Leicester Secular Society
for an inclusive and plural society free from religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination.
(established 1851)
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See also: << 2006 — 2007 — 2008 >>



Programme of events for January

Tuesday 2 January

Mr Pridding aged 15 has an excellent letter in Leicester Mercury. [We reproduce letters here, for the record, since they are difficult to find on the Leicester Mercury site beyond the last 72 published.]

UNFAIR VIEW OF ATHEISTS: Councillor Alan Tanner (Mailbox, December 28) says he would have "a person of faith anytime over a person of no faith". However, he does not explain why.
Although my parents are Christians, I do not feel obliged or at all satisfied with the answers that religion gives to me. I find it offensive that Coun Tanner assumes that people of no faith have no moral guide, and are hence morally corrupt. Let me rid you of those preconceptions, as atheists are those who dare to challenge the ideals that are taught to us from birth. I personally know many people of non-faith, and find they are some of the kindest people I know. You do not need a 2,000-year-old book to teach you morals.
Coun Tanner also describes how to have personal faith is to be subservient to a higher faith. I do not understand how being subservient to anything can be a good thing. Religion is almost definitely the largest cause of deaths and war in the world - something that cannot be said about having a lack of faith. I would appreciate it if Coun Tanner did not hold these prejudiced views on people of non-faith.

Thursday 4 January

George Jelliss attends the Loughborough Logic meeting at the Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough. There were three speakers each giving a ten-minute report, followed by a discussion.

Sunday 7 January

Allan Hayes talks on John Florance's Sunday Morning show on BBC Radio Leicester.

Wednesday 10 January

George Jelliss attends the inaugural meeting of the Northants Secular Humanist Society at the Leighton Coach House in Wellingborough. Ollie Kilingback gave a power-point presentation, and the members then formed a circle to discuss future plans. An excellent start.

LETTER by B. Grover, Dunton Bassett, in Leicester Mercury:

BELIEF IN VIRTUE: Well done, [Mr] Pridding, my sentiments exactly ("Unfair view of atheists", Mailbox, January 2). Being an atheist doesn't mean you have to be a bad person, neither does being a committed Christian necessarily mean you are a good person. I have long been of the opinion that religion, in all its forms, plays a large part in all the unrest we are experiencing in the world today. Faith or no faith, I maintain it is how you live out your daily life that is paramount. I call to mind a verse I read in my youth that to me sums up the whole question of religious beliefs. I quote:

Some go to church a seat to cover,
Some go there to seek a lover,
Some go there to sleep and nod,
While a few go there to worship God.

Thursday 11 January

Eleanor S. Davidson was invited to give an after-dinner speech with a New Year message for Leicester Rotarians.

Friday 12 January

Development Group holds two and half hour planning meeting with Focus Consultants.

Saturday 13 January

Allan Hayes attends the Fabian Society conference, The Next Decade, he speaks against exclusion of the non-religious and challenges the Secretary of State for Education over Faith Schools.

Sunday 14 January

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm – Anniversary Martial Arts Display and talk by Dave Wilkinson and members of Leicester Karate Club. This is the 60th year of the existence of the Leicester School of Martial Arts in the Cellar Room at Secular Hall. In fact it is one of the oldest Karate Schools in Britain, and very significant part of the heritage of the hall! Come and find out what they do! (This meeting was due to be held in the upstairs hall, but instead the talk was held as usual in the Library and the display in the basement, due to difficulty in moving the mats.)

Here is a photo taken by George Jelliss. [To see it in larger format, click on the photo to go to the Flickr page.]


Monday 15 January

Century Score! Sid Sherriff reports that Membership of the Society tops 100, reaches 104, and is rising steadily.

Christian/Humanist Dialogue 7:30 pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: First meeting of an eight-part series. Allan Hayes speaks on "Secularism and Humanism - what are they?". Attendance was about 40.

Wednesday 17 January

Lyn Hurst chairs LSS Committee meeting.

George Jelliss publishes a review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, on the NSHS site.

Friday 19 January

Leicester Secularist: George Jelliss, Burn the Burqa on Taslima Nasrin's plea to Muslim women. 77 postings have now appeared snce the blog was opened in September 2005. The blog will be opened to others to suggest ideas and contribute articles in 2007.

Sunday 21 January

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Richard Johnson Gramsci, Marxism and Religion. Richard Johnson is brilliant at making hard sounding topics understandable. Richard, a retired professor, is effective lecturing to school students and adults alike. Gramsci has influenced our thinking about the nature of our world far more than we know; come and find out how and why. Good attendance reported.

Monday 22 January

Eleanor S Davidson is a guest speaker at the Leicester Faiths Together ICLS Seminar, discussing Humanism and the impact in Leicester of the campaign against modern-day slavery.

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Second meeting of an eight-part series, the only one in Secular Hall. First part of the DVD "Secular Humanist" shown. Allan Hayes leads discussion on religious education. Attendance about 35.

Tuesday 23 January

Lyn Hurst chairs LSS Committee meeting to discuss the Memorandum and Articles of Association for becoming a Company Ltd by Guarantee. A Special General Meeting is called for 15th February.

Wednesday 24 January

Allan Hayes attends day course on fundraising.

Keith Baker and Allan Hayes attend first English Heritage meeting on preparing this year's Heritage Open Days.

Allan Hayes speaks at meeting in the University of Derby Multifaith Centre on faith schools.

