Lord Patten on the ‘wacky, hardcore and highly illiberal’ British Humanist Association
Well, ‘repeatedly’ must have slipped under Cranmer’s radar.
Speaking during a Lords debate on two key British Humanist Association (BHA) publications, Lord Harrison said: "The Church of England has continued unwarrantedly to enjoy and increase its privileges within the state-in education, in employment practices, law and public broadcasting-as statutory public services continue to be contracted out to religious organisations.”
And the vastly disproportionate influence of the BHA is wholly warranted, one presumes.
He continued: "The consequences have been to imperil the take-up of public services and to encourage discrimination against users of such services and against employees who owe allegiance to another religion or to none at all."
"Most egregious has been the discrimination offered to the gay community," he added.
"Religious harassment has had an open goal to shoot at, while the status of religious organisations has been undeservedly advanced under the cover of the public purse," he said.
"In the current Equality Bill, for instance, the government still ponder giving religious organisations the power to discriminate against gays, non-believers and believers of other faiths who apply for lay positions."
He said this was a further example of the government "bowing to church pressure".
"In the Children, Schools and Families Bill, religious groups have seemingly wrested back the control to teach children their versions of sex education. The government's feeble sticking plaster of a 'balanced approach' will hardly dilute the ingrained homophobia and antipathy to sex redolent in the teaching practices of too many of our religious schools."
And he said it now appeared that believing in a religion privileges those who have broken the law.
"A custodial sentence was recently set aside because the prisoner was deemed to have a greater sense of right and wrong, born of his religious belief," he said.
"The fact that three out of four prison inmates declare themselves to be religious undermines that partialist philosophy."
Lord Harrison also criticised the presence of reserved seats in the Lords for Bishops.
"It is undeniable that in its present form, with 26 seats reserved for the Church of England Bishops, the House of Lords presents an odd face to the outside world," he said.
"I believe that in the future reform of the Lords, all privileged places should go.
"If religious groups are to be present, they should be chosen in line with their current strengths, and humanists and atheists should also be acknowledged, given the growing numbers of our tradition-Professor Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough spring to mind-indeed their wider interests would make a valuable contribution to this House."
But Lord Patten said the two BHA publications represented a ‘wacky, hardcore, highly illiberal, campaigning sort of humanism’.
He said: "They point the way towards a society dominated by majoritarianism and not a more tolerant view of society."
And he said it would be wrong to exclude religious bodies from being commissioned to provide public services such as schools:
"It is philosophically bankrupt and inept, for it assumes automatically that, while faith-based projects are not value-neutral, by definition secular projects are inherently value-neutral," he said.
And the Conservative peer said rather than religious groups advancing their influence, the trend was towards the total opposite:
"You cannot wear a crucifix to work, offering to pray for someone gets you suspended and Catholic adoption societies are getting closed down," he observed.
"Rampant secularism is what we face, of the most intolerant and illiberal sort."
Baroness Massey of Darwen said the idea the British Humanist Association represented ‘aggressive secularism’ was nonsense:
"Secularism seeks neutrality from the state as regards different religions and beliefs, including non-belief and non-religious affiliation," she said.
Ah, that old chestnut. The ‘neutrality’ of the state simply seeks to neuter the Christian foundations of the nation, of liberty, of justice, of law-making…
The Baroness said: "Humanism maintains – as I do – that values, ethics and morality are not exclusively in the gift of religion. Individuals can, and do, develop moral codes that are equally valid and have a right to live by non-faith principles. In my view the influence of religion on law-making is very disproportionate."
Well, there’s an observation she would do well to apply to her own group’s influence.
Communities Minister Lord McKenzie of Luton said he agreed with the Humanist Philosophers' Group's aims of creating a society where people were treated fairly without discrimination.
And he pointed to the Equality Bill which he said placed new equality duties on public bodies which will bring together the existing duties on race, disability and gender and extend them to religion or belief, sexual orientation, age and gender reassignment.
"The Government believe that it is important to ensure that members of all faiths, and those of none, enjoy the same life opportunities and feel confident in working with people who have different beliefs, but shared values, to work together towards common goals," he said.
But he said he did not believe this was incompatible with allowing faith groups to deliver public services.
He added: "We believe that what we might call 'the faith sector' is a key part of the third sector.”
Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, said: “The separation of religion and politics, of church and state, is an issue that is ever-more pressing. Segregation in our education system through divisive and discriminatory ‘faith schools’ is increasing at a frightening rate and more and more of our public services, including health, social care and welfare services, are set to be handed over to religious organisations – organisations which are exempt from important parts of equality and human rights laws.
“We are also seeing threats to basic freedoms and rights through our lack of church-state separation, such as recent moves influenced by the religious lobby to restrict employment rights for gay people, and to teaching young people attending ‘faith schools’ Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in ways that are not balanced, accurate or that promote equality and diversity.
“This timely debate offered an opportunity for peers to set the context for fresh discussions about these issues that affect us all, in the next Parliament and beyond.”
Cranmer has, of course, dealt with this issue before, but there was a choice quote provided during the debate by the the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton). He said:
"The Government's Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund funded the British Humanist Association to establish and support a network of grass-roots humanists."
So tax-payers have subsidised the establishment of a ‘network’ of ‘grass-roots humanists’.
Why is the Government obliging us to fund the Church of Secular Humanism?
What is ‘neutral’ about that?