New stats reveal: only legalising humanist marriages will give same-sex couples a meaningful choice of type of marriage ceremony

The Office of National Statistics has published new statistics on the number of marriages, both same- and opposite-sex, which occurred in England and Wales in 2014, the first year that same-sex marriages were legally recognised. The statistics have revealed that just 23 couples out of the 4,850 who had same-sex marriages, or just 0.47%, opted to have religious same-sex marriages. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which performs a very high number of same-sex wedding ceremonies and has been doing so for over five decades, has responded by saying that the Government should recognise that only by extending legal recognition to humanist ceremonies will same-sex couples be offered a meaningful choice of type of marriage.

Humanist wedding ceremonies were legally recognised in Scotland in 2005, where they have since surged in popularity since, overtaking Church of Scotland ceremonies in 2015 to become the most popular type of belief-based ceremony. 14.4% of legal marriage ceremonies in Scotland are now humanist, compared to 13.7% being done by the Church of Scotland.

In England and Wales humanist ceremonies have also surged in number in recent years, but they are not legally recognised so lag behind Scotland in terms of popularity. Couples wishing to have a humanist ceremony must presently also visit the register office, at the expense of additional time and cost. This is in spite of the fact that polling shows humanist ceremonies are hugely popular with the general public.

During the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act through Parliament, the BHA secured a section that gives the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages without requiring a new Act of Parliament to be passed. It subsequently consulted on the matter and in 2014 found 95% of respondents in favour. But since then the Government has still not chosen to use its power.

More generally the new England and Wales statistics showed that religious marriages continued to decline as a proportion of legal marriages. 27.5% of opposite-sex marriages in 2014 were religious, down from 28.5% in 2013 and 30.1% in 2012.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Government extending legal recognition to humanist weddings would be popular, easy to do, and provide non-religious couples with the same choice as to how to get married as is already afforded to religious couples. And what is more, these new statistics reveal that that choice would be particularly valued by same-sex couples, who at present overwhelmingly feel they have no choice of type of marriage at all.

‘The Government is strongly committed to strengthening marriage as an institution. We urge it to give humanist marriages legal recognition as this is the best move it can now make to do that.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the new marriage statistics: https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional2014

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around marriage laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

MPs vote in favour of decriminalising abortion in England and Wales

Diana Johnson MP presenting her Bill yesterday.

Members of the House of Commons yesterday voted by 172 to 142 in favour of a Ten Minute Rule bill brought by Diana Johnson MP, to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. Currently women across the UK can be sent to jail for having an abortion without the permission of two doctors, even if she does so within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The bill sought to repeal the 1861 Act which makes this the case, leaving in place the wider rules and regulations that only permit abortions during that 24-week time-frame and in certain other circumstances.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is a member of the We Trust Women Coalition, the campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK, organised by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas). Thousands of BHA members and supporters emailed their MPs about the bill, and the BHA also briefed the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group in favour. 21 APPHG MPs were amongst those who voted for the change, with none voting against.

The BHA is also supporting campaigns to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, where it is currently illegal in almost all circumstances. In 2015 the Northern Ireland High Court ruled that the fact that abortions are illegal even in the cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormality meant that women’s human rights are being breached. However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has since refused to amend the law to put that ruling into statute.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘That a Victorian law, passed before women were even allowed to vote, means that women having abortions, even early on in a pregnancy, can and do face a jail term for doing so, is an unbelievable aspect of our modern society. Just one in five people believe this should be the case, and so we are glad that parliament has voted in favour of reform.

‘Having passed this first hurdle, a private member’s bill on decriminalising abortion will now be heard in the Commons and proceed to further stages of parliamentary debate. Although private members’ bills do not frequently become law, we will continue to campaign for the passage of the bill in the hope that this anachronism can be brought to an end.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the transcript of the debate: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-03-13/debates/D76D740D-2DDD-4CCB-AC11-C0DBE3B7D0D8/ReproductiveHealth(AccessToTerminations)

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA is a member of the steering group of Voice for Choice, the national pro-choice coalition, and a supporter of the We Trust Women Campaign. Northern Ireland Humanists, which is a part of the BHA, is also on the steering group of Trust Women NI, the campaign coalition seeking abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.

Schools across UK receive free copies of What is Humanism? from British Humanist Association

What is Humanism? will be distributed to schools in every part of the UK

This week, schools across the United Kingdom will be receiving free copies of Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young’s children’s book What is Humanism? courtesy of the British Humanist Association (BHA), following a successful crowdfunding campaign.

What is Humanism? is the first of its kind: a nonfiction book for upper primary and lower secondary pupils which explores humanist views of morality and ethics, the origins of life, and the relationship between religion and the state. It is intended for use in the classroom or at home to help children from all backgrounds better understand the mainstream non-religious values shared by record numbers of people in the UK today.

This is the first time the BHA has distributed a book to primary schools, and for many schools, it will be the first book about non-religious worldviews in their libraries.

The book features special content provided by authors Stephen Fry, Natalie Haynes, and Philip Pullman, who are all patrons of the BHA, as well from the BHA’s Vice President, physicist Jim Al-Khalili, and its President, the comedian and novelist Shappi Khorsandi, who share their outlook on life.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘Thanks to generous donations from humanists across the UK, Michael and Annemarie’s groundbreaking new book will be available in classrooms and libraries throughout the country.

‘These days it’s more important than ever that children are able to learn about the different beliefs and perspectives they will encounter in modern Britain. It’s important that children have access to information about all the different religions and non-religious perspectives out there in the world today so they can make up their own minds about what they believe.’

Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young commented:

‘Millions of people in this country and all over the world work out their philosophy of life, and how to live, without referring to religion. Schools quite rightly spend a good deal of time and effort exploring the ideas and philosophies of the world’s great religions, but the ideas of humanism, secularism, and atheism are largely ignored. The mismatch between what is believed and what is taught is surely wrong. Our book aims at opening up a discussion about what humanism is, and how people live their lives as humanists. Throughout the book, readers are encouraged to ask questions, in order to help them think for themselves and thus to counter prejudice.’

Children read What is Humanism? with the authors

A 2015 court judgment, Fox v Secretary of State for Education, clarified that all schools in the United Kingdom have a positive duty to teach about Humanism, the UK’s principal non-religious worldview, as part of Religious Education (RE) lessons.

The BHA hopes that the book will go towards helping teachers to fulfil their statutory obligation by supporting young people to discover how many people today live happy, ethical, and fulfilling lives without religion.

The book is available to request for free through the BHA’s education website, Understanding Humanism, which also provides free teaching resources about Humanism for children of all ages, along with trained and accredited humanist School Speakers who can help teachers to plan and deliver inclusive RE lessons.

Humanists are non-religious people whose values include looking to reason and science to gain an understanding of the world around them and relying on empathy to make moral choices. Recent surveys estimate that as many as one in five people in the UK share these values, and that half of the population claim no religion. This number rises to two in three for Britons under 35.

Notes

For press inquiries or to arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 07815 589 636. For questions about obtaining a copy of the book, please email BHA Head of Education Luke Donnellan at luke@humanism.org.uk.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Understanding Humanism is the BHA’s education service, which aims to introduce young people to Humanism as a non-religious approach to life which can be studied as an example of a ‘non-religious worldview’. It provides teachers with the resources necessary to teach accurate, high-quality lessons about Humanism, and assists them with the development of their own subject knowledge. The Understanding Humanism website offers lesson plans and activities, as well as free school speakers who can work with teachers to broaden students’ understanding. Visit Understanding Humanism at understandinghumanism.org.uk.

A 2016 BHA-commissioned YouGov poll asked British adults a series of questions about their beliefs about religion, ethics, morality, and reason. The results found that 22% of the population has a non-religious outlook on life that matches the humanist one, and 17% would self-define as humanist when this fact was pointed out to them.

Nearly a million Welsh adults have a humanist approach to life, YouGov research shows

Outside the Senedd, Cardiff Bay. Credit: Wikimedia.

Outside the Senedd, Cardiff Bay. Credit: Wikimedia.

Nearly a million adults in Wales have a humanist approach to life and morality, according to YouGov research released at the launch of Wales Humanists at the Senedd in Cardiff today.

Respondents in Wales were asked to select which statement most closely matched their views in three areas of beliefs and values. The results showed that:

  • 66% of Welsh adults agreed that science and evidence provide the best way to understand the universe, while only 12% said that religion is needed for a complete understanding. 
  • 57% of Welsh adults agreed that what was right and wrong depended on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world, rather than being unchanging (24%) or just a matter of personal preference (13%).
  • 74% of Welsh adults agreed that our empathy and compassion give us an understanding of what is right and wrong, rather than religious teachings.
  • 35% of Welsh adults (translating into around a million people in Wales) believed all three of these.

In addition, the YouGov research showed that  just over half of Welsh adults (51%) say they belong to no religion. This includes 73% of 18-24 year olds and 69% of 25-34 year olds. Only 26% identified as Anglicans and Episcopalians, 5% as Roman Catholics, 3% as Baptist, 3% as Methodist, and 6% as of some other religion.

