Category Archives: Humanism

Bishop to lose castle home

James Newcome was the Bishop of Penrith for seven years. The castle residence of the Bishop of Carlisle is too expensive to maintain, Church Commissioners have decided.

Recently appointed bishop, the Right Reverend James Newcome, is now to be found alternative accommodation and a review of the castle undertaken.

The decision follows a reported maintenance bill of almost £2m for Rose Castle which dates back to 1340.

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The 14-bedroom castle, near Dalston, may now be put up for sale as the commissioners try to cut costs.

Andrew Brown, secretary to the Church Commissioners, said: “Rose Castle is a wonderful property, but a lot of money would need to be spent to make it suitable for a home and base for the bishop’s ministry.

“There are many calls on the commissioners’ financial support for the Church’s mission and ministry and so tough choices have to be faced.

“It was not an easy decision, but with local support, the Board of Governors feels it is the right decision for the Church of England’s mission.”

An earlier review of the castle in 2008 by the commissioners, who manage the Church of England’s historic assets, revealed that parishoners wanted the bishop to live in a more accessible location.

Bishop Newcome, 55, officially takes up his post later this year after a spell as Suffragen Bishop of Penrith.


BA worker ‘speechless’ after losing religious discrimination case

Nadia Eweida sued the airline for religious discrimination after alleging she was barred from wearing a Christian symbol

A British Airways worker suspended for wearing a Christian cross said she was “very disappointed” at losing her claim for religious discrimination.

Nadia Eweida, from Twickenham, southwest London, took her case to an employment tribunal after complaining that a manager banned her from wearing a small cross around her neck.

“I’m very disappointed. I’m speechless really because I went to the tribunal to seek justice,” she said after learning about the tribunal’s decision yesterday.

“But the judge has given way for BA to have a victory on imposing their will on all their staff.”
Miss Eweida, 56, said that she turned down £8,500 from BA to settle out of court.

She said:

“I cannot be gagged about my faith.”

She vowed to proceed with her case if her solicitor agreed.

“It’s not over until God says it’s over,” she said.

The row erupted, according to Miss Eweida, after a diversity awareness meeting in October 2006 when a manager told her to remove it or hide her cross from sight.

When she refused, she was put on unpaid leave from her post at Heathrow Airport.

The company eventually changed its uniform policy and Miss Eweida returned to work in February last year. She continues to be employed by the airline. She has been on rest days this week, but will return to work tomorrow wearing her cross.

Miss Eweida said the root of her complaint was that the airline had “rules for one minority group but not the other”. She said that while Muslims and Sikhs were allowed to wear hijabs and religious Kara bangles respectively, she, as a Christian, was asked to remove her religious jewellery.“It is a form of discrimination against Christians,” she said.

She said she would have to consider whether to stay at the company. BA said it was pleased with the tribunal’s decision. A spokesman said: “We have always maintained that our uniform policy did not discriminate against Christians and we are pleased that the tribunal’s decision supports our position.

“Our current policy allows symbols of faith to be worn openly and has been developed with multi-faith groups and our staff. “Nadia Eweida has worked for us for eight years and continues to be a valued member of our staff.”

———————-

She was portrayed in the press as a victim of cruel religious discrimination – a poor persecuted Christian who had been “banned” by British Airways from wearing a simple cross at work. And all this while her Muslim and Sikh colleagues were parading about in hijabs and turbans.

The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tony Blair came out in her defence. The Daily Mail took up the cudgels on her behalf. One hundred MPs spoke out in her favour. Bishops demanded a boycott of BA. Evangelical Christians went into paroxysms of righteous fury. At last – here was proof that they were innocent victims of Christianophobia – as practised by our very own national airline.

An open and shut case, you might think. Nadia Eweida was a Christian martyr, pure and simple.

But hang on a moment. The employment tribunal, to which she complained, has just published its judgment, and it tells a rather different story. Not only did it kick out all her claims of religious discrimination and harassment, it also criticised her for her intransigence, saying that she:

“… generally lacked empathy for the perspective of others … her own overwhelming commitment to her faith led her at times to be both naive and uncompromising in her dealings with those who did not share her faith.”

