Created on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 21:55
Ethics class in action. Image: Primary Ethics/Summer Hill Media
Imagine for a
minute that you’re the parent of a young child and you’ve just received a
letter from his or her school asking whether you would like your child to be
included in scripture classes or not. You re-read the letter, wondering if
there’s an alternative option you’ve missed, but it remains a simple yes or no.
So you say yes and send it back, glad that your child will be included and
hoping the school will provide important moral teaching.
you had said no, however, you would have received a follow-up letter informing
you about ethics classes that are being offered as an alternative. These are
the volunteer-provided Primary Ethics classes that were created to provide
children with a secular alternative to scripture classes in New South Wales (Australia) government
schools, which are nominally non-religious. The program, funded by the St James
Ethics Centre, aims to teach children about ethical decision making, how to
think logically, formulate arguments and rationalise information in an
inclusive environment. It was initiated in 2010 partly for children not taking part in
scripture classes, whose only alternative had been being physically separated from
their classmates without alternative class work. According to Helen Walton, the
president of the Federation of Parents
and Citizens’ Associations of New South Wales, “ethics classes provided parents a choice
in how their child was meaningfully engaged when other students were
participating in SRE (Special Religious Education)”.
a trial conducted by the Department of Education in 2010 finding
97% approval from 750 submissions on the introduction of ethics classes,
politicians such as Christian Democrats MP Reverend Fred Nile have consistently
attempted to block the classes. The Legislative Council of NSW resolved in
November 2011 to conduct an inquiry into the ethics classes program in response
to a bill introduced by Nile to abolish ethics classes.
Created on Saturday, 05 January 2013 20:50
1. The Rise of 'Nones' in the World
A survey released by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in late 2012 identified the Religiously Unaffiliated, or ‘Nones’ as the third largest ‘faith’ group in the world, 16% or 1.1 billion, approximately the same number as Catholics. 900 million of these unaffiliated reside in the Asia-Pacific region, where they make up an average 21.2% of the population. Europe is the next largest region then North America. Latin America, Africa and the Middle East all lag behind, with 7.7%, 3.2%, and 0.6% of the populations identified as ‘Nones’.
A trending study by WIN-Gallup International in 2012 noted that religiosity is declining worldwide while atheism and non-belief are increasing. Religiosity has fallen by 9 points just since 2005, while the number of atheists has almost doubled. The U.S., France, UK, Ireland, Canada as well as Vietnam are included in the top-10 list of countries to have experienced a "notable decline in religiosity" since 2005. 'Nones' tend to be younger than the overall population.
References: Pew Forum, Huffington Post, Time, LA Times, UK Census
2. Islamic Religious Violence and Intimidation Explodes in Response to Offence
2012 was a year with multiple incidents where Islamist leaders reacted to criticism, mocking and attacks on their faith by fomenting and encouraging violence to express their displeasure. At the same time, Islamic nations cracked down on religious dissent in their own countries and again demanded that the UN adopt anti-blasphemy laws as a ‘human right’ (albeit the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has now abandoned this path - refer #9). Atheists were exceptionally vulnerable to these actions but the problem extends far beyond the atheist community, to the level of being an international menace that threatens not just free speech rights, but human lives and livelihoods.
Created on Saturday, 29 December 2012 20:44
Let’s face it, atheists have been the ultimate scapegoat for society’s problems for years and we have often just accepted this role in society. Perhaps it is easiest; perhaps we find it pointless to put up a fight against the narrow-minded. The longer we do not fight back against this prejudice, the more likely it is this role will stick, and that this way of thinking will be passed down through generations.