George Jelliss has a letter in Leicester Mercury following up on the Taslima Nasrin blog-post;

STRIKE A BLOW FOR LIBERATION: Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi writer who lives in exile in Calcutta, India, calls for Muslim women to burn the burka and to do away with all other forms of purdah.
Perhaps the Muslim women of Leicester could take a lead in bringing about this modernising and liberating reform.
The article was published in Outlook India on January 22.
When I first moved to Leicester seven years ago, the sight of women covered head to foot in black, even covering their faces, seemed shocking and incomprehensible.
I have now become accustomed to it, seeing it every day, but still see it as a way of effacing these people from view, as if they are of no account. It is not even as if it was an aesthetic custom.
Why does it always have to be the most depressing black?

Chris Davis of Newbury contacts "jeepyjay" (George Jelliss) on the Richard Dawkins forum to say that he has made an improved version of our badge, the Freethought Pansy, in which the lettering (FREETHOUGHT SECULARISM) round the outer circle is clarified and a circular "alpha mask" is used to enable it to be placed on any background colour. This is now in use on our home page. Many thanks to Chris for his efforts. He also tried a version using a coloured pansy but we decided this was a case of "gilding the lily"!

Friday 26 January

Harry Perry posts announcement of the Special General Meeting to be held on 15th February.

Leicester Secularist: Allan Hayes posts on: Secular Facts and Arguments 1, which gathers together results of recent polls and studies on religion, secularism and government.

Saturday 27 January

Shani Lee reports that traffic to the Frontline Books website has started to increase dramatically (currently 85,000 page views per month). On the Frontline blogs Pete Flack posts as: Red Hibiscus.

Sunday 28 January

Regular Programme: 6:30 pm — A Secular Burns Night Celebration. This will include real Haggis, Neaps and Tatties and Sherry Trifle with a drop to cheer you up. There will be recitations of Burns poems, bagpipes and musicians. YOU MUST BOOK IN ADVANCE as places are limited. Phone 210 9027 or see the vice president at meetings. LSS MEMBERS FREE. OTHERS £7.50. A vegetarian option will be available but must be requested at time of booking. – Some video clips of the shenanigans have been put together by Tim Sketchley. (QuickTime Player is needed to view it.)

Monday 29 January

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Third meeting of an eight-part series. David Paterson, a co-founder of the Sea of Faith spoke on Radical Christianity. But the questioning was even more radical. These meetings are maintaining a good attendance of around 40, both secular and christian.

Wednesday 31 January

Allan Hayes spoke at the inaugural meeting of the new Labour Humanist Group in the House of Lords about Leicester Secular Society, combatting faith schools and creationism and projecting a positive image of secularism and humanism.



Programme of events for February

Saturday 3 February

Allan Hayes has LETTER in Leicester Mercury:

As an example of how access to information is being stifled (Focus, January 26), or even denied, if you go to the DfES website to find out how the Samworth Academy is to be governed and search for "Samworth", you will eventually reach the funding agreement for the academy.
On opening this, you will find that the relevant part, Annex 1, the Memorandum and Articles of Association, has been deleted.
You are told that it is available from Companies House.
Companies House will tell you that you must pay to get the information.
On payment, you will find that, out of 16 governors, the Bishop and David Samworth appoint five each, and one of the other six must be the head teacher (two co-opted governors are allowed in addition).
Is there an easier way to get this important information? Is it brought to the attention of people?
It was certainly not revealed, in spite of being asked for, during the so-called consultation process for the school.

Sunday 4 February

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Ceri Dingle or Viv Regan: Damned by Debt Relief. DVD and talk from WorldWrite a development education group which critically examines the real effect of what the 2005 jamboree about debt relief has really done for people in highly indebted poor countries. Just what were the effects of the G8 meeting on debt at Gleneagles in 2005?.

Monday 5 February

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Fourth meeting of an eight-part series. 7:30pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: History of Human Rights by Wilfred Gaunt, and Caring for Others by Eleanor Davidson.

Tuesday 6 February

7.30 pm at Secular Hall – Dr Humberto Rios Labrada: Agriculture and Ecology in Cuba. – Jointly hosted by Cuba Solidarity Campaign and Leicester Secular Society. Dr Labrada is very well known for pioneering participatory methods and agro-ecological techniques in Cuba following the end of importation of agricultural chemicals from Russia in the 1990's. Dr Labrada also writes and performs songs on agricultural and rural themes! Dr Labrada has been instrumental in leading Cuba towards a more sustainable and localised agriculture. This has resulted in a reduction in the demand for imported foodstuffs. He will talk about innovations in organic agriculture, plant breeding programmes and peoples' participation. Dr Labrada will talk about this vital work. We hope he will sing about it as well.

Thursday 8 February

Leicester Secularist: Frank Friedmann publishes "An Invitation", about the Leicester Lit & Phil Soc Geology meeting celebrating the local discovery 50 years ago of the precambrian "Ediacaran" fossil "Charnia masoni".

Sunday 11 February

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Mario Minichiello: Art and Conflict a talk with illustrations. Mario is well known for his pictures from the front, for his cartoons in such papers as the Guardian and his work in a number of capacities for television, such as when printing actual photos is not allowed. He is also a lecturer at Loughborough University. We will learn what a war artist is and how they do it - and much else besides.

