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100 years of Welsh secularism: Wales Humanists to mark important anniversary in Senedd

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of disestablishment and the development of today’s modern, secular Wales, Wales Humanists is inviting members and supporters to a special event at the National Assembly for Wales, or Senedd, on 24 March 2020.

The open event will celebrate the historic enactment of the Welsh Church Act 100 years ago, which disestablished the Church of England, and accelerated Wales’ development as a progressive, confident nation with a largely secular and pluralistic approach to government and civic society.

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A history of secularism in Wales

The event is to take place at the Senedd, the National Assembly for Wales.

The passing of the Welsh Church Act 1914 was the culmination of decades of resistance to the power of the established Church of England in Wales. These changes were supported by liberal voices across the country and by a majority of MPs. The House of Commons used the Parliament Act to pass the law, overcoming stiff opposition from the established church’s bishops and their supporters in the House of Lords.

Enacted 31 March 1920, having been delayed by six years due to the First World War, the law prompted sweeping and meaningful changes in Welsh society. Wealth and powers that had resided within the established church were redistributed to local authorities and universities, empowering civic institutions for the benefit of communities across Wales.

100 years later, tolerance and pluralism have taken root in a modern and confident Wales. Today, the country benefits from a devolved Assembly instituted as a secular body; an open, flourishing, and enriched civic sphere; and strong support for equality and human rights across all demographics, and a broad acceptance of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Wales’ forthcoming new curriculum and rights-based education framework, for example, builds on that proud history and in doing so, sets a positive example to the rest of the UK.

The former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, was remembered with a humanist ceremony. Photo: National Assembly for Wales.

In the era of Welsh devolution, both the Welsh Government and the National Assembly have been run as secular, pluralistic, and inclusive institutions, welcoming people of all religions and beliefs. In that time the country has organised only one state funeral. Rather than the prescribed Anglican ceremonies in English state events, a humanist funeral was chosen for First Minister Rhodri Morgan to reflect his own humanist identity, beliefs, and values.

Wales is not yet a fully secular country. While a secular and pluralistic approach to issues around religion or belief has benefited Wales’ devolved institutions enormously, there remains much progress to be made in areas like schools and local government.

More about the event

Taking place in the Senedd, the centre of Welsh democracy, the event will see the publication of a new report on the positive impact of secularism in Wales. It will feature contributions from speakers Wales Humanists patrons Julie Morgan AM and Dr Iolo ap Gwynn, Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick, and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson. The event will also examine remaining areas of Welsh life and governance where religious authorities and voices continue to be prioritised and privileged over others.

Those interested in attending are invited to register their place for the celebration and a short discussion on how Wales can build on its radical past, towards a progressive future.

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For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick on kathy@humanism.org.uk.

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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