I have often been subject to countless assumptions about myself purely based on the fact that I do not subscribe to an all-powerful being in the sky. But a recent event struck a chord with me. Whilst on a train journey to work I was approached by a woman carrying a Bible who asked me what I personally thought of ‘our Lord Saviour Jesus Christ’. Although I was in no mood to get into a heated debate about my thoughts on God or Christianity, I felt obliged to tell her that I do not believe in God. I braced myself for the initial shock, and I was not disappointed: her expression was of sheer terror, as though I had just told her that I sacrifice goats on a daily basis when the sun goes down. As much as I anticipated this reaction, the response that shocked me above all was when she asked me whether I felt love. Is this really how the religious still views the nonreligious? That we are incapable of love, that we are hollow, cold sinners?
I have been contemplating this notion of how the nonreligious community is perceived for a while now and following the horrific events of the Connecticut shootings in which 28 people were killed, including children, it dawned on me that as a community, atheists tolerate an absurd level of prejudice against their lack of belief. After reading an article via Twitter, I came across a statement made by former US Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee whereby he indirectly blamed the Connecticut massacre on the atheist community by proclaiming that the shooting rampage was the natural result of our having “systematically removed God from our schools”. Would Christians stand for being blamed if Lanza had been educated in a faith school? Have atheists and the notion of a God-free curriculum become the ultimate scapegoat for political and societal problem?
Created on Monday, 24 December 2012 19:09
Grinch....or just different? (image: Dr Seuss' The Grinch)
Our poor senses have been abused recently by the most prominent holiday of the year (at least in Western countries): Christmas. Even as a budding atheist last year I celebrated it. It can be quite fun. But it always feels as if those who choose not to participate in these yearly solstice-based activities, be it due to their beliefs or lack thereof, are demonised in our culture. Even the basic act of ignoring the Christmas season is seen as supremely anti-social.
For some reason, it seems to be those few social 'commentators' who think that their insightful rantings and lists on why EVERYONE should be joyful around Christmas time always receive publicity in the media. Those who write nice and simple articles about the need for some variation in holiday music for the non-religious among us and those of other religions  are ignored in favour of things such as one of the many over-hyped nonsense lists on "Why you need to stop being a Christmas grump". 
Those who come out against public collections of art only depicting nativity scenes are shown as 'grinches' or 'grumps'. Those who ask that Christmas messages are not splayed over every wall and window in shopping centers are told to be quiet and bare the brunt of the mass marketing of an over-stated holiday. And don't even start about the infamous 'war on Christmas'.  It makes me want to rip my hair out even more than the holiday and its consumerism itself.
So, for those of you out there who don't need a certain date on which to give gifts to those whom you love, for those of you who don't see the significance in celebrating a conglomeration of pagan and Christian traditions, and for those of you who prefer to read a book or play games instead of listening to "important sounding dead languages"  during a mass, I say to you, you are not alone.
Created on Thursday, 13 December 2012 08:59
For a second it seemed that Malawi was on
its way towards improved rights for its gay community. After being sworn in as President in April 2012, Joyce Banda promised to overturn the
country’s anti-gay laws. Following this, in November 2012 the Malawian
government announced that it was suspending anti-gay laws and ordered police to
stop arresting gay people. Malawian
churches acted swiftly to strongly oppose the announcement. As reported by the
Independent/Reuters, the Malawi Council of Churches, a coalition of 24 church
groups, pressured the government until its backed down and reversed the decision.
While Malawi is officially a secular state,
recent events show that separation of church and state does not occur in practice. In Malawi (and many other African countries) religious institutions
use their positions to influence national politics and further their agendas. Gay
people continue to be marginalised
largely due to religious influence. As a
gay man in Malawi put it, the Council of Churches "believes
that gays are not human beings and should not be allowed to be free."  Secularism
promotes human rights for all but, as demonstrated in Malawi, religious
institutions choose their particular interpretation of their particular god’s law over human rights.
Created on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 03:51
Turkeys, Israel, Pat Robertson and the Pope is a Grinch! Plus Han Hills talks to Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland.
Click here for the Secular World podcast. Enjoy!