‘Wales is a majority non-religious country and one in which many share humanist beliefs and values,’ said the Chair of Wales Humanists, Ben Morris, who will be part of the launch of Wales Humanists at the Senedd, this week. ‘Wales Humanists will provide community services, advocacy, and support to this new majority,’ he added.

The launch is being sponsored by humanist Julie Morgan AM and will introduce key priorities – specifically Humanism being accorded equal status in the school curriculum and an end to the requirement for ‘broadly Christian’ collective worship in all state schools in Wales. It will also be an opportunity to learn about other campaigns in the pipeline for Wales such as non-religious pastoral care in hospitals, prisons, and universities; legally recognised humanist marriages; and the right to die.

BHA President Shappi Khorsandi and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association will be speaking at the event introducing Humanism and its goals in Wales.

‘Humanists in Wales have already achieved great things,’ said Khorsandi. ‘The research shows Wales is the least religious part of the UK, and leads the way on so many ethical issues. Wales Humanists will help galvanise that movement.’

Also attending will be BHA patrons, the Wales Humanists Committee, along with representatives from Welsh Government, interfaith groups, and other non-profit organisations. Wales Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association, the UK organisation working on behalf of non-religious people, who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity, and is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.

‘Nearly a million people in Wales have a humanist approach to life so it’s the right time to be offering an alternative to religion,’ said Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. ‘We will be providing non-religious ceremonies, talks and care services in hospitals, universities and prison, and promoting equal treatment regardless of religion or belief.’

Note 

For more information, please contact Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanist Development Officer on kathy.riddick@humanism.org.uk, or Sarah Gillam, Director of Communications and Development on sarah@humanism.org.uk on 020 7324 3079 or 07534 248 596.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17-21 November 2016.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+). See the full dataset: YouGov, 17-21 November 2016

35.08% of All Welsh adults ‘selected the humanist answer in all three statement questions’ and the official figure from the ONS suggests that there are 2,507,896 Welsh adults (those 18+), therefore 879,770 Welsh adults have a humanist approach to life and morality.

The three answer statements which are classed as a ‘humanist approach to life and morality’ were: ‘Science and evidence provide the best way to understand the universe’, ‘What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’ and ‘Our empathy and compassion give us an understanding of what is right and wrong’.

Wales Humanists engage in upcoming elections

The Senedd debating chamber. Copyright Keith Edkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Where do the parties stand on key issues of concern to humanists? Today Wales Humanists are publishing a table giving an overview of their views on issues of concern to their members and supporters, ahead of the upcoming National Assembly for Wales election.

Wales Humanists put 7 questions to the various parties last month, and has produced the table by drawing on these responses, the parties’ manifestos, and other sources.

The questions asked were:

  1. Would you support non-religious worldviews such as Humanism being taught equally alongside religions in schools?
  2. Would you support fully inclusive admissions with no religious selection in all state-funded schools, including faith schools?
  3. Would you support making a high-quality, comprehensive personal and social education and sex education curriculum statutory in Welsh schools?
  4. Would you support an end to the archaic policy of reserving seats for Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords?
  5. Would you support the legalisation of humanist marriage in Wales, which has been hugely popular in Scotland since its legalisation in 2005?
  6. Would you oppose any moves in Westminster to weaken our human rights settlement, including pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights – which is essential in protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms?
  7. Would you support the legalisation of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or are permanently and incurably suffering, in order to protect their right to autonomy and self-determination?

Northern Ireland Humanists has similarly been asking questions of the parties, and the two groups have also been encouraging their supporters to contact their candidates. Meanwhile, in London, LGBT Humanists organised a hustings with representatives of the six biggest parties.

Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists Coordinator, commented: ‘Respecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are key ways in which humanists seek to embody their values, and that means exercising their voting rights. We hope that this table will enable our members and supports to make a fully informed decision when choosing who to support in the upcoming assembly election, as well as to engage in the democratic process more generally.’

Notes

For further information, please contact Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists Coordinator on 07881 625378, or Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson on 020 7324 3072.

Wales Humanists is part of the British Humanist Association. The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Wales moves to new ‘soft opt-out’ system of organ donation

'Teddy's story': the the Cardiff newborn who became the UK's youngest ever organ donor, and whose short life inspired thousands of others to register as organ donors ahead of the new law. Photo © ITV.

‘Teddy’s story’: the Cardiff newborn who became the UK’s youngest ever organ donor, and whose short life inspired thousands of others to register as organ donors ahead of the new law. Photo © ITV.

