As part of their community cohesion work, the Government has proposed in its White Paper ‘Face to Face and Side by Side: A Framework for Partnership in our Multi Faith Society’ to champion the role of ‘faith groups’ and ‘inter faith’ work in local social dialogue and action.
We [The British Humanist Association] believe that the paper gives disproportionate support to ‘faith groups’ and overplays the importance of ‘inter faith’ work in social cohesion. It fails to recognise work done by organisations which are not based on religion or belief, or by organisations which are based on non-religious beliefs.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears today set out how Government envisages working in future alongside the many faith based organisations already making a real difference to their communities.
The Framework for Partnership published today [21 July 2008] outlines new support and £7.5m worth of investment to encourage and enable greater local activity bringing people from different religions and beliefs together. It also reaffirms government support for the valuable work faith groups contribute to delivering services, responding to some of the toughest challenges that society faces.
The National Secular Society’s position (and ours) is:
Public services that are intended for the whole community should be secular. The trend towards handing them over to religious control must be stopped, and the NSS is working to ensure that “faith based welfare” does not impose religious conditions on service provision. We do not want the “soup for prayers” situation that has arisen in the USA to become the norm here, where public services have traditionally been provided by secular local authorities and other public bodies that served all without favour.
Responding to the Ministry of Justice White Paper, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has urged the Government to ensure that there will be no reserved places for Bishops in a reformed House of Lords.
Further to our earlier report on Babergh District Council’s position on council prayers, Devon Humanists have issued the following press release:
Campaign to end the discriminatory practice of having prayers at Council meetings
Do you know that your local Council starts its meetings with prayers? If you say that to most people nowadays they think that you are joking.
Devon Humanists today announce the launch of a campaign to end the discriminatory practice of having prayers at Council meetings. Spokesman for Devon Humanists, Keith Denby said “The history of local Councils in Britain goes back to Saxon times and in the distant past the Church was very much a part of local administration, so to begin a Council meeting with prayers would have been very natural. But now in the 21st Century, Council taxpayers come from many cultures and belief systems and a large proportion of them do not think that religion should have influence in politics.
Like many local authorities, Babergh District Council has Christian prayers at the beginning of full council meetings. It’s assumed that all the members will participate. Together with humanists and secularists in other parts of the country, we regard this practice as archaic and discriminatory.
For Blair, the two classes of school that really mattered were the voluntary-aided schools, now usually called ‘faith’ schools, and a new type of school, the city academy.
Of the two, Gordon Brown’s government is clearly putting its money on the academies. The faith schools were a particular enthusiasm of Blair’s but are viewed with suspicion by the Labour Party as a whole.
A historic precedent was set at the European parliament today [18 June]. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mrs Asma Jahangir, addressed the European Parliament, much as religious leaders such as the Pope and the Grand Mufti of Syria have done.