weeks.

Brown has consented to a non-whipped vote, apparently, after Catholic MPs bleated that they may rebel. And Gordon Brown can't afford to have a rebellion on his hands right after the fiasco with the ten-pence tax rate, whose aftershocks are still being felt.

Meanwhile, remember Brian Souter, the head of Stagecoach? He was such a rabid detester of gay equality that he campaigned like hell to prevent the repeal of Scotland's equivalent of Section 28 of the Local Government Act. This piece of spiteful legislation was aimed at preventing the so-called promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. Souter sank a lot of money into his vindictive, mean, nasty, vicious and malevolent campaign – all to no end, thank goodness.

Well, this malicious bod is writing in Scotland on Sunday, and his article starts like this, and asks a question that is so easily answered that I'm surprised he left himself open to the obvious reply:

The Embryology Bill making its way through Parliament is a complex and provocative piece of legislation that the Government believes will help place us at the forefront of new research whilst addressing a number of ethical issues surrounding embryo procedures.

Why then are Cardinals publicly challenging the Prime Minister and MPs' post bags brimming with letters on this subject?

Well, they're cardinals, you berk!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Court decision is one in the eye for Ratzo

As if we needed telling yet again, Pope Ratzinger is banging on about how immoral it is for any sexual union that doesn't involve one of each gender. If your sexuality isn't one that lends itself to that happy ideal, you can go to hell.

Ratzo's remarks come after a California court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, recognising, one assumes, that people have sexual needs, and not all of them fall within the narrow confines of what the Catholic hierarchy say is "moral".

"The union of love, based on matrimony between a man and a woman, which makes up the family, represents a good for all society that cannot be substituted by, confused with, or compared to other types of unions," he says. Blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The Reuters story linked to above tells us, "On Thursday, the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages in a major victory for gay rights advocates that will allow homosexual couples to marry in the most populous US state."

George W Bush prayed with Ratzo "for the family" while the pope was in the States earlier in the year.

And last year Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, made headlines with comments suggested homosexuality was akin to incest and paedophilia.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Open letter from Michael Cashman re International Day against Homophobia

17 May is important, on this day in 1990 the World Health Organization [WHO] dropped homosexuality from its list of diseases. To mark this, International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) is celebrated all over the World. This day aims to highlight the rights of LGBT people worldwide, who are still deprived of their basic rights solely on the ground of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

There are still 7 countries in the world where homosexual or bisexual people are sentenced to death by the state. In Saudi-Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Mauritania, Nigeria and Sudan consenting same sex adults, who engage in sexual relationships, face the death penalty. In these countries LGBT people are deprived of their fundamental right to life.

But we do not have to look so far, even within the borders of Europe homophobia harms our fellow citizens. Pride and Equality marches which are meant to be peaceful celebrations, invoking the core European principles of tolerance and appreciation of diversity, are not recognised as a celebration of love and happiness, but are sadly seen in many countries as a threat. These marches are often a call by LGBT people to recognize their human rights. Yet too often these marches are banned by governments or local politicians. The European Court of Human Rights and other European Institutions have confirmed the rights of LGBT people to peaceful assembly, but the governments and local authorities of countries like Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, amongst others, fail to respect these rights.

In areas like housing, education, access to other goods and services LGBT people are also often experiencing discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. Taking also into account the recent rise of homophobia in Europe, there is a clear need for a horizontal Anti-discrimination Directive to protect European citizens. The [European] Commission already has the tools to do this. Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty states that the European Commission can take measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as well as on age, gender, religion or belief, ethnicity and disability. The European Parliament has already called upon the Commission to deliver such a directive at least six times in the past four years. Now we call for political courage from the President of the Commission Jose Manuel Barroso to act accordingly.

On this day 17 May – International Day Against Homophobia – we want to express our solidarity with homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people suffering discrimination all over the world, and we want to call upon every human being of this planet "to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood" as written in the honourable document The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On behalf of the European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian RightsMichael Cashman, Member of the European Parliament

As the planet reaches bursting point, procreation is still top of the agenda

The Catholic mouthpiece the Tablet reminds us today just how important it is to continue to expect the planet to sustain irresponsible breeding.

Pope Ratzo has said that the anti-birth-control papal document Humanae Vitae, published 40 years ago by Pope Paul VI, is as relevant today as it was then.

"The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; on the contrary, in light of new scientific discoveries, its teaching is becoming more current and is provoking reflection," the Tablet quotes him as saying some days before. It goes on:

Interestingly, the Pope never specifically denounced the use of artificial ontraception or assisted fertilisation by name. But he did insist that the natural law on which Humanae Vitae is based must be defended. "The transmission of life is inscribed in nature and its laws remain as the unwritten norm to which everyone must refer. Every attempt to divert attention from this principle remains sterile and does not produce a future," he said.

The fact is that the planet is reaching bursting point, with every new human being making claims – basic ones as well as manmade ones according to his or her economic status – on the ecosystem. But potty Catholics continue to call for more and more people.

The world population 48 years ago was about 2.5 billion (thousand millions), and estimated to be about 3.69 billion in 1970, just two years after Humanae Vitae; today it is around 6.6 billion; by 2050, it is expected to reach 8.9 billion.

And they wonder why so many people think Catholic leaders evil as well as downright bonkers.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Let us pray

"Let us (not) pray", our headline gloated some days ago after there'd been a most welcome recommendation that kids under sixth-form age should be able to opt out of talking to fairies in assembly in UK schools. Seems the government have now rejected this. Bastards!

The recommendation came from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), and said that school pupils of "sufficient maturity and intelligence" should be able to opt out of religious education and collective worship.

Now the National Secular Society says it's planning legal action against this pisspotical law that forces kids to have conversations with invisible people.

Er, can we have a reality check here? What year is it? Is the whole country mad, or is it just me and the National Secular Society?

We humbly apologise . . .

"We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and apologise to the programme makers for the damage and distress caused by our original press release."

Let's just read that again, just for the hell of it, displayed this time:

We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and apologise to the programme makers for the damage and distress caused by our original press release.

Fun, isn't it? That's the grovelling apology, now available on their website, from West Midlands Police, who wrongly accused Channel 4 of a bit of fancy editing in order to make a documentary more hateful towards Muslims. As you'll see from yesterday's Pink Triangle entry, "Let’s hear it for Channel 4", West Midlands Police's complaint against the makers of the documentary Undercover Mosque failed, but they left the offending press release on their website. So Channel 4 went for the jugular, resulting in a judgment that has meant a fine and the apology.

"[W]e were wrong to make these allegations," says the press release. Furthermore, the programme "had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context".

The National Secular Society's now calling for a public inquiry into the role of West Midlans Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in the whole silly charade.

OK, just one more time:

We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and apologise to the programme makers for the damage and distress caused by our original press release.

On this one at least, the score is: common sense 1, PC brigade (pun only half intended) 0.