The increasing role of religion in state schools in German-speaking countries endangers secularism

Image from Spiegel Online

With schools in more German-speaking countries moving to teach religion, as well as religious interest groups applying pressure for the increased importance of religion, especially Christianity, in public schools, there is an increased pressure on the separation of church and state.

In general Europe can be considered a fairly tolerant region regarding the freedom of religion and the freedom to have no religion. Most people in Europe are free to follow whatever religion they wish, or none.

However, it is not quite as simple as that, especially for atheists, as each religion takes advantage of its freedom, and seeks to ensure its own place in society, for example through a presence in public schools.

People’s rights to religious belief are taken seriously in Europe. In some cases, great lengths are taken to ensure religious freedom, and also that religion remains an important part of children’s lives.

A previous Atheist Alliance International story highlighted the influence of religion in German schools, how students are expected to study religion unless written permission is given to study ethics instead, and in particular how the Islamic faith may soon be expected to be taught in all schools in Hesse with at least eight Islamic children. [1]

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Child 'Marriage' and Sharia Courts: It Must End Now

There is growing evidence that young children – some as young at 5 years old – are being “married” to older men in Sharia courts across Britain. This is increasingly being sanctioned by the Islamists who run Britain’s network of Sharia courts, and there is evidence that this practice is growing.

A recent undercover investigation by the Sunday Times found imams in Britain willing to “marry” young girls, provided this was carried out in secret. The imams had been approached by an undercover reporter posing as a father who said he wanted his 12 year old daughter married, to prevent her from being tempted in to a "western lifestyle".

Earlier this year, it was also reported that at least 30 girls, some as young as 9, were “married”  in sharia courts in one London borough alone.  Clearly, child “marriages” are an abomination; they are nothing short of religiously-sanctioned child rape and paedophilia.

One important way to tackle this matter is to galvanise support for the Arbitration and Mediation (Equality) Bill introduced to the House of Lords last year by crossbench peer, Baroness Caroline Cox. The Bill is due for a second reading in October.

The Government has so far declined to support Cox’s Bill. They do not believe there is a parallel legal system in operation. They also insist that everyone has full right of access to the British courts. This is simply not the case. There are many with little or no English language skills, trapped by community pressure, who believe Sharia courts operate as real courts and who regard their decisions as legally binding. The idea that they can easily instruct a high street solicitor to help them access their full rights under UK law is far from reality.

The Government must be pressured into taking immediate action, including by supporting Cox’s Bill, and shutting down Sharia and religious courts. If child welfare takes precedence then the Government is duty-bound to take action.

Sign our new petition in support of Baroness Cox’s Bill; tell the Government that enough is enough! Please sign it now.

Read the full statement by One Law For All here.

Ambassador's death result of political use of religion, not simple mob mentality

This isn't really a story about a trailer for a movie. It's a story about the use of religion as a violently divisive political tool.

The hate has a direction, and it has a political purpose, grander than a Youtube video.

Late at night on September 11, an apparent riot over a Youtube clip of a movie mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad turned into a full-scale assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. By the time the night ended, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chrisopher Stevens, lay dead.

It's easy to draft the narrative, 'Dumb Muslims freak out over dumb movie.' But there's a more complex narrative in these protests and all of them. Really, we're seeing a dangerous and all-too-frequent tactic by government and paramilitary groups: using people's most prized cultural beliefs about life and death and good and evil as a control and manipulation tactic. In these cases, hate has been fomented by agitators with distinct political purposes. The tool they used is an old one: religious belief.

Ansar al-Sharia is a militia with ties to former Libyan ruler Muammar Ghadafi. Its goal is to establish a government based in the political application of religious law.

It may have been wishful thinking on the part of the Muslims with whom Chris Stephen of the Guardian spoke, but the people who were there don't remember anything like a typical protest. [1]  What they remember is a deliberate attack. Individuals carrying military-grade weaponry slipped through a mob creating chaos in order to assassinate an ambassador whose career ran parallel to the Libyan revolution to overthrow Ghadafi in 2011.

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Petition to free arrested Egyptian atheist Alber Saber

More information has come to light regarding the arrest of Alber Saber in Egypt, as reported by The Examiner on 16 September  2012, including reports of Saber being abused while in captivity by other prisoners who were incited against him, and also of his mother being further harassed by the mob, which threatened to burn her alive in her own home unless she leaves the neighbourhood. [1]

There is now a petition to free Alber Saber, which quotes a television interview with Saber’s mother, where she indicated that her son had been tortured for three days in custody, and that no lawyers are prepared to assist them, due to receiving death threats themselves.