Created on Monday, 03 December 2012 22:11
Brazilian Real: Deus seja louvado - "God be praised"
Public Attorney Jefferson Dias, who has declared himself Catholic, is being threatened by his fellow Christians for moving a legal action to remove the phrase “God be praised” from Brazilian Real paper money. “I received some emails threatening my life, in the name of God” he stated, in an interview with an online news website. 
Dias is acting following a request to the Public Attorney by an atheist who stated he was disturbed by the Brazilian State showing a preference to one religion on the currency. Investigation by Dias revealed that the phrase “God be praised” was added to Brazilian currency after a personal request by Jose Sarney, currently president of Senate, during his time as President of Brazil (1985 - 1990). Dias noted that the Central Bank did not provide information about how the inclusion of the phrase occurred: but after Minister Marco Aurelio spoke of this matter in the context of his vote to make the abortion of anencepalic fetuses legal, the Central Bank acknowledged the phrase had been included as a personal favour.
Created on Monday, 26 November 2012 21:53
In Europe there is a tension between those who
support freedom of expression and those who claim that their freedom of
religion extends to freedom from their religion being offended. Laws protect both freedom of expression and freedom
of religion, but recent events threaten to expand the scope of freedom of
religion into freedom from religious insult.
Historically, Europe has sought to protect
freedom of expression to a high degree. The
European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) issued a
report in October 2008  concluding
with these recommendations:
a) That incitement
to hatred, including religious hatred, should be the object of criminal
b) That it is neither
necessary nor desirable to create an offence of religious insult (that is,
insult to religious feelings), without the element of incitement to hatred
as an essential component.
c) That the offence of
blasphemy should be abolished where it still exists and should not be
The report indicated that blasphemy remained
an offence in some European countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece,
Italy, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and San Marino – and Ireland added
blasphemy as a crime in 2009), with many others instead, or in addition, making
it a crime to insult religion (Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic,
Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway,
the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland,
Turkey and Ukraine). There is, however,
no general definition of what counts as religious insult.
Created on Friday, 16 November 2012 19:22
Valentin Abottspon, the Swiss teacher who was fired for removing a crucifix from his classroom in 2010, has won his appeal against his dismissal. The cantonal court in Valais ruled that Valentin's dismissal was unlawful, although did not conclude whether or not it is legal to display a crucifix in a public school in Switzerland. 
I was fortunate to meet Valentin last year at the launch of the International Association of Freethought in Oslo and again at the 2012 European Atheist Convention in Cologne, Germany, earlier this year. He comes across as a dedicated teacher who did not ask for this particular fight, but found himself in it because he took a principled stance and refused to back down.
Created on Thursday, 03 January 2013 21:48
Image: The president of STR, Lee Kwang-won, submits petition to the Seoul Education Chief.
Source: Christian Television System of Korea.
The Society for Textbook Revision (STR), which triggered the science textbook dispute in South Korea with its “petition for Archaeopteryx removal”, has submitted a third petition for revision, this time saying that science textbooks that reference the Miller-Urey experiment – considered as a classic experiment on the origin of life – are wrong.
STR said it submitted the petition for the revision of high school science textbooks on 18 December 2012 to the acting Seoul Education Chief Lee Dae-young. This petition, titled “Chemical evolution has nothing to do with birth of life – focusing on Miller's experiment and synthetic response” was signed by 175 science-related educators including 85 science and engineering university professors, 67 middle and high school science teachers and 23 elementary school teachers. Most of the STR members who signed the petition are known to be Christians.
The petition contains a claim that “the described contents of chemical evolution about the ‘birth of life’ recorded in current science textbooks are based on assumption and imagination and contradicts with today's academic research contents [translation]” and “we have to remove chemical evolution [translation]”. It stated that if the content was difficult to remove, “it must be revised...that experimental ground of chemical evolution is very weak, especially Miller's experiment is not relevant with birth of life [translation]”.
The Seoul Education Office received the petition and stated that it would arrange expert council soon and embark on review work.
