The British Humanist Association has welcomed Universal Children’s Day (20/11/09), declaring itself overwhelmed by support for its ‘Please Don’t Label Me’ billboards, including endorsements and praise from magician and illusionist Derren Brown, author Philip Pullman, and musician and comedian Tim Minchin who, along with other users of Twitter, contributed with his tweets to the campaign ‘trending’ on Twitter (meaning it was one of the top ten most popular stories circulating on the social networking site).
Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said, ‘The support we have received so far for these new posters has been overwhelming. Since we launched the billboards on Wednesday, not only have the public donated thousands to help our campaign to phase out state funded “faith schools”, there has been huge support in other ways such as through social networking sites and from well-known people advocating the core message that children should not be labelled with any ideology or religion but should be free to grow up and choose what they believe for themselves.’
Endorsing the campaign, best-selling author Philip Pullman, said, ‘It is absolutely right that we shouldn’t label children until they are old enough to decide for themselves.’
The magician, illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown personally posted on his blog, enthusiastically explaining that the campaign focuses on “one unpleasant aspect of proselytising to children: the resultant labelling of tiny kids as ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’ etc, in a way that we would never do with, say, political affiliations (labelling a small child ‘Conservative’, for example, seems very wrong). ‘Atheist’ is of course also included as an equally regrettable label to be attached to a child: the message is, to allow children to choose for themselves when they are old enough to decide.’
Professor A.C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, commented, ‘This is a significant and welcome campaign reminding us that children have their own minds and we can encourage them to think for themselves.’
Within half an hour of Ariane Sherine’s article appearing on the Guardian website, the term “Atheist Bus” was trending on Twitter, meaning it was one of the top ten most popular stories circulating on the social networking site. Musical-minded comedian Tim Minchin, whose sceptical beat poem “Storm” is a cult hit among freethinkers, was one of those tweeting. He said, ‘The BHA campaigns to make education free from religious privilege. Wanna help? http://www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools’
Bob Churchill, BHA Web Manager, said, ‘The public support for the “Don’t Label Me” billboard campaign has matched that of the Atheist Bus Campaign, but it has a different character. With the buses many people expressed a kind of collective relief at seeing a light-hearted, positive atheist message in the public space. But reading the emails from members, comments on blogs and our social networking sites, the billboards strike a more sensitive nerve with a lot of people. They have a strong moral objection to any attempt to ‘box’ children in to a hereditary belief system. We’ve heard from a lot of parents, teachers and former pupils of religious schools.’
‘The BHA website creaked only a little under the weight of half a million hits. We received hundreds of emails from members of the public welcoming the campaign. In addition, the threading style of Facebook makes it easy for conversations to develop. There were lots of new Fans of the BHA’s own Facebook Page www.facebook.com/humanism, and the new “Don’t Label Me” Facebook Group grew to nearly 500 members in just a few hours.’
Messages of support from the public can be found at humanism.org.uk/billboards/your-support
The posters display some of the labels routinely applied to children that imply beliefs such as ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’ mixed up together with labels that people would never apply to young children such as ‘Marxist’, ‘Anarchist’, ‘Socialist’, ‘Libertarian’ or ‘Humanist’. In front of the shadowy labels are happy children, with the slogan, ‘Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself’ in the now world-famous font of the Atheist Bus Campaign. The billboards are being unveiled to coincide with 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, which is the United Nations ‘day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children’. For images of the billboards visit humanism.org.uk/billboards
The billboards will remain up for two weeks. The BHA has launched a fundraising campaign to coincide with the unveiling of the billboards which will raise money for campaigns to phase out state funded ‘faith schools’.
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For images of the billboards, and FAQs, visit humanism.org.uk/billboards
London: Old Street roundabout
Cardiff: 42 Merthyr Road
Edinburgh: Portobello Road, Piershill
Belfast: 74-76 Great Victoria Street / Bruce Street
The Atheist Bus Campaign’s appeal for donations to fund the bus adverts was launched in October 2008, aiming to raise just £5,500. Within four days it had raised £100,000 in individual donations from the general public and went on to raise over £153,523, smashing its original target by 2791%
Spin-offs from the campaign have included bus and other advertising campaigns organised by humanist organisations all over the world and a book edited by Ariane Sherine, ‘The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas’, the proceeds of which are being donated to Terrence Higgins Trust.
In 2009 Universal Children’s Day marks the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the sixtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child include: Article 2, where the child is ‘protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members’; Article 13 which provides that the child should ‘have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds’; Article 14 which guarantees that states will ‘respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and promoting Humanism. In education, it campaigns for inclusive schools with no religious admissions policies, balanced teaching about different beliefs and values, and no ‘collective worship’; the BHA is in favour of the phasing out of state funded ‘faith’ schools and campaigns nationally and locally for this cause.
The fundraising campaign to raise money for the BHA’s work against state funded faith schools is at www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools