Sunday, 22 April 2007

WASP Summary of the speech of Lord Wedderburn of Charlton in the House of Lords 19th April 2007, Relgion: Non Believers debate.

WASP Summary of the speech of noble Lord Lord Wedderburn of Charlton in the House of Lords 19th April 2007, Relgion: Non Believers debate.
Full text of speech here in Hansard (or with WASP highlights here).

highlights Main Points & Key Points.

Lord Wedderburn entry; Lord Wedderburn Wikipedia entry.
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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I speak as a humanist. I agree with the position of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for introducing this debate. I do wish to convert anyone, but I understand how difficult it is for right reverend Prelates even to understand the sort of position that humanists adopt; the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, who is sadly not in his place, was one.

This issue raises a question of human rights, because the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in the Human Rights Act 1998, proclaimed in Articles 89 and 14 the freedom of religious belief and freedom, as interpreted by the Strasbourg court, of other beliefs—including, as it puts it, atheism or scepticism—to be human rights. Practical matters arise from that. The Government are bound by the standards which the Human Rights Act has adopted into our law. I will advert as quickly as I can to areas where the Government should take note and, perhaps, begin an inquiry or, as has been suggested, some dialogue with humanists, who suffer a number of disadvantages in a religious environment.

First, on broadcasting, everybody knows that you can hear “Thought for the Day” at a quarter to eight. The British Humanist Association asked whether some humanists without a belief in God could be selected for these talks, which are currently usually given by people who think that morality and a sense of behavioural conduct can be introduced only by those who believe in God. The BBC replied in correspondence, saying that it could not include such speakers. Why?

Secondly, on charities, a religious organisation automatically passes the first test imposed by the Charities Act 2006. Organisations for other purposes and beliefs do not. That is straightforward discrimination. On health, as noble Lords have mentioned, the National Health Service recruits chaplains; so do prisons. All of them are either Christian or some other faith. As I found, being in hospital a lot last year, no humanist chaplains appear to exist.

I ask the right reverend Prelates who have spoken whether they will support a move to liberalise broadcasting in that respect from public service bodies, which are bound to a balance of religion and other beliefs. Then there is the Government’s structure of consultation, based on the paper Working Together in 2003. In fact, the standing advisory panels and other groups that control the consultative process include no humanists and no persons other than those who belong, with great respect, to religious organisations.

On education, we all know that a church school can be either the only primary school in a district,or certainly the best. I congratulate the Church of England on maintaining the quality of church schools, but when you see humanist parents going to church on a Sunday for perhaps the first time ever, certainly only for a short period, you know why:they wish to get some advantage for their child in school selection. I have personal experience of a great number of people doing this; it really does discriminate in society. More importantly, Church of England schools, for which a report was produced for Archbishops in 2001, still aim to proselytise and convert. It is a problem in our society that schools based on religious faith must have a divisive effect. The new academies include an increasing number of aggressively religious schools teaching creationism. One such school states that its object is to instruct pupils that,

    “those who love Jesus the Lord will enjoy his presence forever. But those who do not will face God’s judgment”.

That is hardly an inclusive philosophy to put to children who enter.

Lastly, the justification for some of these things is, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said in a recent debate, based upon the census of 2001. It stated that 72 per cent of the population ticked a box saying “Christian” in a long list of religions ending with “None”. That result has clearly been exploded by the Office for National Statistics. Other surveys have shown that the number of humanists in society with no religious belief is much higher than the Government state. I must end there, but I suggest that there are practical matters for ordinary people here which demand some inquiry or consultation from the Government with the British Humanist Association.

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