One example of this was her insistence that she must never be required to work on Christmas Day, even though she had signed a contract that made it clear that she, like her colleagues, would be working in an operation that functions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and therefore required shift working and bank holiday working, too.

In order to be fair to everybody, BA used a union-approved ballot system to ensure that those who worked on Christmas Day were fairly and objectively chosen. If their name came up, they were at liberty to negotiate with their colleagues to change shifts and days on a like-for-like basis. But not Nadia. She insisted that, because she was a Christian, she must not be required to work on Christmas Day – or Sunday, come to that.

The tribunal commented:

“[Eweida’s] insistence on privilege for Christmas Day is perhaps the most striking example in the case of her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis.”

Eweida was originally suspended from work as a BA check-in clerk when she refused to wear a cross on a necklace underneath her uniform rather than on top of it. This breached stated uniform policy, which stated that no one was allowed to wear visible adornments around their neck.

But Eweida and her Christian activist backers managed to foment such a backlash that BA was forced into changing the policy. Now she can wear her cross visibly, and the airline offered her £8,500 compensation and a return to her job, with her point successfully made.

But no – she decided to continue pursuing the airline at the industrial tribunal. She was funded in her action by a rightwing religious law firm in Arizona called the Alliance Defence Fund, whose affiliated lawyer was Paul Diamond, a familiar figure in court cases demanding religious privilege.

The tribunal – unlike the Daily Mail – was required to look at all the evidence, and not consider only Eweida’s account of events. And having done so, it kicked the case out on all counts, saying that Eweida did not suffer any discrimination.

The tribunal concluded:

“The complaint of direct discrimination fails because we find that the claimant did not, on grounds of religion or belief, suffer less favourable treatment than a comparator in identical circumstances.”

The tribunal also heard how Eweida’s attitude and behaviour towards colleagues had prompted a number of complaints objecting to her: “Either giving them religious materials unsolicited, or speaking to colleagues in a judgmental or censorious manner which reflected her beliefs; one striking example,” said the judgment, “was a report from a gay man that the claimant had told him that it was not too late to be redeemed.”

Indeed, the proselytising motivation of her desire to wear the cross over her uniform instead of underneath it was underlined when she said: “It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them.”

The details of this case make it clear that this is a woman who is wearing religious blinkers. In several instances she brought grievances and complaints against BA that had no basis in fact. She was convinced that BA was anti-Christian, and nothing would dissuade her from that opinion, despite the company jumping through hoops trying to accommodate the many and varied religious demands being placed on it. Indeed, there is a BA Christian Fellowship group that did not support Eweida’s fight, and confirmed that BA was already “making available facilities, time, work spaces, intranet use and supporting Christian charitable activities throughout the world” – but strangely we haven’t heard about them in the newspaper reports.

The tribunal notes that on the original claim form, Eweida states “I have not been permitted to wear my Christian cross; whilst other faiths (Sikhs, Hindu, Muslims) are permitted to manifest their faith in very obvious fashion. Secular individuals can show private affiliations.” The tribunal found the first and last assertions to be untrue. But Eweida would not be persuaded.

Her numerous demands for special treatment because of her religion showed a complete indifference to the effect it would have on the lives of others. Indeed, in one instance she made an accusation against the Christian Fellowship group that turned out to be completely fallacious, and the tribunal felt compelled to say: “We find it demonstrates to a degree the extent to which the claimant [Eweida] misinterpreted events, as well as her readiness to make a serious accusation without thought of the implications.”

Now we read that there is another case in the pipeline for British Airways. An orthodox Jewish man is bringing a case of religious discrimination because he is required to work on Saturday, the Jewish Shabat.

And a demonstration by Sikhs has just taken place outside the Welsh assembly, demanding that a schoolgirl be permitted to breach the school’s uniform policy by wearing a ceremonial bangle, the kara.

As Jonathan Bartley, of the religious thinktank Ekklesia said of the Eweida case:

“Like many of the other claims of discrimination being made by Christians, this has turned out to be false. People should be aware that behind many such cases there are groups whose interests are served by stirring up feelings of discrimination of marginalisation amongst Christians. What can appear to be a case of discrimination at first glance is often nothing of the sort. It is often more about Christians attempting to gain special privileges and exemptions.”