Monday 12 February

John Florance has a 'First Person' column in Leicester Mercury:

HOW SLAVERY PUTS RELIGION IN THE DOCK: The Bible can be used to justify good and evil action - as history shows, says John Florance.
This year, events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies will be plentiful. All sorts of TV and radio programmes are promised and a number of books on the subject have appeared. I had an interesting conversation with the author of one of them, Richard Reddie, who works for Churches Together in England. His book, Abolition!, offers a number of enlightening perspectives on the subject. He discusses how slavery helped transform Britain into a leading industrial nation and examines the often ignored topic of African resistance to slavery.
But what struck me most about the book was his account of the complicity of many religious men, including vicars, with the slave trade.
It's well known that the leading abolitionists were often inspired by faith. William Wilberforce was a devout evangelical and others were Quakers. Reddie counters the common idea that Wilberforce brought about the end of the transatlantic slave trade almost single-handedly. Nevertheless, he feels that Wilberforce still hasn't been accorded his due.
But other men of religion, far from being inspired by their faith to a sense of common humanity with the benighted slaves, used it to justify the trade. Slaves to them were less than human. They were "two-legged" beasts or savages. It was pointed out that the Atlantic currents from the west coast of Africa flowed towards the West Indies. Thus Providence provided Africans with a speedy and ready-made route to salvation. Being sold into slavery was good for their souls, if they had such a thing.
The Christian slave traders and owners found many texts in both the Old and New Testaments to justify the slave trade. Sadly, a great many people continue to read the Bible as if it were simply dictated by a divine being. Or rather they say this, although if they really believed it they would maintain that eating shellfish is an abomination, think that those working on the Sabbath should be put to death and see nothing wrong with buying slaves from neighbouring nations.
The Bible can be used to justify everything from the most sublime acts of moral courage to the most abominable wickedness. I'm afraid some of the letters I receive expressing virulent hatred of homosexuals on the basis of certain Biblical texts would have been very much at home in the company of Christian slave traders. Richard Reddie's book seems to prove is that we still need a more sophisticated understanding of religion and its texts than some people held 200 years ago.

Thursday 15 February

Special General Meeting 7:30 pm. This has been called to deal with matters arising from the Memorandum and Articles of Association for becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee.

Sunday 18 February

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Maryam Namazie: Secularism and Humanism are not Religions or Belief Systems. — Maryam discusses the dangers of regarding secularism and humanism as forms of religion, belief or dogma, and how it can prevent people from challenging religion. Maryam, secularist of the year 2005, was indisposed and could not give her talk in November. Let's give her a hearty welcome this evening.

Monday 19 February

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Fifth meeting of an eight-part series. 7:30pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: Science and Religion by Allan Hayes.

Letter John Lawrence has a letter published in Leicester Mercury:

MISCHIEF TO MANKIND: The Archbishop of York has said about radical terrorists: "If your God is sending you to actually kill and maim people, I say to myself what kind of a God is that?" Why, it is his one, the Bible one, the director of rapine and genocide!
Thomas Paine wrote: "Whenever we read of the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent to call it the word of a demon than the word of God."
Christians have always referred to that God. For centuries, their main churches' policies showed "unrelenting vindictiveness".
Much of the Koran is a recounting of the Bible, while making nationalistic alterations and imagining a more vindictive and torturous fate for dissenters.
In terms of numbers and duration, the miscalling of these as "sacred scripts" has brought the greatest amount of mischief to mankind.

Tuesday 20 February

Leicester Secularist: George Jelliss publishes an article 'Richard Carlile remembered'; about the free speech campaigner and his struggle against William Wilberforce's 'Society for the Suppression of Vice'. (This is to counter the hagiography of Wilberforce due to be presented by Melvyn Bragg on 22nd February on BBC Radio 4.) Also a new page about Richard Carlile is added to our website biographies.

Thursday 22 February

Harry Perry distributes a leaflet to all members advertising the new IDEAS Group which is due to meet on 22nd March, including a comprehensive list of potential topics.

Lecture Series: 7:30 pm at Secular Hall. Professor Laurie Taylor: The Death of Public Life?. — He says: "I want to talk about the decline of traditional forms of sociability and the possibility of new forms emerging. It's something that I think is very relevant to the development of a genuinely secular society. But it won't be quite as ponderous as that sounds!"

Letter: Allan Hayes has a letter in Leicester Mercury:

EXCLUSIVE VOW? I agree with Peter Bromley (First Person, February 22) that the Scout movement does much good work, but why does it exclude many children by including in its Promise the undertaking to "do my duty to God"? [The First Person article celebrated the centenary of the foundation of the Scout movement. See 27 February for a reply.]

Saturday 24 February

Allan Hayes led a two-hour session on Humanism and Secularism with a group of Muslim women, Women in Faith, at the Markfield Conference Centre, The Islamic Foundation.

Sunday 25 February

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Sir Peter Soulsby MP: The Role and Effectiveness of the Backbench Labour MP. — Peter started as a teacher in Leicester in about 1970, but has been involved in Leicester Council over many years. He is now, of course, one of Leicester's representatives at Westminster. What do these people do with their time down in the capital? Come and hear our MP tell you himself.

Monday 26 February

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Sixth meeting of an eight-part series. 7:30pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: The State and Religion by Chris Williams. There was also a second speaker, Simon Barrow, one of the founders of Ekklesia the Christian think-tank.

Tuesday 27 February

Letter: There was a response from Peter Bromley to Allan's letter of 22 February:

BE PREPARED FOR ANOTHER VIEW: Allan Hayes makes a reasonable point about the Scouts' oath but his fears are unfounded (Mailbox, February 22).
Yes, the oaths do refer to God and they also refer to the Queen, which may also present difficulty to some.
However, the movement was founded as, and remains, essentially a Christian one.
Latterly, as with society, its scope has evolved and no-one is excluded on grounds of religion or nationality.
No-one has to attend church parades and no-one is forced to do anything they do not wish.
Whether we practise or not, the majority of us have some form of "God" that we consider ours.
The Scout movement does not actually specify which God to follow, but experience says that having one is a good start for life. [Does this mean Baal or Zeus or Kali would all do equally well?]

Wednesday 28 February

LSS Website. I think this was the date on which this new Calendar page was introduced (by George Jelliss), which combines details from the Programme and the Diary into a single page giving all details in date sequence. It is proposed to keep the Programme and Diary pages for a while, but if the Calendar is found to work satisfactorily the other two pages can be dispensed with. The Calendar also includes details of people of secular interest and their birth dates.