Atheist Alliance International encourages all readers to show their support for Albert Saber, and for the freedom of expression, through signing the petition.

[1]   American Humanist Association statement.

The Profane in Pakistan

In Pakistan, two young women have recently become the target of violence and accusations of blasphemy, as retribution for speaking out about modernisation and education, or for simply belonging to a minority group, highlighting ongoing divisions in the country.

Malala Yousazai , a 15 year old girl, was attacked earlier this month for being an activist for the rights of children and education for girls. [1]  Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban, for what a spokesman for the Taliban claimed as ‘obscenity’ and bringing secular and Western ideas to Pakistan. She has since been moved to a military hospital then to the UK, and while there are hopeful signs she remains in a critical condition. This incident has resulted in public outcry within and outside Pakistan, suggesting that violent and unjust acts may not be as acceptable as the perpetrators appear to believe.  Avaaz has started a petition to support Malala and the right of Pakistani girls to receive an education.

The attack on Malala follows the 16 August arrest in Mahrabad, Pakistan, of a 14-year-old girl on a charge of blasphemy.  Rimsha Masih spent two weeks in remand in an adult prison after her accuser said she had been carrying a bag of refuse which included burnt pages of the Koran. As blasphemy laws in Pakistan decree a life in prison for anyone who defiles the Koran, and require no evidence other than the word of the accuser, there is little hope for most who are accused. [2]

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First information stall on secularism, humanism and atheism in Dublin

Brendan Maher launched first ever information stall about secularism, humanism and atheism in Ireland on 6 October 2012 in Dublin's city centre.  Brendan says:

"The purpose of this initiative is to furnish information on secularism, humanism and atheism to the person in the street.

This idea began about two and a half years ago when I noticed that there were about two or three street preachers in the vicinity of the GPO.  Since then the number has grown to about nine.  There are a range of different Christian groups and a few Islamic and Hari Krishna people.  I felt that there had to be an alternative view given, a rational, ethical, scientific and realistic view of things.

Although we live in the era of the computer there are still many people who live their lives without reference to the computer.  A stall like this and the personal approach can be quite effective.  I do not see it as proselytising but as an information exercise to help raise awareness with regards to secularism, humanism and atheism.

Because of the success of this first event I plan to have the stall at the GPO on the first Saturday of each month from 12 to 2 pm.  Perhaps this could be done in other cities in the country.

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Vale Paul Kurtz

The influential thinker known as the "father of secular humanism", Paul Kurtz, died on 20 October 2012 at age 86.  His numerous book, articles and talks substantially contributed to the development of secular, humanist values as an alternative worldview to religion, and encouraged people to think critically about religion and its impact on society.  This valuable work will be continued by many organisations that Paul Kurtz helped develop, including the American Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Atheist Alliance International offers its condolences to Paul Kurtz' family, friends and colleagues.

AAI Position Statement: Government Support For Religion

Following consultation with members, AAI is pleased to announce that it has finalised its position statement on government support for religion.  This statement is intended to provide a concise reference and coherent argument that members and other atheists may use in situations in their own countries, and refute the common accusation that 'atheists stand for nothing'.  Thank you everyone who contributed their views!  

Secular World podcast #113 - no religious affiliation

“No religious affiliation” raises to over 1/5th of people in the USA; Free birth control cuts abortion rates by 62%; Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent; Proof of heaven; Catholic church to have tax exemptions removed in Italy; Listener mail, and; our interview with Jacques Rousseau, South African skeptic and atheist.  Enjoy it all here!

Just One More Example

Recently, Atheist Alliance International was contacted by an atheist in an Islamic country.  He had made a video criticising his government's position on human rights and posted it online.  We received this email from him today and publish it with his permission, with identifying information redacted, to illustrate just one more example of the threat to freedom of expression and thought posed by Islamists.

Hi, I have previously contacted you and submitted a video on [redacted] government and its human rights violation. Unfortunately, after much pressure from my family and the prospect of my getting a heart attack because of my Atheism, I have decided to pull the video down. I have to close down all of my email and twitter account and Atheist Nexus account as well. I just wanted to apologize to you because I would have continue leaving the video up but the pressure is so much that I have succumbed. The lesson that I have learn is, Muslims will never tolerate Atheism, Atheist, Apostate even basic human rights - freedom of faith. I guess I really have no choice but to remain hidden and under the radar and just let my rights taken away from me. It is hard, especially when I am feeling all alone and I don't even have any real friends here in [redacted]. My family still hoping that I will repent and become a Muslim again but after our heated debate on human rights and Atheism, I don't think I will ever look at Islam the same way again. I apologize again for the trouble I have caused.

Obviously, it is not this man who should be apologising.