A new ‘soft opt-out’ system of organ donation will come into effect in Wales today, in a move which it is hoped will increase the number of organ donors by 25%. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has long campaigned for the introduction of such a system, and gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Government Committee Inquiry on the matter. It has welcomed today’s change.

The soft opt-out system means that anyone who is over 18 and has lived in Wales for more than 12 months will be assumed to have given consent to donate their organs in the event that they die, unless they explicitly opt out, or their loved ones make it known at the end of their life that the individual would not have wished for their organs to be donated.

This is as opposed to the ‘opt-in’ system that previously operated in Wales, and still operates in the rest of the UK, whereby individuals are not deemed to have consented to donate their organs unless they explicitly opt in to the organ donor register. The problem with this system is that many individuals who would be happy to have their organs donated simply do not state a preference either way. The ‘soft opt out’ system means that such individuals will have their organs donated – while minimising the risk that other individuals who do not want this to happen to their organs will nonetheless end up as donors.

BHA Director of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We welcome the move by Wales from an opt-in to soft opt-out system of organ donation. Such a change is set to increase the number of available organs for donation and thus reduce the number of individuals dying needlessly due to a shortage of donors – while at the same time, taking all necessary precautions to ensure that those with a conscientious objection to donating their organs will not do so.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read more about the BHA’s position on organ donation: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/organ-donation/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion of belief.

Welsh Government wishes to replace ‘Religious Education’ subject in schools with ‘Religion, Philosophy and Ethics’

Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis. Photo: National Assembly for Wales

Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis. Photo: National Assembly for Wales

Taking questions in the Senedd, the Welsh Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, has announced that he wants to see a transformation of the way in which Religious Education is taught in Wales. Under the new proposals, and in a significant break from the current system, the subject would be renamed and incorporated into a new ‘Religion, Philosophy and Ethics’ syllabus. The British Humanist Association (BHA), who called for a broadening of the subject in its response to the Welsh curriculum review last year, has welcomed the announcement and looks forward to seeing further details as they are released.

In his independent review of the Welsh curriculum published earlier this year, Professor Graham Donaldson claimed that producing ‘ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world’ should be one of the curriculum’s primary purposes, an assertion which the Education Minister echoed in his comments in the Senedd.

Responding to a question on the need to tackle extremism in schools, the Education Minister stated that schools in Wales needed to ‘rise to the challenge of community cohesion’, and the transformation of Religious Education (RE) was an important means of achieving this. Outlining his proposals, Mr Lewis stated that he wants to ‘rename the RE curriculum and transform it into a religion, philosophy and ethics element of the curriculum’, which would contain ‘an explicit commitment to allow children to ponder ideas around ethics and citizenship and what it means to be a citizen of a free country’.

Whilst further details are yet to be released, the proposed change represents a significant shift in the way RE is administered in Wales, and could signal a move towards the more thematic and values-led approach that the BHA has long campaigned for.

Reacting to the news, Chair of the Wales Humanists Ben Morris, said ‘Whilst it’s too early to tell what exactly a “Religion, Philosophy and Ethics” subject would look like, we certainly welcome the Welsh Government’s intent. Religious education that’s inclusive and focuses on shared values and common answers to difficult moral questions would be a powerful driver of community cohesion in Wales, so we hope the Government follows through on its intent in whatever changes it chooses to introduce.’

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman added, ‘In our response to Professor Donaldson’s review of the curriculum earlier this year, we wrote that “young people have the right to form their own opinions about the bigger questions in life and so should receive impartial education about religious and non-religious beliefs”. Philosophy and ethics have long been neglected in schools, and it’s tremendously encouraging to know that the Welsh Government is of exactly the same opinion. We’re glad that they have chosen to take these comments on board.

‘With so little detail available, we must avoid too much speculation about what these changes may mean in practical terms. What we don’t want to see, of course, is any kind of dilution in how thoroughly children are taught about the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of others, since such education plays a vital role in contributing to community cohesion and to literary, historical, and cultural education. But there is no indication that this will be the case, and the indication that the changes will further encourage pupils to personally grapple with important ethical and philosophical issues can only be welcomed.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the BHA’s response to the call for evidence: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Curriculum-for-Wales-call-for-evidence-response-from-the-British-Humanist-Association.pdf

Read the full outcome of Professor Donaldson’s independent review of the Welsh Curriculum: http://gov.wales/docs/dcells/publications/150225-successful-futures-en.pdf

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

On Scotland’s humanist wedding anniversary, humanists call on Michael Gove to allow humanist marriages in England and Wales

The BHA has called on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to use order-making powers to legalise humanist marriage in England and Wales

The BHA has called on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to use order-making powers to legalise humanist marriage in England and Wales. | Photo: Policy Exchange

On the tenth anniversary of the first legal humanist marriage in Scotland today, the British Humanist Association has renewed its call for the introduction of legal humanist marriages in England and Wales.