Programme of events for March

Also coming in March at Secular Hall - The Palestine Screenings: Steve Bonham will present Weekly showings of films about Palestine. Times and dates to be announced. [Details still not settled. Probably postponed to April.]

Friday 2 March

Carl Kerby, of Answers in Genesis (US), lectured at Trinity Life Church, Upper Tichborne Street, Leicester. 7:30pm. George Jelliss attended and reports that there were about 80 people there. The first part maintained that the 'Bottom Strip' for Christianity was a literal interpretation of 'Genesis'. The speaker advocated home and church schooling to avoid the worldly teachings of evolution which led to the social evils of abortion, homosexuality, and so on. The second part was a survey of strange animals and use of the argument from incredulity, that they must have been created and could not possibly have evolved. But the 'Best Evidence' against evolution was of course 'Genesis', being the word of God. There was no opportunity provided for a questions and answers session.

Sunday 4 March

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — John Florance Why Bother with Wagner?. The genial and popular anchor man from Radio Leicester, and frequent newspaper columnist, is deeply involved in music and a member of The Wagner Society. With the help of CDs and DVDs he presented a wide-ranging introduction to the man, his ideas and his music.

Monday 5 March

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Seventh meeting of an eight-part series. 7:30pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: Frank airing of differences an open discussion.

The first part of the discussion was on faith schools and religion in schools. We then broke into smaller groups to identify issues that needed attention. Time ran out and it is proposed to discuss these issues at the next, and last, meeting.

Wednesday 7 March

Harry Perry sends out a notice to all members of the Half-Year General Meeting to be held on 25th March. The agenda includes discussion of the Memorandum and Articles of Association for the transformation of Leicester Secular Society into a Company Limited by Guarantee. Details of the wording of these documents were included. The Committee is recommending the adoption of these changes.

Thursday 8 March

Allan Hayes attended the Community Development Foundation Conference, "Integration: If not now, then when? - the community approach" at the Business Design Centre, London; he spoke about the privileging of faiths and the side-lining of those outside the religions and distributed information about the Society.

Friday 9 March

Alan R. Pendragon, South Knighton, has a letter in Leicester Mercury:

IN BONDAGE TO BIBLICAL TRUTH? Michael Brucciani (Mailbox, March 2) claims that: "Since God is Truth, he cannot deceive. Therefore, all that he teaches has to be accepted, and what was true 1,000 years ago is true today."
I would like to hear his views on the following passage from the Bible. It is from when God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and concerns the ownership of slaves:
"Both thy bondsmen, and thy bondsmaids, which though shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondsmen and bondsmaids.
"Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
"And you shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever: but over your brethren the children of Israel ye shall not rule one over another with rigour." Lev 25: 44-46.
If Mr Brucciani believes what was true 1,000 years ago is true today, he must disagree with the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1833 and in the US in 1865, which goes against God's teachings about slavery in not only the above, but many other passages throughout the Bible.

Saturday 10 March

LSS Website: In the calendar, it is now possible to click on the Month to go to the start of the entries for that month, as well as clicking on each particular day in the month. Some buttons (marked ^) to return to the top have also been introduced.

Sunday 11 March

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Sonia Grossner A Composer Between Two Worlds. Sonia was born in England and studied in East Germany. She is one of those artists who composes music because, like many composers, she has to. A pupil of Gavin Bryars she tells of her struggle to gain acceptance and performances of her works. She will illustrate with excerpts from CDs of them.

Monday 12 March

Christian/Humanist Dialogue: Eighth meeting of an eight-part series. 7:30pm at Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road: The future - common ground and co-operation? an open discussion.

Wednesday 14 March

Allan Hayes has a letter in Leicester Mercury:

CHURCHES SHOULD BEAR COST: Paying for school transport (Mercury, March 7) is a national issue as well as a county one. Any policy should be equally fair to those who wish to send their children to a faith school and to those who wish to send them to a school that is not a faith school: neither the present policy nor the proposed one meets this criterion. Also, it is reasonable to require that religious bodies that wish to have control of some of our schools should make up for the extra expense incurred - shouldn't they be paying for the extra costs of transport? Just a thought - shouldn't the Church of England contribute to the expenses of people who do not want their children to go to the local CofE school? Of course, the underlying issues involve far more than charges for transport: should we have separate state funded religious schools at all? I think not. Schools should bring us together, they should be places where each individual and each culture can contribute, not places to emphasise difference and promote separate institutional and sectional interests.

Comment (online): So does that mean parents whose children go to Church schools, can opt out of paying taxes for state schools, because we DON'T use them????
T., Leicester.

Saturday 17 March

Leicester Secularist Are Muslims Afraid to Speak Out?

Sunday 18 March

Lecture Series: 6:30 pm — Alcoholics Anonymous - details to be arranged. The organisers of this group will explain their methods. This is in response to a resolution proposed at the AGM which questioned whether the methods were appropriate for a tenant of the Society.

Monday 19 March

Two letters of interest published in Leicester Mercury. One by George Jelliss: ARE MUSLIMS AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT? is a shortened version of the article in Leicester Secularist on 17th March. The other is by Mike Clutten:

Allan Hayes (Mailbox, March 14) is completely right about faith schools. They promote divisions in our society and should not be subsidised by taxpayers, but I am concerned over another instance where it seems that public money may be used to support religion.
In a recent Mercury, you informed us that the new Samworth Academy in Saffron Lane would be providing the premises for St Christopher's Church, currently in Marriott Road.
I would like to ask who is providing the funds for both the construction and maintenance of this?
I realise that a lot of the money is being provided by the businessman involved, but can we be assured that not one penny of taxpayers' money will be used to subsidise this church?
It is bad enough that religion is allowed to promote divisions in education without having churches paid for with our council tax.

