Corrections to Daily Mail article of 21/03/09

The BHA has responded to an article published in The Daily Mail on Saturday (21/03/09). You can read the text of that article at the end of this page. The BHA’s response to the most significant parts of the article is below.

Taxpayers’ money intended for faith groups is being used to fund a campaign against Christianity.

This is untrue in three ways. (1) The grant referred to was not intended for faith groups alone – it was intended for capacity building organisations working in the ‘religion or belief’ field, whether religious or not. (2) The money is not ‘being used’ – the grant was made in March 2007and was all spent by March 2008 (one year ago). (3) It was not used to ‘fund a campaign against Christianity’, but to ‘establish and support a network of grassroots humanists to work and build relationships with statutory bodies and participate in groups that advise local authorities on matters of ‘religion or belief’ or encourage dialogue between people with different beliefs. The project continues to enable local humanists to work with religious and ‘interfaith’ groups and participate in groups convened by local authorities, and thus contribute towards good relations and community cohesion.’

The money came from its Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund to run local campaigns promoting atheism.

This is untrue. The money was not used to run local campaigns promoting atheism – see above.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has given the group a further £35,000 to promote secularism in the public services under equality and human rights laws.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission grant was not ‘to promote secularism in the public services’, but to increase understanding of ‘religion or belief’ equality and human rights issues in the public and voluntary sectors. The conferences funded by the money included speakers from many different religious organizations including Faithworks, the Inter Faith Network for the UK and CARE.  The issues discussed ranged from education to freedom of religious expression and discrimination against people from minority religions in all aspects of society.

[Opposition MPs] accused the organisation of attempting to bully town halls into tearing down religious images, axing funding for Christian groups and scrapping Christian worship in school assemblies.

It may be the case that Opposition MPs have said this (we do not know as The Daily Mail names no sources and does not attribute these sentiments to any Opposition MP in particular). If it is the case, we suggest that these MP’s look at the work we have been doing with local councils to make services accessible for religious and non-religious people alike and also look at the joint work we do with religious organizations to increase discussion and participation about these issues. They will find that their impression is false.

Caroline Spelman, the Conservative communities and local government spokesman, said: ‘Britain has a long tradition of respecting freedom of religion. But English institutions like local church groups are being discriminated against just for being Christian.

‘There is a clear agenda to twist so-called equality and human rights. It is wrong that taxpayers’ money is being used to bully town halls into axing funding for Christian faith groups.’

Mrs Spelman may have said these words but if she said them referring to the BHA or any work of the BHA funded by the EHRC or CDF then she appears not to have understood that work. This is a clear concern to us as Mrs Spelman is the shadow minister who has responsibility for communities and local government issues. The BHA has never ‘bullied’ town halls to axe funding for Christian groups but is instead working with councils, religious groups and the wider voluntary sector to increase participation of all people and explore issues which may act as barriers to such participation.

Public money is apparently being used to boost the influence of atheism in councils, schools and the police.

No public money has been used in this way. Instead, the money has funded two projects: one to allow non-religious volunteers to work with councils on equality issues, and another to work with local councils and the voluntary sector to increase awareness of discrimination issues across the full ‘religion or belief’ spectrum.

The BHA has issued equality guidance, telling local authorities: ‘Religious pictures on the walls may seem inoffensive to those of the religion in question but can create a hostile or offensive environment for others.’

This is untrue in two ways. (1) This document was not paid for as part of either of the funded projects. (2) It is not guidance, but part of a research report which makes several recommendations about equality and human rights law in relation to the delivery of statutory public services.

It has expressed satisfaction that funding has helped activists within the City of London Police rename their ‘prayer rooms’ as ‘quiet rooms’.

It is true that the BHA has supported one volunteer (but not ‘activists’) in this way. The ‘prayer rooms’ were turned into ‘quiet rooms’ so that all staff could access them, not just the religious. In this way they could be used by both religious and non-religious staff.

