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Secularism: a round up

First, some links to interesting new information and commentary on issues recently covered here.   Chris Moos has an update on the gender segregation issue here.   The news isn’t encouraging. Here’s an extract:

LSE and UCL are not the only universities implicitly or explicitly condoning or enforcing gender segregation. An even more worrying example of official endorsement of gender segregation can be found at the University of Keele. On the Facebook page, students can be found discussing an event involving several religious speakers. As one of the student expresses that the Muslim speaker had displayed a “backwards mind-set” by saying that the cutting off of hands as corporal punishment was justified, and that men and women were different so must be treated as such, the university chaplain Reverend James Stewart takes it on himself to retort: “He said cutting off hands was acceptable as a punishment ONLY ONCE certain very specific, very extreme criteria were met. […] It’s a cultural, not a “backward” mind-set.” In the ensuing discussion, several students then go on to express discomfort about the fact that the event was ostensibly gender segregated. In what becomes clear in the following exchange, the university administration, in the form of Reverend Steward, does not only dismiss the concerns of the students, but actively defends gender segregation:

“Some cultures find it easier to stay within their gender groups, is all. […] They [Muslim women] are used to it, and feel protected in their gender roles. It does not impede their enjoyment of the event, but enhances it, as if they were more intermingled the sisters would have felt uncomfortable […] Sitting separate is not “wrong” and I will defend women to go separately if they feel more comfortable to do so […] “Many cultures do this – Sikhs in Gurdwara, many Churches in the past in the west, and now in the East. It isn’t Islam telling them to do this, but their cultural inheritance. It does not abuse or disempower the women in any way, but rather the opposite. Maybe it challenges our Western expectations of what “equality” looks like, but to them it feels like being respected and valued for being a woman.”

More disappointing news, this time about those redacted exam questions:

However, the school also says that creationism ‘is taught to all year groups throughout the school in Jewish Studies.’ Government policy is clear that creationism should not be taught by state schools as scientifically valid in any subject. Coupled with recent comments made by the principal in theTelegraph, this policy seems to be being broken.

The school has told the BHA that ‘The school does not teach Sex education because in practice all parents will exercise their statutory right to withdraw their children from Sex Education.’ This is in fact unlawful. As a maintained school, the school has to teach the aspects of sex education that appear in national curriculum science, namely anatomy, puberty and reproduction. Parents are not allowed to withdraw their children from this. Maintained schools are legally obliged to teach a sex and relationships education programme that includes information on sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, although parents can indeed withdraw their children from this.

Finally, the school refused to provide any correspondence with Ofqual and exam boards, claimingthat it is exempt from disclosure because such disclosure would be likely to prejudice a public authority (i.e. Ofqual and OCR) in ‘ascertaining whether any person is responsible for any conduct which is improper’ and in ‘ascertaining whether circumstances which would justify regulatory action in pursuance of any enactment exist or may arise’.

Again, the report from the British Humanist Association is well worth reading in full, as is this absolutely excellent new article by Charlie Klendijian of the Lawyers’ Secular Society about Sharia wills:

The Law Society has argued that it is merely responding to “demand” for Sharia wills. Don’t be deceived by this apparently innocuous argument because it is a frightening one. It suggests our cherished and hard-won legal protections against discrimination, which are thankfully an established feature of our magnificent legal system, can be thrown to the wild dogs of supply and demand. Would the Law Society respond to “demand” for guidance on incorporating homophobic and racist provisions in a will? Would it respond to “demand” for provisions specifically enabling non-Muslims to discriminate against Muslims?

We recently had a post about Pakistan’s move to lower the age for marriage.  Iraq is heading in the same direction, as Ahlam Akram reports:

“Iraqi women [recently] launched a protest rally against the [proposed] personal status law, [a law] that was vehemently defended by Iraqi MP Susan Al-Sa’ad on BBC Arabic. The proposed law, if approved, will permit marrying minors – girls from age 9 or from the first signs of sexual maturity… The law, if approved, will determine that the testimony of a man is worth that of two women, which entrenches sexual inequality, and will join other violations of women’s rights [anchored] in law, such as a maximum penalty of three years in prison for a husband who kills his wife…

Given the catalogue of other problems facing women in the region (some of them analysed in the same article) it’s perhaps also worth noting Khaled Diab’s recent post on ‘the new Arab man’.

Atheist talk show host Bill Maher has driven Tristan Emmanuel, an evangelical activist, to call for a return of blasphemy laws.

Emmanuel quoted a couple of recent remarks by Maher, who referred to God as “a psychotic mass murderer” for flooding the earth to punish sinners in the biblical Book of Genesis and suggested the Almighty was even more of a “dick” than famously disagreeable actor Russell Crowe.

“He may have protection under the First Amendment to say whatever slanderous thing that comes out of his toilet bowl brain, but that does not mean Christians should turn the other cheek,” Emmanuel said.

He agreed with the Psalms 14 passage that questioned the character of anyone who would believe in his heart there was no God, suggesting Maher and outspoken atheists Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens had much in common with the Devil.

He said Christians should “unanimously” condemn Maher and compared today’s believers unfavorably with their ancestors.

“Back then Maher would have faced stiff penalties for his slanderous crimes against God and country,” Emmanuel said. “And the reasons were clear: slander the ultimate authority of a nation — God — and you ridicule the very foundation of its laws, values, public institutions and leadership.

Meanwhile in Pakistan (and many other countries) blasphemy laws continue to threaten people’s freedoms and lives.

To end on a more positive note, despite the protestations of those who think religious beliefs should be allowed to dictate the way we live our lives, the first same sex marriages have just taken place in the UK.  Here are some reflections on the events leading up to this historical day from Peter Tatchell.