Tuesday 20 March

Letter in Leicester Mercury by David Evans:

I wonder how many Mercury readers are aware that the Government has just published the draft Sexual Orientation Regulations, and has placed them on the "fast track" for approval by Parliament?
I am not clear why the Government feels these regulations are necessary but, even if they are, they seem to enable freedom for one group in our society while riding roughshod over others.
In particular difficulty could be those who hold a faith which teaches that homosexuality is morally wrong.
Anyone else is free to differ with that point of view, but no-one should be forced to compromise their conscience by a law.
I hope that there will be many representations made to MPs and peers that these regulations should be either scrapped or amended. [See 26 March for a response by Harry Perry.]

Thursday 22 March

7:30 pm at Secular Hall. IDEAS Group, first meeting. Harry Perry led a discussion on What Is Morality Anyway? For a report see the new IDEAS Group page.

Friday 23 March

Letter in Leicester Mercury by Canon Peter D. Taylor (Diocesan Director of Education).

I write in response to Mike Clutten ("Who's paying for this church?" Mailbox, March 19).
St Christopher's Church, in Marriot Road, is to relocate to the Samworth Enterprise Academy site.
The new church will physically be part of the new school building, but retain its own identity.
The capital cost to rebuild St Christopher's is being totally met by the Diocese of Leicester from the sale of the existing St Christopher's site. No funding whatsoever has come from the taxpayer.
The maintenance and running costs of the church, once it has opened, will be the sole responsibility of the local congregation and no public money whatsoever will be used for the church.
I reiterate: The academy is a "local school" for "local children".
The admissions policy is completely inclusive and has no selection criteria related to religion or ability. The school is there to serve the local community. [See 28 March for further on this subject by Allan Hayes.]

Sunday 25 March

The Half-Annual General Meeting of Leicester Secular Society: 6:30 pm — This is for Members and intending members only. Cheese and Wine will be available. Motions should be submitted by placing a copy on the notice-board in the hall, or by leaving a copy with the bookshop, or by giving a copy direct to an officer of the Society at least two weeks beforehand. Occasionally emergency motions may be discussed at discretion of the President.

The main item on the agenda (as announced in a circular to members on 7th March) is discussion of the Memorandum and Articles of Association for the transformation of Leicester Secular Society into a Company Limited by Guarantee. Details of the wording of these documents were circulated to members. The Committee is recommending the adoption of these changes.

Monday 26 March

Letter by H. Perry, Desford, in Leicester Mercury:

David Evans (Mailbox, March 20) protests that religious fundamentalists will have to abide by the sexual orientation regulations which ensure gays have the same rights as others.
His case is that nobody should be forced by law to act against their conscience.
Does that mean he will support me if I refuse to pay my BBC licence fee as it offends my conscience to have religion broadcast to the nation on a daily basis, or if I refuse to pay my taxes as my conscience is shocked by knowing that some of my money is being handed over to Christian and Islamic religious bodies to indoctrinate children in schools - even in new ones like the Samworth academy?
It is great news that the Lords have just voted to support the new anti-discrimination regulations.
But what a shame that the majority was diminished by the CofE's instructions to its 26 bishops to vote against the measures.
When they go, along with all the other state-aided promotion of religious mythology in this country, my conscience will be much happier - and I don't think I am alone.

Tuesday 27 March

Letter in Leicester Mercury by Francisca Martinez:

Two hundred years ago, this country abolished slavery, mostly due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, whose driving force and motivation stemmed from his Christian conviction. Last week, the House of Lords voted to endorse the Government's Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) 2007, marking the imposition of a new form of slavery.
The Government has failed to respect the consciences of citizens whose values are formed and shaped by their deeply-held religious beliefs, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish.
The result of the vote will mean that, rather than balancing rights, the right to live a homosexual lifestyle will trump the right to live a Christian lifestyle.
History will record that the vote marked the increased secularisation of Britain, confining faith to private thought, rather than public manifestation in works of service for the whole community.
I wonder what William Wilberforce would make of it all. [George Jelliss has sent a response to this.]

Wednesday 28 March

Lecture Series 7.30pm at Secular Hall: Maurizio Atzeni Workers Control in Factories. — Maurizio, who works at De Montfort University, has undertaken a great deal of first hand research into worker/boss relations: especially in car factories in Argentina, where he looked at what drives workers to take strike action. [Members on email were informed, via Michael Gerard on 27th March at 8pm, that the speaker was unable to attend, so the meeting would be cancelled. I did not go to the Hall myself, so haven't heard whether a discussion was held instead, if anyone turned up.]

Letter by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury:

Canon Peter Taylor tells us (Mailbox, March 23) that the diocese is paying for building a church as part of the Samworth Academy, but is it right that a "local school", with 90 per cent of its building costs and all salaries and wages paid for out of public funds, should include a Church of England parish church?
Is it right that 10 out of 16 governors are appointed by the bishop and Mr Samworth? And why does its agreement with the government say that religious education and acts of worship shall be "in accordance with the tenets and practices of the Church of England"?

Response (online): If you look back in History, a lot of children, whose families couldn't afford schooling, were educated by the Church. You're wingeing about paying for Church schools: myself, my children, my mother and grandmother all attended Catholic schools. Why should I have to pay for state schools through my taxes, as for 4 generations, my family has never used state schools.
Miss Taylor, Leicester.

Response (online): cant you just be happy that, from what l gather, is a top of the range school being built in that area? have to actually visited the other schools to see how under-equipt they are for modern learning and teaching? try and think about the children rather than just using the subject to hit the church.
jane mansfield (teacher), leicester [spelling and punctuation as on site].