Humanist marriage ceremonies are non-religious, personalised, and meaningful ceremonies conducted by trained and accredited humanist celebrants who share the values and beliefs of the couple, and place strong emphasis on the couple’s personal story and commitment to each another.

The Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) was first permitted by Scotland’s Registrar General to conduct legal marriage ceremonies on 18 June 2005. In that time the demand for humanist ceremonies has grown in a way unimaginable at the time. The HSS is expected to become the largest provider of legal marriage ceremonies of any religious or belief group in Scotland by the end of 2015.

Statistics from the National Records of Scotland already show the number of humanist marriages exceeded that of Catholic weddings in Scotland in 2013, making the HSS the second largest provider of marriages out of any belief group after the Church of Scotland (Kirk). These same figures show a steady decline in the number of Kirk weddings, which if continued, means that there will be more humanist marriages in 2015. The HSS anticipates that it conduct 4,200 humanist marriage ceremonies in 2015.

However, despite the overwhelming popularity of humanist marriages in Scotland, they are not yet legally recognised in England and Wales, meaning couples married by British Humanist Association (BHA) celebrants, if they wish to do so, must have an additional register office ceremony to take care of legalities.

A humanist ceremony in England | Photo: www.wikiphotography.info

Humanist weddings in England and Wales are not legally recognised, so couples who wish to be legally married must also go to the register office | Photo: Miki Photography

A Government consultation into legalising humanist marriages in England and Wales was mandated by the 2013 Marriage Act, which also gave order-making powers to the Lord Chancellor to legalise humanist marriage. The consultation found no practical barriers as well as overwhelming public support for legalisation, with 95% of respondents from all beliefs and backgrounds in favour of the change.

Nonetheless, the Coalition government attempted to kick the issue into the long grass at the end of the last Parliament by instigating a broader review of marriage law from the Law Commission. However, the Lord Chancellor retains the power to introduce legal humanist marriages by secondary legislation. This is what the BHA is calling on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to do

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘In Scotland, today is about celebrating and congratulating the over 20,000 couples who have had the benefit of a humanist marriage. In England and Wales it is about pledging not to give up until couples across the UK all have the same enjoyment.

‘We have called on the Lord Chancellor to use the powers given to him by the Marriage Act to introduce legal humanist marriages in England and Wales. Thousands of couples were devastated last year when the Government chose not to legalise humanist marriages – but by acting now, he can set that right.

‘While only a modest change to the law, legal humanist marriages would mean everything to the thousands of couples in England and Wales who are waiting for it. They simply want to have the same opportunity to enjoy a meaningful marriage ceremony which reflects their beliefs and values in the way their religious friends and neighbours already can.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Directir of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Labour pledge to legalise humanist marriages as Government blocks proposals, disappointing thousands of couples

The Labour Party has pledged to give legal recognition to humanist marriages if returned to power next year. The announcement was made as the Government published its report which denies legal recognition, in defiance of both Liberal Democrat party policy for reform and a public consultation which – it was today revealed – showed over 90% of the public to be in favour. Earlier this week it was revealed by the Sunday Times that Number 10 was blocking the proposals for purely political reasons, citing it as a ‘fringe issue’ that would distract from Conservative electioneering.

The government report published today goes against a public consultation which elicited overwhelming support for the legal recognition, and has rejected the proposal rehashing spurious reasons which were dealt with last year when amendments were debated in the Lords and Commons last year during the passage of the Marriage Act.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘It’s remarkable that the Government would go to such extraordinary lengths to stop two people expressing their love and contracting their marriage in the way they choose. Couples of every religion from Sikhs to scientologists, from Anglicans to Jews, from Quakers to Mormons, have the right to have a legal marriage according to their deepest beliefs. Even the Aetherius Society, which believes that there are aliens on the moon, is able to conduct legal marriages. What priests and politicians have against humanists enjoying the same right is baffling.

‘Every single objection – the few that there were – was answered in both Parliament and in the public consultation on this issue – the same objections which are cited in the report published today. The overwhelming majority of respondents to the public consultation, a majority of the British people’s elected representatives, and the majority of people in England and Wales will all unite in opposing this shameful government decision. The many thousands of couples denied the marriage of their choice will feel it all the more.