Passion for Freedom Art Festival, London

One Law for All's 4th Passion for Freedom Art Festival will be held dring 3-10 November 2012 showcasing the work of 40 artists from 20 countries worldwide. The artists will be addressing crucial issues related to freedom and religious laws.

The viewing and festival will be held at UNIT 24 Gallery, 20 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 0FD (Closest Underground station: Southwark).

For more information click here.

Success in Brazil

   

Audience at the Congress      AAI President Carlos A. Diaz

Last month, with AAI Director Alexandre Shimono, I was very pleased to represent AAI at the First Secular Humanist Congress in Brazil.  This was an important event hosted by AAI's Affiliate, LiHS, as it was the first time a group of atheists, humanists and secularists had gathered for this kind of occasion in Brazil.  The IHEU and HIVOS supported the Congress and over 200 people attended, including 88 students sponsored by Atheist Alliance International.  Attendees enjoyed interesting speeches and were head to say "this is historical!' and 'this is amazing!'.  A report from LiHS is below.

I was very pleased to see that the Congress (and AAI's support for it) received coverage in Estado de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil's most important newspapers.   Congratulations LiHS on a successful event I hope the enthusiasm from the Congress assists your work in Brazil! 
_____

LiHS report: The 1st Secular Humanist Conference of Brazil was a remarkable success
More than 200 people from all over the country attended to the conference in Porto Alegre

"Getting together and showing to society that it is possible to live ethically and to find meaning in life, without God." This was only one of the objectives of CHS 2012 – a two day, tour de force towards a more rational, more humanist and more secular Brazil.

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Tribute to Sheila Solarin

This tribute to Sheila Solarin, matron of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, was published in The Nation, Nigeria.

On Sunday, October 21, the co-founder of Mayflower School, Sheila Solarin passed away. Sheila like the late husband, Tai Solarin, was an educationist. She devoted her entire life to working and campaigning to improve the quality of education in Nigeria. And through her Mayflower Schools, she provided that high quality education to Nigerian children. I encountered Sheila not so much in her capacity as an educationist but more in her role as the matron of the Nigerian Humanist Movement(NHM). Very few Nigerians know about Sheila’s humanist credentials especially that she continued the tradition left behind by Tai of supporting secular education and also promoting the humanist outlook.

Read the full tribute here.

Alex Aan update

Atheist Alliance International is pleased that a friend and supporter of Alex's was able to visit him in prison recently.  Thank you everyone who sent in messages of support for Alex - the second set has now been delivered.  Here is an update about Alex:

"Alex is in good spirits and is very much his old self. I had a nice long chat with him. His burning ambition remains to work to relieve poverty and injustice. He is very interested in the situation in Iran and wants to fight for the people there. He has heard of a journalist who has been imprisoned and is also deeply shocked by the executions there. He is horrified by the idea of stoning in particular. This was one of the things that made him question the morality of religion. “How can anyone,” he said, “pick up a stone without thinking about their mother or their sister?”.  I told him about the case of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan and he was deeply moved. Once again, his main concern and the thing he wants to talk about most of all is the plight of others. 

"He told me again how much the support from around the world inspires him and keeps him going. He sends you all he love and thanks. The scholarship fund has been a strong motivator and he promised that he will always work for humanity and for science.

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The role of religion in the US Presidential election

It should be no secret, even to those outside of the U.S., that the Republican Party is deeply entrenched in religious belief.  While its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has not been strident about his own religious beliefs, his speeches and voiced policies have consistently reflected an adherence to his party’s rather dogmatic Christian point of view.  His support of the Hyde Amendment, which would ban abortions funded by tax payers, his views opposing same-sex marriages as well as civil unions, and his support of displaying religious symbols in public areas by governmental agencies and schools are all obvious leanings toward his Christian supporters.

However, the Governor’s own religious view has been a topic that has been avoided by his campaign. Specifically, the differences between Christianity and the Governor’s own Church of Latter-day Saints have not been much of a talking point since his winning of the Republican nomination. Prior to the other Republicans dropping out of the race it was mentioned by a few news stations, but no in-depth details given. It would also seem that the Romney campaign itself wishes to turn a blind eye to these differences and allow their constituency to focus on their opponent’s imagined religious views, that he is a Muslim in disguise, God forbid. More on that later.

Do American Christians of the Republican party, who believe in a talking snake, a divine virgin birth, and body spontaneously turning into a pillar of salt, know that they are backing an individual whose faith believes in magical underwear and that their prophet translated sacred text while planting his face in a hat, but does not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?  No wonder the Grand Old Party does not wish anyone to delve too deeply into Mormonism, their beliefs are as crazy as….oh well, never mind.

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