Monday 2 April

Programme of events for April

LETTER: by F. J. Abraham, Leicester in Leicester Mercury:

Having read your articles about the environment, one element is always missing that is far more important than carbon emissions. Global warming is a fact. That greenhouse gases and carbon emissions are the cause of it is not certain. Cycles of warming and cooling of the planet have occurred over thousands of years. Mankind's emissions are only a portion of those that occur naturally in nature. The jury is still out.
Politicians have picked on this theory concerning carbon emissions to mask a far more serious environmental problem and its effect on our economy - the population explosion. In the 1930s, the world population was two billion, today it is more than six billion, a threefold increase in my lifetime. Deforestation, loss of wildlife, fisheries and habitats, generally denuding the planet of minerals and raw materials, has been the result. These are ongoing facts. However, the population is set to double in the next 30 to 40 years to 12 billion. What effect will this have on carbon emissions by the middle of the present century? This is not being discussed or debated, and conveniently is not being taken into consideration.
Cutting our emissions, which represents two per cent of the world's total, will have little effect on the massively increasing emissions from China, India and other Third World countries, plus the non-co-operation of the US. However, all politicians are jostling to board the green bandwagon, which they see as another option the public will tolerate for further taxation. Why is the population explosion being kept under wraps? This is because Britain's economy is based on a rising population. A diminishing population means the demand and price for housing will fall and the need to increase infrastructure and concrete over the countryside will also fall. Business and retailers would have to work on a reducing customer base. The birth rate of Britain's indigenous population has fallen from the 2.4 children necessary to maintain it to 1.7. This terrifies politicians.
Britain's population has now reached 60 million due to the huge influx of immigrants the Government is encouraging. This cannot be sustained. Could our Chancellor produce a buoyant economy with a reducing population? We do not need any drastic measures to reduce it. Controlling immigration to provide a measured population reduction year on year is essential for the long-term wellbeing of the nation. We cannot do anything about other countries, but allowing our population to fall naturally will improve every environmental issue. Not taking the population explosion into consideration shows the so-called environmentalists in their true colour, and it's not green.

Tuesday 3 April

LETTER: by Dave Mason, Birstall in Leicester Mercury:

I would like to congratulate Neil Garratt (Mailbox, March 14) on writing one of the very few sensible letters on religion that I have ever read. I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that some people spend too much time telling other people what they should do and not enough doing it themselves. Too often, a quote from a religious script is used to justify a terrible act or selfish standpoint. Historically, the Bible (in common with other texts) has been used to support slavery, war and torture. So, for me, someone telling me that the Bible says I should do some particular thing carries very little weight. I think the world would be a better place if people of faith used their lives to validate their religion instead of using their religion to validate their lives.

Thursday 5 April

BLOG: Leicester Secularist Fact and Fiction, Conscience and Prejudice by George Jelliss. Two unpublished letters to Leicester Mercury. But in fact one of them was published the next day:

Friday 6 April

LETTER by George Jelliss in Leicester Mercury:

Francisca Martinez (Mailbox, March 27) like many other people who have spoken against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, including the Archbishop of York, confuses "conscience" with "prejudice". Many people with religious convictions, including bishops, were supporters of slavery. Wilberforce and his colleagues were moved to reform because they became aware of the true facts about the conditions of the slave trade. Conscience based on outdated ideas is just prejudice.
Francisca asks what William Wilberforce would make of it all. If his views have not changed, he would undoubtedly be appalled, since he was the Mary Whitehouse of his day, having founded a Society for the Suppression of Vice. However, what he interpreted as "vice" to others often meant free speech, and led to persecution of people such as Tom Paine, who called for the Rights of Man, and Richard Carlile whose What Is Love? promoted sexual education.
But times have moved on and society is now more enlightened - thanks to reformers like Wilberforce, Paine and Carlile.

Saturday 7 April

LETTER: by John Lawrence in Leicester Mercury:

The topic of today reminds me that, in 1770s America, Thomas Paine spoke out and published against the enslavement of Africans, as well as the mistreatment of the native peoples. On several fronts, he was a champion of what we now endorse as human rights. Paine believed in a harmonious Creation, and put Newton's laws alongside the 19th Psalm. However, he could not believe that the Deity was the horrendous one portrayed in other books of the Bible. Indeed, particularly in those from Exodus to Chronicles (excepting Ruth), one can see what he meant.

LETTER: by Dr Gerald Danaher, Ravenstone in Leicester Mercury:

The taboo, or semi-taboo, or consensus which prevents the population "explosion" being debated in the national press is one of the most extraordinary examples of self-censorship in modern times. We are fortunate that the Leicester Mercury felt able to give prominence to F. J. Abraham's excellent letter with the heading "Population ignored in green debate" (Mailbox, April 2).
Population is ignored not only in the green debate, but also in the debates on the causes of extreme poverty, of conflict and of the migration of huge populations. Here are some figures from the United Nations Population Division's 2006 revision: Africa had a population of 224 million in 1950. This has now increased to 922 million and is likely to be 1,717 million in 2050. Pakistan's population was 37 million in 1950, it is 158 million now, and will be an estimated 250 million in 2050. The 1950 figures and the estimated 2050 figures for some countries in the news are as follows: Afghanistan, eight million, increasing to 70 million; Iraq, five million, increasing to 53 million; Saudi Arabia, three million, increasing to 38 million; Palestinian Territory, one million, rising to nine million; Somalia, two million, rising to 18 million. For the region as a whole, Africa plus the Middle East to Pakistan, the figures are 306 million in 1950 and will be an estimated 2,330 million in 2050. This regional population increase is one of the most amazing events in human history. It inevitably causes areas of extreme poverty and conflict, yet it interests almost no-one in the national media, or in politics, or in the groups which campaign about poverty and conflict in this region. A time is coming when this lack of interest will be recognised as a major mistake.