‘Today is a very sad day for fairness, freedom of belief, and freedom of choice. However we are delighted that the Labour party and others have made such a strong commitment to legalise humanist marriage next year if in power and the thousands of couples who responded to the consultation and wrote to their own MPs will also be heartened by this news.

‘Every ostensible argument given by the Government today was either comprehensively demolished in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, or confirmed as irrelevant by civil servants or ministers we met with since. As we know from the leak to the Sunday Times last week, this populat measure has been blocked for purely political reasons.’

Labour Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Baroness (Glenys) Thornton said, ‘There was widespread support for humanist marriage across Parliament during the passage of Equal Marriage and across the country. Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland for ten years now and the sky hasn’t fallen in, in fact more people are getting married. This is yet another example of the Lib Dems saying they support something and then doing the opposite – despite having the Minister responsible in Government.

‘The Labour Party supports the legal recognition of humanist marriages and a Labour Government will act to support the thousands of couples who wish to marry with a humanist celebration.’

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, said: ‘Liberal Democrats firmly believe couples should be able to celebrate their marriage in the way they want to, and that should include humanist celebrations. We have made this case in government and will continue to back full legal recognition of humanist marriages in the next Parliament.’

Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, said: ‘Clearly the law should allow those who wish to have a humanist marriage ceremony the same rights as couples who want a religious ceremony with a celebrant of their choice. The Green Party is committed to ending the current discrimination through legislation as soon as possible.’

Robin Crosse, planning on getting married next year, commented, ‘We were hoping to have a humanist marriage in next year, but now we will have to rethink our plans. I don’t understand why a government that says it wants to support marriage would do something like this.’

Speaking earlier this week, Tamsin Lancashire-Ball, 31, a teacher, and her husband, Darren, 37, a graphic designer, who had a humanist wedding last year gave their support for reform, saying, ‘We felt it would be quite hypocritical [to have a church wedding] when it’s not really what we believe in. Making a strong promise to something we don’t believe in is not a good way to start a marriage.’

Sam Whitney, 31, a consultant technician at a garage, also planning on marrying next summer, said: ‘While register office weddings serve their purpose and might be suitable for some people, I don’t feel that we could make it personal to us. We would like a wedding that reflects our beliefs and what we stand for. Surely the day that binds us together should be a celebration of everything that we share as a couple?’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

Background:

A motion has been tabled in the House of Commons calling on the Government to proceed swiftly to giving legal recognition within this Parliament. It has already been signed by MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even the SNP, making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. Following over 2000 letters being sent from constituents, many more MPs have been lobbying Government directly to urge them to act now.

This follows a debate in the House of Lords in which peers from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour benches, as well as crossbenchers, also called on Government to get regulations through before the election. Peers urging this included Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeals, who lambasted the Government’s slow response to this issue in the House of Lords and said, “I cannot for one moment understand why we are not just getting on with it.”

Other Peers expressing their support included Lord Harrison and Baroness Meacher, who highlighted how humanist marriage would merely extend the existing legal provisions awarded to Jewish and Quaker weddings to non-religious groups like the British Humanist Association, and Lord Garel-Jones who reiterated “that there is now overwhelming evidence that humanist marriages fulfil the Government’s new families test and that they support strong and stable marriages.” From the Opposition front bench Baroness Thornton noted the “overwhelming support” humanist marriage had in both Houses of Parliament when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed, and that Ministers assured us humanist marriage could be introduced well before the next election.

 

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Number 10 intervenes to block humanist marriages

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded with shock and disappointment at reports today that Number 10 is blocking the legal recognition of humanist marriages because Lynton Crosby, David Cameron’s election guru, sees reform as a ‘fringe’ issue.

Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages had strong cross party support in both the House Commons and House of Lords having been discussed during the course of the Marriage Act passed last year. Since then, MPs and peers from all parties have continued for the past year to call for legal recognition. The public, in response to a recent government consultation, hugely supported legal recognition, and campaigners have pointed out that the huge growth in marriages in Scotland demonstrates very significant demand. However, The Sunday Times today reports a Government source as saying that, although Liberal Democrats remain in favour, the Prime Minister’s office has blocked the legal recognition that humanists were expecting at the end of this year.

Many couples will have their marriage plans ruined by this political action. Typical of the many couples affected, Robin Crosse, planning on getting married next year commented, ‘We were hoping to have a humanist marriage in next year, but if this news is true then we will have to rethink our plans. I don’t understand why a government that says it wants to support marriage would do something like this.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘This is astonishing news and a huge shock for the many thousands of couples who were working with us for this fair and modest reform. The fact that reform is being denied for purely political reasons will make the disappointment even more acute. No doubt the Government’s eventual formal report will give other reasons but we will now be able to see them for what they will be – cover for this political decision.