The National Secular Society has demanded that employers should be permitted to declare their workplaces secular spaces if they want to, without penalty. Attempts by employers to accommodate everyone have turned many workplaces into religious battlegrounds. It should now be OK to say: “Leave your religion at the door, please. And if you won’t and your religion doesn’t permit you to work in the way that this jobs demands you do, then please find another job that will.”

Terry Sanderson


UK Government says sorry to Alan Turing after 57 years

I’ve just recieved a response from the epetitions site regarding the call for an apology for the treatment and recognition of the hugh service to the war effort of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer. He was instrumental in breaking the German’s “Enigma Code” during WW2 and he was gay.

The history of Alan Turing is a sad one. In 1952 Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. A few years after he broke the German’s code for the British government – which Winston Churchill claimed was the most significant, tide-turning victory of WW2 – he was outed as a homosexual and arrested. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was also illegal. He lost his security clearance, effectively canning him from his government job, and was convicted of “gross indecency.” To avoid prison, Turing chose to instead undergo a chemical castration process. Two years later, he committed suicide.

The campaign was the idea of computer scientist John Graham-Cumming.

He was seeking an apology for the way the mathematician was treated after his conviction. He also wrote to the Queen to ask for Turing to be awarded a posthumous knighthood.

The campaign was backed by author Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The petition posted on the Downing Street website attracted thousands of signatures.

He is most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. However, he also made significant contributions to the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and computing. In 1936 he established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal paper called On Computable Numbers and in 1950 he devised a test to measure the intelligence of a machine. Today it is known as the Turing Test.

After the war he worked at many institutions including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.

There is a memorial statue of him in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens which was unveiled in 2001.

So today in 2009, some 57 years later, we get some recongition from the government

Thank you for signing this petition. The Prime Minister has (got some intern to write) written a
response. Please read below.

Prime Minister: 2009 has been a year of deep reflection – a chance for
Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who
came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred
in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British
experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to
honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches
of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which
have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take
up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am
both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists,
historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and
celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of
dictatorship (irony?) ; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on
breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that,
without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could
well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can
point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt
of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that
he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross
indecency’ in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he
was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical
castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own
life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing
and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt
with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his
treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance
to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him (a bit hollow if you had nothing to do with it). Alan and
the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted
under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more
lived in fear of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this
government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT
community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most
famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long
overdue.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to
humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united,
democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once
the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in
living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by
anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices
– that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European
landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls
which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is
thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism,
people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war
are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely
thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved
so much better.

Gordon Brown

If you would like to help preserve Alan Turing’s memory for future
generations, please donate here: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/

Petition information – http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

The British government’s apology, while appreciated,  is long overdue.


£48,000 Goes to the Muslim Brotherhood

BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS

The Tax Payer’s Alliance (TPA) has released figures today on every local authority that has received Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) funding and what organisations have benefited from it.  The PVE fund has so far given out £12 million in tax payer money to projects aimed at preventing radicalisation.

One organisation, the Muslim Welfare House (MWH), has received just under £50,000 in PVE funds over the last two years.  The MWH is a member of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), which represents the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe.  The FIOE has very close ties with Holocaust promoter and leading MB scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and his European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) was founded by the FIOE.  This year, the FOIE commissioned Qaradawi to author a report entitled ‘The Nation and Citizenship in Light of the Origins of Islamic Doctrine and the Intentions of Shari’ah’.   On their website, the FIOE claims that it wishes to ensure ‘an accurate introduction of Islam’ in Europe.  That the FIOE consider Qaradawi as the best candidate to represent an accurate picture of Islam is a testament to how the organisation itself sees the religion.

The MB connections with the MWH are strong and up until 2007, of the 5 registered owners of the MWH, 3 were also directors of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Brotherhood’s main presence in the United Kingdom.  Among them was Mohammed Sawalha, described by IslamOnline’s Arabic site as the “UK head of the Political Committee of the International Muslim Brotherhood organisation”, identified by the BBC as a “fugitive Hamas commander” and signatory to the now infamous Istanbul statement which called for continued support for Hamas and indirectly sanctioned attacks on the Royal Navy in the eastern Mediterranean.  Joining Sawalha at the MWH until 2007 was Abdel Shaheed el-Ashaal, who is referred to by the pro-Brotherhood magazine Islamism Digest as a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood and who until 2000 was the company secretary for a company called the Hassan el-Banna [MB founder] Foundation. One of the stated aims of the Foundation was “to give a correct image of the thoughts, ideology and life of Imam Shaheed Hassan el-Banna.”