Tuesday 10 April

LETTER: by Mark W. Jacques in Leicester Mercury:

I watched the televised blessing Urbe et Orbi by Pope Benedict on Easter Sunday.
It was wonderful to see such a huge crowd in St Peter's Square, Rome, all visibly elated by the celebration of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with all that it brings for the salvation of mankind.
All this made me think that the inane ramblings of the Mercury's resident small-party of atheists, secularists and humanists are simply insignificant and quite pathetic. [See responses below on 16th April.]

Thursday 12 April

LETTER: by Alan R. Pendragon, Leicester in Leicester Mercury:

Much is written about the moral right that people of faith believe they have to express their hatred and disgust for homosexuals. These people believe that certain sections of the books that chronicle the supposed laws of God handed down to Moses are somehow indisputable and morally just. But when you think about it there is no real difference between Moses and Saddam Hussein. Both were in charge of armies and law enforcement officials who massacred not only the armed forces of their enemies but also innocent unarmed men, women, and children. Both enslaved and tortured whole sections of societies whose way of life they disagreed with, and both murdered individuals simply when it suited them. Both Moses and Saddam claimed to be acting according to the dictates of their faith, and if Moses were alive today he would be considered a religious extremist, guilty of crimes against humanity, and justifiably suffer the same fate as Saddam.
So if Christians, Muslims and Jews want everyone to live their lives as dictated by Moses, I challenge them to justify not only the actions of this despot but also of Jehovah, the deity he served who in my opinion was nothing more than an enslaving, arrogant, killer who thrived on torture, fear and vengeance.

Monday 16 April

LETTER: by R. L. Deacon, Leicester in Leicester Mercury:

It is a sure sign you are losing a debate when you have to resort to insults. Re: Mark W Jacques's letter about Easter (Mailbox, April 10).

LETTER: by Eleanor S. Davidson, Humanist celebrant, Leicester in Leicester Mercury:

How disappointing to read Mark W. Jacques's sad little epistle ("Wonderful celebration of Easter", Mailbox, April 10). One wonders why he feels the need to encourage spiritual apartheid, when the majority of humanists and secularists in our Leicester community are embracing equality and diversity, celebrating difference, but recognising that the religious and the secular have much in common. Not one of us is separate and independent. Though some of the links are strong and some are tenuous, each of us is joined to the other by kinship, love, friendship, by living in the same neighbourhood or simply by our own common humanity.

Wednesday 18 April

PROGRAMME: Our printed programme for the April - July session was circulated. This will be an exceptionally busy session, with two meetings almost every week. The Sunday series has been organised by Michael Gerard and most of the mid-week series by Allan Hayes. Plus, there is the IDEAS Group meeting each month, and some film shows about Palestine. [NOTE According to my information there is also a talk on Sunday 24th June 6:30pm. by Ned Newitt on Pages from the Leicester Secular Society Scrapbook — a photographic exhibition using material from the Secular Society Archive., which will be combined with an exhibition. This has apparently been left off due to some confusion about the date with the organisers.]

Thursday 19 April

MEETING: 7:30 pm at Secular Hall. IDEAS Group, second meeting. George Jelliss introduced a debate on Should we be Beastly to Believers?. Attendance (11) was good, though all male. We tried out a confrontational layout, with two parallel rows of seats (pros and cons), but ended up with a more circular discussion. I think we did come to a general agreement that there was a case for being far less respectful and polite, particularly to religious authority figures. John Cook agreed to introduce the next meeting, arguing the case for lifelong Education.

Saturday 21 April

Allan Hayes spoke against faith schools to a Sea of Faith meeting in Bradford.

Sunday 22 April

REGULAR PROGRAMME: 7:00pm. — David Payne: More of David's Good Drinking Wines. Last year David Payne, secretary of The Grand Union Wine Society, came to us with a selection of his favourite tipples. It was such a good evening we've asked him back. Members free - others £10.00. Numbers limited to 30. [I presume this went of as planned?]

Monday 23 April

BLOG: Leicester Secularist Open Letter to Archbishop Sentamu, by George Jelliss, responding to two statements in his speech to the House of Lords.

Tuesday 24 April

NEWS ITEM in Leicester Mercury, by Ian Wishart, Education Correspondent:

The UK's first state Hindu secondary school is being planned for Leicester, it has been revealed. A London-based charitable organisation has been in discussions with education bosses in the city about a proposal for a school to take pupils from the age of three to 18. The organisation, the I-Foundation, is to hold public consultation meetings next month, and claims there is widespread support for such a school within the Hindu community.
If the school is given the go-ahead - and it would need support from Leicester City Council and money from the Government - it would join the Madani High School and the Samworth Enterprise Academy, as two new state schools backed by religious organisations, which open in the city in September. The backers of the Hindu school said they would work to minimise any negative impact on the city's current schools, particularly Rushey Mead and Soar Valley schools, where more than half the number of students are Hindu.
Pradip Gajjar, a director of I-Foundation, which is opening the country's first state Hindu primary school in London next year, said: "Hindu pupils are high up in school league tables so there is a definite need and an ethic to do well. Hindus have become part of the British fabric and now it is time to invest in education. We want to work with the other schools in Leicester because we're very sensitive to the impact we have. That's why we'll have a patient strategy. We won't have 700 children waiting at the school gate on the first day, it will evolve gradually."
He said the school would also be open to students of other faiths and would educate pupils in multiculturalism and community cohesion.
City education spokesman Coun Hussein Suleman said: "I have no problem with this. The I-Foundation has put forward its business plan. We don't have a location identified yet, so we don't need to be too worried at this stage about what impact it may or may not have. I'm keen to work with them to investigate all routes and channels to make this happen."
Leicester is home to about 41,000 Hindus and, at almost 15 per cent, is the second largest religious group in the city. A spokesman for Leicester City Council said: "We are interested to learn of this initiative and in seeing how Leicester people respond to it. We will be making our own comments on the proposal once we have had an opportunity to properly consider it. Under current legislation, organisations such as the I-Foundation may bring forward proposals to establish a new school at any time."
Allan Hayes, a humanist who campaigned against faith schools in Leicester because he feared the city would become divided along religious lines, said he was "very sad". He said: "It's important for us all now to understand what's taking place. It's beneficial to have a school system that unites people rather than separates them, and we should be working towards achieving that. I find this a very worrying development for Leicester."