‘If fact, we already knew that the only reasons that legal recognition could be denied would be political. Open debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords demonstrated that there was no sound reason whatsoever for legal recognition to be denied and it is shameful that Number 10 would block the wish of thousands of couples to start their married life in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages is a simple measure that adversely affects no one, has huge popular and political support, and would increase the number of people getting married each year.

‘Under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages, joining Spiritualists, the Aetherius Society (which believes in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess), and dozens of other religions. To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

Background:

A motion has been tabled in the House of Commons calling on the Government to proceed swiftly to giving legal recognition within this Parliament. It has already been signed by MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even the SNP, making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. Following over 2000 letters being sent from constituents, many more MPs have been lobbying Government directly to urge them to act now.

This follows a debate in the House of Lords in which peers from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour benches, as well as crossbenchers, also called on Government to get regulations through before the election. Peers urging this included Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeals, who lambasted the Government’s slow response to this issue in the House of Lords and said, “I cannot for one moment understand why we are not just getting on with it.”

Other Peers expressing their support included Lord Harrison and Baroness Meacher, who highlighted how humanist marriage would merely extend the existing legal provisions awarded to Jewish and Quaker weddings to non-religious groups like the British Humanist Association, and Lord Garel-Jones who reiterated “that there is now overwhelming evidence that humanist marriages fulfil the Government’s new families test and that they support strong and stable marriages.” From the Opposition front bench Baroness Thornton noted the “overwhelming support” humanist marriage had in both Houses of Parliament when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed, and that Ministers assured us humanist marriage could be introduced well before the next election.

 

 

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

British Humanist Association sends copy of The Young Atheist’s Handbook to every secondary school in England and Wales

_MG_3757Today the British Humanist Association (BHA) is sending a free copy of The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God to every secondary school in England and Wales. Funded entirely from donations by thousands of people from all around the country, the initiative is part of the BHA’s work to ensure that young people have access to resources that enable them to come to their own decisions about their values and beliefs.

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The Young Atheist’s Handbook was written by science teacher Alom Shaha and tells the story of his upbringing in a Bangladeshi Muslim community in South East London, how he overcame his inner conflict surrounding his atheism, and the lessons he learnt in leading a good life, full of awe and wonder, based on humanist principles.

Commenting on the success of the initiative, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘We couldn’t be happier that young people everywhere will now have access to this wonderful book. Alom’s message will no doubt inspire young people who are looking to find fulfilment and meaning in their lives, whatever their family background.

‘In a large number of schools, pupils will have access to a number of religious perspectives on life’s bigger questions, but not to what most non-religious people believe and how they find happiness and satisfaction in their daily lives. We believe schools should be places where pupils are free to encounter the full range of philosophies and worldviews available to them in modern Britain.’

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Notes
For further comment or information, contact Sara Passmore by email at sara@humanism.org.uk

About the initiative
The initiative was conceived by science teacher and blogger Ian Horsewell, and is supported the British Humanist Association. You can visit The Young Atheist’s Handbook for Schools campaign site at yah4schools.org.uk

About Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God
Through a series of loose lessons Alom Shaha tells his own compelling story, drawing on the theories of some of history s greatest thinkers and interrogating the fallacies that have impeded humanity for centuries. Shaha recounts how his education and formative experiences led him to question how to live without being tied to what his parents, priests, or teachers told him to believe, and offers insights so that others may do the same.

This is a book for anyone who thinks about what they should believe and how they should live. In this powerful narrative, Shaha shows that it is possible to live a compassionate, fulfilling, and meaningful life without God.

The book is also available to buy on Amazon.co.uk. Free lesson materials and videos to support the book can be found on humanismforschools.org.uk.

About Alom Shaha
Alom Shaha was born in Bangladesh but grew up in London. A science teacher, writer, and filmmaker, he has spent most of his professional life sharing his passion for science and education with the public.

Alom has produced, directed, and appeared in a number of television programmes for broadcasters such as the BBC, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) and the Nuffield Foundation.

Alom has represented his community as an elected politician, and has volunteered at a range of charitable organisations. He teaches at a comprehensive school in London and writes for a number of print and online publications.

You can follow Alom on Twitter here: @alomshaha. For further information about the book, visit alomshaha.com.