Since 2007, the MWH has undergone something of a clean-up, with all of its MB connected trustees and owners replaced with ‘clean slates’.  However, its connection with the FIOE means that it continues to carry out the work of the MB in the UK.  Although the MB does not present a direct terrorist threat, it promotes an ideology which helped create modern jihadist terrorism and is fundamentally incompatible with western notions of statehood.  French MB expert and author of ‘The Muslim Brothers in Europe:  Roots and Discourses’, Brigitte Marechal, has written how the MB in Europe continues to promote Islam not simply as a religion, but an all-encompassing framework which “suggests that Islam should be understood as a complete system that concerns state and nation, beliefs and legislation, cult and behaviour, and the social, political and historical.”  This all-encompassing ideology, which MB founder Hasan al-Banna referred to as shumuliyyat al-Islam and 1 of the 10 pillars of the MB project, is one of the driving forces for the jihadist terrorists who are currently trying to enforce sharia in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and numerous other fronts.  However, the problem with the MB ideology does not lie only in its deep connections with jihadism, but also in its subversive promotion of Islam as an actual alternative system of governance.

The intention of the MB in Europe, and particular in the UK, is not to recruit suicide bombers, but rather to peacefully promote the shumuliyyat al-Islam in the hope that it will gradually initiate a reform of society along Islamist lines.  Using front groups like the MWH and MAB, they disseminate their ideology among British Muslims by organising events and lectures, and have seen some success in creating ‘ummah centric’ mindsets, whereby young Muslims feel a greater affinity with fellow Muslims around the globe than with their non-Muslim next door neighbour.

Those who may still insist that promoting the ‘soft’ Islamists of the MB is the only effective way to counter the violence of al-Qaeda should ask themselves how a band of reactionaries who either deny the existence of the threat, or openly praise bin Laden, could possibly be of any use:

  • The Egyptian MB’s General Guide, Mahdi Akef, only last year refused to label bin Laden a terrorist, instead opting for the more cordial “jihad fighter” who battles against “oppression and corruption.”
  • In 2004, Ahmed al-Rawi, former president of the MAB and president of the FIOE until 2007, signed a declaration supporting jihad in Iraq.
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi co-signed a letter earlier this year which claims “the events of the 11th of September 2001 were nothing but fabricated drama by some influential forces in America in co-ordination with Israeli Mossad.”
  • Upon the arrest of the recently convicted transatlantic terrorists, former MAB spokesman and Hamas cheerleader Azzam Tamimi (who was given an MWH platform last January) could only offer the pathetic suggestion that the entire episode was invented by the government so as to “smear the image of Islam and the Muslims”.

Of course, there should be no attempts at censoring or criminalising MB members, activists and supporters – giving them the right to speak freely and organise themselves is a price worth paying to preserve our liberal society.  However, this does not mean that people should ignore the detrimental effects that the MB belief system can have on national unity, integration, citizenship and security.  Rather than paying for its promotion, the government should be providing more robust arguments against the politicised Islam of the MB.


Wandsworth Council endorses religious discrimination in education

By Community Correspondent Stephen Evans

The new Equality Bill may be working its way through Parliament, but Wandsworth Council is still wholeheartedly endorsing religious discrimination and segregation in education.

A recent edition of Brightside, the magazine of Wandsworth Council, proudly announced that a “New Catholic school comes a step closer”. The Council has announced that the Saint John Bosco school will be the only completely new school to be built in the borough as part of the government-funded ‘Building Schools for the Future’ project.

Unfortunately, for the non-Catholics amongst us, this will be yet another religious school in Wandsworth that discriminates against the children of non-religious parents and those of the ‘wrong’ faith.

Just take a look at some of the admissions criteria for Wandsworth’s new state school:

• Baptised Catholic students whose parent(s) and themselves are active committed Roman Catholics.

• Baptised Catholic students who are active committed Roman Catholics.

• Baptised Catholic students who are currently attending a Roman Catholic school.

