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Welsh Assembly holds World Humanist Day debate

Humanist AM Mick Antoniw

The Welsh Assembly marked World Humanist Day (21st June) yesterday with a debate on the contribution of humanism and humanists to public life.

The debate, which was led by Assembly Member Mick Antoniw AM, took place on the eve of World Humanist Day and saw Mick explaining the philosophy underpinning humanism and its relevance in today’s world. Mick, whose speech was published in the Western Mail prior to the debate, noted that, in a time of increasing inequality and a rise in nationalism across the globe, humanism provides an ethical way of life which is rooted in the belief that every individual has the power to make a positive contribution to the lives of others. Humanists, he said, believe that humankind can solve major world problems through the use of rational thinking and the application of science in order to benefit the common good. Highlighting the particular relevance of humanism in Wales, Mick observed that:

‘An estimated one in ten funerals are essentially humanist, 53% of our population say they belong to no religion, and this includes 73% of 18-24 year olds and 69% of 25-34 year olds.’

He went on to argue that, despite the statistics showing high levels of non-religious views, there remain several areas of policy where statutory provisions for the non-religious could be be improved:

‘Humanist marriages are legal in Scotland and Jersey but not in Wales where the law remains non-devolved, and only four hospitals in Wales have agreed to accept volunteer non-religious pastoral carers as part of their chaplaincy teams.’

On a more positive note, he noted the progressive steps that are being made in Wales, particularly the inclusion of humanism in GCSE RS and the fact that Welsh local authorities have recently been advised by the Cabinet Secretary for Education to give equal treatment to ‘representatives of non-religious belief systems’ as to religious representatives on the local bodies responsible for overseeing RE.

Following Mick’s speech, Julie Morgan AM, a patron of Wales Humanists, argued for marriage law to be devolved in order to allow for humanist marriages. She also called for the statutory requirement for collective worship in schools to be removed so as to better reflect the diversity of belief systems in Welsh society. Julie further commented on hospital chaplaincy services, emphasising the importance of giving non-religious people equal access to appropriate pastoral support.

The debate was concluded by Leader of the House Julie James AM, who noted that World Humanist Day coincides with Refugee Week, something that reminds us to reflect on the importance of recognising our ‘common humanity’. She also revealed that the Welsh Government is committed to their work to ‘foster and promote shared values and understanding across all our communities in Wales’, including the non-religious community.

Commenting on the debate, Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists Development Officer, said:

‘I am delighted that Mick Antoniw brought this debate to the Welsh Assembly to mark World Humanist Day. The debate is the first ever on humanism in the Welsh Assembly, and made clear just how important the humanist contribution has been and continues to be in Wales, particularly in today’s ever-changing world. Both the content of the debate and the fact that the Assembly chose to grant the debate itself show the growing relevance of humanist values and ideas to modern Wales and to the UK more widely. I am hopeful that the Welsh Government will bring about changes on the points made in the debate, particularly regarding humanist marriage, pastoral support, and collective worship, so that we can achieve a freer and fairer society for all.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Wales Humanists Development Officer Kathy Riddick on kathy@humanism.org.uk or 07881 625 378.  

Watch the full debate: http://www.senedd.tv/Meeting/Archive/61067499-3556-46cb-95e9-f5663764e99e?autostart=True

Read more about the work of Wales Humanists: https://humanism.org.uk/wales/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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