The guidance also urges council equality officers to promote ‘humanists and non-religious people’. It argues that all organisations providing statutory public services should be secular.

No guidance written by the BHA has ever asked councils to ‘promote’ humanists or Humanism. All our work in this area focuses on aiding local authorities to meet their duties under equality law. In addition, the report referred to (which was not produced with any public funding) argues that all statutory services should be provided in a manner whereby no service user or public sector employee can be discriminated against due to their ‘religion or belief’, which is what we call ‘secular’.

The BHA’s official supporters include Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown, Labour Euro MP Glenys Kinnock and Fiona Millar, partner of Alastair Campbell.

This is true, but of course is only part of the truth and does not reference any of our Conservative, Liberal Democrat or politically neutral supporters.

The association asserted this month that Christianity’s role in public life leads to ‘discrimination, disadvantage, inequality’.

These comments did not refer to Christianity’s ‘role’ in public life but to ‘some critical areas of continuing Christian privilege’ – a totally different claim.

 

As can be seen, we believe most aspects of the article are incorrect and we will be seeking a correction from The Daily Mail.

 

The Daily Mail article in question:

How cash meant for promoting faith is going to an organisation that campaigns AGAINST Christianity
By James Chapman

Taxpayers’ money intended for faith groups is being used to fund a campaign against Christianity.

The cash is supposed to be used to build ‘faith communities’ but has been given to a controversial group accused of aggressively promoting atheism.

Opposition MPs said funding for the British Humanist Association – whose president is left-wing Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee – was ‘scandalous’. They accused the organisation of attempting to bully town halls into tearing down religious images, axing funding for Christian groups and scrapping Christian worship in school assemblies.

The BHA was also responsible for a high-profile £140,000 advertising campaign using the slogan: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’

Caroline Spelman, the Conservative communities and local government spokesman, said: ‘Britain has a long tradition of respecting freedom of religion. But English institutions like local church groups are being discriminated against just for being Christian.

‘There is a clear agenda to twist so-called equality and human rights. It is wrong that taxpayers’ money is being used to bully town halls into axing funding for Christian faith groups.

‘It is scandalous that Government cash is being used to train “local authority equality officers” and tear down the religious paintings and imagery which are part of the fabric of our nation.

‘People of all faiths have a right to pursue that faith without taxpayers’ money being used to marginalise them.’

According to parliamentary questions tabled by Mrs Spelman, the BHA was given £25,000 by the Department for Local Government run by Hazel Blears.

The money came from its Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund to run local campaigns promoting atheism.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has given the group a further £35,000 to promote secularism in the public services under equality and human rights laws.

Public money is apparently being used to boost the influence of atheism in councils, schools and the police.

The BHA has issued equality guidance, telling local authorities: ‘Religious pictures on the walls may seem inoffensive to those of the religion in question but can create a hostile or offensive environment for others.’

It has expressed satisfaction that funding has helped activists within the City of London Police rename their ‘prayer rooms’ as ‘quiet rooms’.

The guidance also urges council equality officers to promote ‘humanists and non-religious people’. It argues that all organisations providing statutory public services should be secular.

The BHA’s official supporters include Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown, Labour Euro MP Glenys Kinnock and Fiona Millar, partner of Alastair Campbell.

The association asserted this month that Christianity’s role in public life leads to ‘ discrimination, disadvantage, inequality’.

The row comes after the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, warned that Christianity was being relegated to ‘just another disposable lifestyle choice…in pursuit of policies based on the twin aims of “diversity and equality”.’

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the association, insisted: ‘The BHA does not seek to marginalise faith or to tear down the fabric of our nation.
‘All we want is inclusion and an end to discrimination against the non-religious.’

A spokesman for the Department for Local Government said its payout was part of a ‘broader strategy to build cohesion’.

He said: ‘ We recognise the important role Christianity plays. Our commitment is evident through engagement with Christian churches at national, regional and local level.’