• Baptised Catholic students for whom there is evidence that the Church (e.g. parent(s), priest, parish worker or godparent) is actively and prayerfully working for their Roman Catholic upbringing.

• Christians who are active in their churches which are in membership of Churches Together in England.

• Other students, subject to their numbers and/or attitudes not endangering the Catholic ethos of the school.

There’s a further warning on the Wandsworth Council website that the Governors will “request proof of baptism and evidence of practice from the relevant Parish Priest or Minister.

How on earth can such backward and antiquated discrimination against the non-religious be allowed in modern Britain?

The National Secular Society has consistently campaigned against faith schools, arguing that they are unjust, discriminatory and detrimental to community cohesion. Many experts seem to agree.

For example, research from London South Bank University demonstrates that the only way to achieve full integration in our communities is for all children to be educated together from primary stage. These findings are backed up by a new study carried out by Psychologists at the University of Ulster on the effects of integrated and segregated schooling in Northern Ireland. They found that sectarianism could be defused if more Catholic and Protestant children were sent to mixed-religion schools. Further recent research by the LSE and the Institute of Education demonstrates that religious schools not only fail to improve standards, but also create ‘social sorting’ of children along lines of class, ability and religion.

By endorsing faith schools, Wandsworth is colluding with religious organisations in segregating children by their parent’s faith – and often as an indirect result, by their race. Many areas of Wandsworth, like most other London boroughs, while being very multicultural remains heavily segregated. We desperately need less division in our communities, not more.

Faith schools are notorious for ‘cherry-picking’ the most promising children from the most affluent families, resulting in a version of ‘private schooling on the rates’. The effect is to deprive community schools of such pupils, making their already-difficult task nearly impossible. Religious schools may well be popular with parents lucky enough to get their children into them, but less so with the population as a whole who just want good schools, not religious schools. An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper found two thirds of the population said there should be no state funded faith schools at all.

So why is the Labour Government, and Tory opposition for that matter, so intent on handing over the education of children to religious organisations?

I put that question in a letter to local MP Sadiq Khan, but have yet to receive a response. Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, the honourable member for Tooting is a well known advocate of mixing religion and politics and was the former Chairman of Tooting’s Gatton Primary, a state funded Muslim faith school which, in its own words, aims to: “inculcate in pupils the character and religion to live as a true Muslim.”

What makes the whole situation even more perverse is that there is little doubt that religious belief is in serious decline. Normal Sunday attendance at churches in England in 1980 exceeded 10% of the population. Today it’s around 6% and is projected by Christian Research to drop to 1.2% by 2050. The Government’s own latest Social Trends Survey revealed that 45.8% of British people now regard themselves as non-religious. In light of such findings how can anyone justify an expansion of religious schools?

The faith school system gives the religious, or those that pretend to be religious, greater choice while leaving the non-religious seriously disadvantaged. With state funded ‘minority’ faith schools on the increase, the situation is only going to get worse.


We must separate church and state

In England, our constitution is blighted by an ancient theocratic hangover. Time to sweep it away and bring England into the 21st century!

We’re not Iran, but our constitution does have a theocratic structure. I think this holds us back, impedes us, like an old invisible injury. Like a subtle poison in the blood, it quietly harms us. Most people seem unaware of it. Even Hazel Blears, who recently said that we are a secular democracy.

Yesterday a seminar was held at the UCL Constitution Unit to mark the launch of a book on the issue by Bob Morris. Church and State in 21st Century Britain is a meticulous analysis of the situation. No such study can be entirely neutral, but Morris seems to have no religious agenda; his aim is to point out that establishment is at odds with the principle of religious equality, making it “anomalous to the point of unsustainability”. He is wary of the term “disestablishment” but he does advocate the big reform – ending the monarch’s need to be Anglican.

In his presentation yesterday he said that reform would ideally come from the church itself. Otherwise it is likely to have reform thrust upon it, in a way it cannot control. So it is in its interest to lead the process. He acknowledged that here is little sign of this willingness as yet, but seemed hopeful that a fresh look at the issue might change that.

In the discussion that followed three Anglican representatives spoke. Each offered a slightly different flavour of the old conservative line: that it would be perilous to mess with our ancient constitution, that it might unleash an aggressive secularism. None admitted that there was a problem here that had to be faced.