About the British Humanist Association
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

What people have been saying about The Young Atheist’s Handbook:
‘Like many bright and curious children before and since — kind teachers, books, and school provided the young Alom Shaha with a ladder out of inner city poverty and an escape from his abusive, feckless father. But The Young Atheist’s Handbook is no anti-Muslim misery memoir. Rather its strength is the way he explores his life and faith scientifically, through a series of thought experiments. From its taboo busting opening, when, in a simple experiment he eats pork for the first time, Alom Shaha’s rational exploration of the corrosive power of religious indoctrination is refreshingly down to earth, heartfelt and deeply moving. It combines a raw personal story of his Bangladeshi Muslim background with the understated and carefully researched honesty of a scientist seeking the truth, and of a teacher wanting to free young minds. An inspiring and brave book that speaks for thousands who dare not admit their atheism.’ — Samira Ahmed, Journalist and broadcaster (BBC Radio 4, ex-Channel 4 News)

‘A touching personal account that makes for a courageous and compelling read. This is among the most powerful and convincing arguments against religion that I have come across, and it is written in a way that is never patronising or trivialising.’ — Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE, physicist and broadcaster

‘Not just a scientist and a humanist, Alom is a warm storyteller who, through a series of loose lessons, relates how he discovered that it is possible to live a compassionate, fulfilling, and meaningful life without God or religion. Blending memoir, philosophy, and science, the book is essential reading for all young people.’ — Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association

‘This book will make you think and it’s hard to give a greater compliment than that…  a deeply personal and sensitively constructed exposition of some of the most enduring philosophical questions… Shaha has constructed a charmingly readable journey through some of the most enduring philosophical territory, weaving memories and thoughtful anecdotes into a powerful story of hope and truth.’  — RE Today

‘This is not a book to argue with – it’s a story to listen to and meditate on…it’s an honest telling of one man’s experience that everyone should read, no matter their theological stripe.’ — Thinking Christian

‘A book that destroys the cliche of the atheist as joyless rationalist and shows the humanity, love, and concern that often lies behind godless thinking.’ — Robin Ince, writer and comedian

‘More than just a great handbook, this is an honest and often very moving story about valuing truth over hope, even in the face of grief.’ — Tim Minchin, comedian

‘Illuminates the route to a better destination for all those who seek what Alom found, namely, that precious liberty of mind which makes its possessor open to all good things.’ — A.C. Grayling, philosopher and author of The Good Book

Cardiff Humanists hold inaugural Darwin Day Dinner

Cardiff Humanists held their inaugural Darwin Day Dinner on 12 February, at the Juboraj restaurant in Cardiff Bay, with guest speaker Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan, distinguished member of the BHA, former MP, and former First Minister of Wales. Rhodri retired from the Welsh Assembly in 2011, as did BHA celebrant Lorraine Barrett, who is secretary of the Cardiff Humanist group and organiser of the event.

Rt Hon Rhodri MorganThe title of Rhodri’s talk was ‘Evolution and Devolution: Darwin and Wallace’ and he held members spellbound with his oratory and knowledge of the subject interspersed with humour. He told members that any such dinner in Wales should be renamed the Wallace-Darwin Day Dinner – Wallace was born in Usk and worked in Radnorshire, and the Vale of Neath, as a land surveyor preparing for the building of the Neath to Merthyr railway line; and what kept him going was an obsession with the species question. Rhodri made the point that whilst most of us think of Darwin when we talk about the theory of evolution, we should give Wallace the recognition that he deserves. Rhodri also compared the two men from a societal perspective. Darwin was the ultimate establishment scientist, independently wealthy with a big country house in Kent. Wallace was the ultimate outsider and Rhodri felt that Wallace never had a realistic chance of getting proper recognition in Victorian society. Wallace wasn’t a ‘gentleman’ but the most important thing is that both were taking on THE establishment, namely the settled Christian belief that God created all the species on earth.  Rhodri went so far as to say ‘having read Roy Davies’ book The Darwin Conspiracy, I am more and more convinced that in 50 years’ time, Wallace will be seen as the senior partner in the Wallace-Darwin Theory of Evolution’.

Everyone enjoyed the evening and expressed the hope that it becomes an annual event. Rhodri writes a Saturday page for the Western Mail each week, and the 15th February edition has a column headed ‘Wallace is the true father of evolution’.  In the article Rhodri mentions that he spoke at our Darwin Day Dinner and also encourages everyone to visit an exhibition entitled ‘Wallace – the forgotten evolutionist?’ which is on at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff until 9th March.  The dinner concluded with votes of thanks from our Chair, Richard Paterson, and also from one of our committee members Robert W Griffiths  who wrote ‘Slaying the Dragon – An Everyman’s Rejection of God and Religion’ – available online and select bookstores.