Created on Thursday, 27 December 2012 04:59
I worked in a Iranian police office for two years, and it was common to see women being mistreated by the so-called Morality Police on Tehran's streets. The Morality Police have not been trained in any aspects of moral studies, but have have been given the authority to stop people on the street, give them advice on their outfits and ask for immediate action. People can be arrested if they do not follow this advice, on the grounds of abusing the Islamic hijab. This has become a social phobia in Iran.
Stories from people who have dealt with the Morality Police show that there are no clear laws and rules in place; the Morality Police treat people according to their own personal wishes. A husband and wife who were arrested say that it occurred because the wife was wearing a white outfit. The Police forced the wife to sit inside a minibus in Narmak Square in Tehran, while photographers from different agencies took pictures. When the husband complained about the situation he was also arrested and taken to the police station. This is only one of the minor cases that acts to suppress dissent - treating people who wear 'different' outfits as though they are not a part of society and have to be taken away. Sometimes activities by the Morality Police are reported in the Western media (eg here and here) but usually they are not.
Created on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 00:05
AAI President Carlos A. Diaz talks to Kylie Sturgess on the Token Skeptic podcast about Atheist Census and the growth of atheism worldwide.
Created on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 12:56
AAI President Carlos Diaz talks to Han Hills on the Cape Reason podcast about AAI projects and atheist activism in Argentina - enjoy!
Created on Monday, 03 December 2012 12:18
1 December marked World AIDS Day,
dedicated to raising awareness of HIV and the global AIDS pandemic. Several
governments and organisations also observe the whole of December as AIDS
Awareness Month. Needless to say, the situation is dire as AIDS has caused –
and continues to cause - a great deal of death and suffering. However, more
positively, UNAIDS (a coalition of 11 specialised UN organisations) reports
that HIV infection rates are dropping throughout the world with an overall drop
in new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths.  UNAIDS vision is “Zero new HIV infections. Zero
discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths” and this is the World AIDS Day theme
from 2011 to 2015. UNAIDS’ vision is a highly ambitious goal and for it to be
achieved proper and consistent condom use, among other things, is essential.
This is a widely accepted view and there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding
the importance of condoms in the fight against HIV and AIDS . However,
despite the evidence, the Vatican’s stance on condoms remains virtually
unchanged and people’s lives continue to be damaged and risked by the Vatican’s
harmful and irresponsible behaviour.
There was a slight “shift” in Vatican official policy in November
2010 allowing for condom use in a few select situations but this was not even
remotely enough. The Pope stated that condom use can be acceptable in a few
select situations, for instance where male prostitutes are involved, but
generally the ban on condoms stands. [3, 4] Despite strong evidence to the
contrary, the Vatican insists that condoms are not a solution and that they
make the situation worse.  The Vatican continues to demonstrate that it is
out of touch with science, the modern world and reality.
Created on Saturday, 01 December 2012 22:25
This is the first paragraph from an article published in The Economist titled Atheists and Islam - No God, not even Allah:
A MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.
Read the full article here.
Created on Sunday, 18 November 2012 19:09
Jake and Han talk science, skepticism and atheism; the ‘real’ trinity!
Click here for the latest episode.
Created on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 19:51
Shame on Ireland’s Catholic Bishops and our cowardly politicians. They could have protected the life of 31-year-old Savita Praveen Halappanavar, who tragically died last month in Galway after doctors denied her the right to abort an unviable foetus during a miscarriage.
Instead, while Savita was dying, the Catholic church was running an immoral propaganda campaign to mislead Irish people into believing that pregnant women will always get the medical care they need in Irish hospitals.
And Irish politicians were yet again refusing to legislate for abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. They have now repeatedly refused to do this for twenty years, since the Irish courts established this right in the X case.
It took a raped pregnant teenager to establish this right in 1992. It should not have taken the death of a pregnant woman, twenty years later, to remind Irish politicians of their duty to legislate for that right.
Read the full article here.