These speakers confirmed my view that the Church of England looks very nice and liberal from a slight distance but at heart its philosophy is high Tory: tradition is sacred, those who want to tamper with it are dangerously shallow. I know of almost no Anglican who has said anything different, who admits Morris’ basic point that reform is necessary, so that we can have a constitution we can really affirm, and participate in, rather than an alienating relic from the imperial past. One exception is the Oxford theologian George Pattison, who has recently called for a more honest debate within the church (in an article in The Church Times). It is worth noting that Rowan Williams has failed to start the debate; he has allowed the reactionary position to become stronger – a piece of major political cowardice.

Might reform come from elsewhere? Of course the secularist lobbies advocate it, but in a sense this is unhelpful: it makes it seem an atheist cause, and so strenghtens the hand of the Anglicans, who scarify with the prospect of a Dawkinsish tyranny. Ideally it would come from a political movement that was also Christian, led by a new Cromwell figure.

Why is disestablishment not a mainstream liberal cause? It baffles me frankly. Why is it hardly ever mentioned by the columnists of this paper, except as a quick aside? To my mind it is the very essence of liberalism, that church and state should be separate. This is the English revolution that we have never quite had. It is the way to a new sort of political participation, a new sense that we are citizens of a modern state. Other aspects of constitutional change, and other liberal causes such as CCTV, DNA database and ID Cards are pathetically small-fry compared to this.


Now Christians start to burn books!

A Christian group in Wisconsin is actually suing for the right to engage in a public book burning to destroy copies of a book they consider to be “explicitly vulgar, racial [sic], and anti-Christian”:

The offending book is Francesca Lia Block’s Baby Be-Bop, a young adult novel in which a boy, struggling with his homosexuality, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. The complaint, which according to the American Library Association also demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book in a display at West Bend Community Memorial Library, was lodged by four men from the Christian Civil Liberties Union.

There was also another group that just fought to move the book into the adult section of the library, which calls itself the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries. The Christian Civil Liberties Union, the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries–aren’t those exactly the kind of Orwellian names you’d expect pro-fascist, anti-free speech organizations to call themselves?

They’re charging that the book’s physical presence in their local library caused them mental and emotional distress and that its alleged derogatory language “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.” Wow! That must be some book to actually put lives in jeopardy. And since this book has been around for 15 years now, I would love to hear about all the lives who were destroyed by its mere existence.

The West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries claims they wish. . .

“. . .to protect children from accessing them without their parents’ knowledge and supervision.”

The old “protect them from themselves” gambit–a fascist classic. Fortunately, the library committee stuck to their guns by keeping the books in the young adult section. But the other group decided they wanted to burn the books.

“The word ‘faggot’ is very derogatory and slanderous to all males,” the suit continues. “Using the word ‘Nigger’ is dangerously offensive, disrespectful to all people. These words can permeate violence.” The suit also claims that the book “constitutes a hate crime, and that it degrades the community”, but surely their intended burning of this particular book is  a greater offense.

“They’ve filed a claim against the city of West Bend and the city has to decide if it is valid,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. “Their insurance company is evaluating the claim, but I would be very surprised if they found any merit in it … Should they find any merit in this claim, we would certainly support the library in fighting it.”

The legal challenge follows a lengthy campaign by some West Bend residents to restrict access to teenage books they deemed sexually explicit from library shelves, which was eventually thrown out at the start of June.

“Obviously we were really pleased with the outcome to that – there was a unanimous vote to keep the books in the library and we thought the matter should be over,” said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write programme at PEN America.

Siems said there was clearly “a bit of theatre” in the lawsuit which followed. “They’ve filed a lawsuit which has little possibility of going forward legally, and they’re asking for damages which include the right to burn a book. It does seem more to gain publicity than a real serious challenge.” But, he said, PEN remained very concerned about the impulse behind the claim. “This is a group of people trying aggressively to rid the library of these books and that’s very serious – it needs to be fought.”

The claimants, he said, “have a right to continue to express their views, and this in a way is a creative attempt to express those views”. But it’s “also a dangerous game when you’re talking about something like book burning, calling on the law to burn books. It’s certainly completely un-American, and if they paused, I think they would agree.”