COMMENT (ONLINE) by Ian Leaver, Rushey Mead:
Absolutely crazy is the only interpretation that can be placed on the city council's reported decision to investigate the setting up of a new Hindu City Academy in the Belgrave/Rushey Mead area of the city. Cllr Hussain Suleman's attitude when he says, "I have no problem with this" is a disgrace and an insult to the people of the city and to the teachers currently working in that part of the city. In this month's elections we have BNP candidates whose evil doctrine thrives on division and mistrust. Religious schools, be they Church of England (The Samworth Academy), Muslim (The Madani School) or Hindu will serve to divide communities and indoctrinate as well as undermining the work that is done to break down ethnic differences in our comprehensive and Primary Schools.

Wednesday 25 April

Development Group show Judith Carstairs (City Conservation Officer) and Ann Bond (English Heritage) around the Hall. They approve the main structural changes proposed in the feasibility study.

Saturday 28 April

LETTER: by Ash Kotecha, Groby in Leicester Mercury:

Why does every faith or religion have to have its own school?
I just don't understand why segregation based on faith or religion is allowed in this country for schools and part-funded by Government or council.
I have no objection to any section of the community having their own type of school (based on sex, faith, religion, looks etc) but please fund the education yourself and stop expecting society to pay for your separatist way.

Sunday 29 April

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: Lyn Hurst The Spanish Civil War Commemorated. 2006 was the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It was a confrontation between the forces of Fascism and Republicanism. General Franco's fascists, supported by Germany and Italy won the war and World War ll was the result. Thousands from around the world flocked to the republicans, joining the International Brigades. Every year a dwindling number of 'Brigaders' and a growing band of supporters commemorate the war, both in Spain and in their own countries. Our President went to Spain for the seventieth anniversary and showed us what he found, illustrated with many photographs.

Monday 30 April

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: Dave Hall The Dilemma of a University. Dave Hall was appointed Registrar of Leicester University in 2006, his thought-provoking and inspiring introductory address to staff may be read here. He describes his talk as "a university manager's view of how the idea of a university can survive the challenges of the market, on one hand, and the resurgence of faith on the other".



Programme of events for May

Tuesday 1 May

LETTER: by Sheila Lock, director, Children and Young People's Services, Leicester City Council in Leicester Mercury:

A number of people have contacted me about your article "Hindu secondary could be the first in UK" (Mercury, April 25), so I thought it might be helpful to explain more of the background to this proposition.
The I-Foundation wishes to establish a voluntary aided (VA) Hindu faith school within the city, to serve its Hindu communities and others who wish to be educated in accordance with Hindu values.
Under current legislation, any organisation can bring forward proposals to establish a VA school. The running costs of such schools are met by their local authorities just like any other maintained school. In VA schools, however, the governing body is responsible for the provision of school buildings and their external maintenance. While VA schools have greater flexibility in their religious education and worship, they are still required to deliver the national curriculum.
Any proposal to establish a new VA school must meet a clear business/community need and must be supported by central Government. The Government recommends that any VA school promoter should first consult the public on its proposal to gauge the level of support for it. It needs to do this before starting any statutory process. This is what the I-Foundation is doing and, as such, their proposition is at an early stage.
The law has changed. It is my understanding that from today, any VA school promoter will need to gain Government approval before starting the formal process to build a new school, and to be designated as a faith school. Current guidance suggests that any decision would most likely be made by a future Cabinet of the city council.
Of the 21,000 state schools in England, over 30 per cent have a religious character. The majority of these are associated with the major Christian denominations. The promotion by the I-Foundation of a VA Hindu faith school open to students of other faiths, reflects recent Government thinking about valuing our cultural diversity and promoting community cohesion. This consultation provides an opportunity for Leicester people to say what they think about this, and I will be interested to learn their views. When the consultation is finished we can look at what is in the best interests of our young people, their families and Leicester as a whole.

Thursday 3 May

LETTER: by H. D. Perry in The Independent:

Thomas Sutcliffe's warning (1st May 2007) not to take our secular society for granted is timely. National and local secularist groups (like ours here in Leicester) have experienced recent growth but we must not ignore the fact that the Blair government's attempt to revive religious influence through "faith" schools will bear the fruit of separatism and conflict in years to come. These religious academies are being set up by the dozen, governed by Boards packed with sectarian nominees and staffed by teachers who must publicly profess their alleigance to the faith in order to get a job. Few believe that Brown will be any different in respect of this dreadful policy. He has, after all, been providing the public funding (that's our money, folks) to make it all possible.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe has emboldened the Catholic church enough to make public demands on politicians over gay rights. They have made it clear that they will use their influence over Catholic voters to punish the Labour Party at the polls for pushing through the gay rights regulations.
The BBC is falling over itself to give us the religious perspective on just about anything you care to mention. People now are as likely to be described by their notional religious affiliation as by any other of their alignments. To 'balance' the increasing religiosity of the BBC we are told that the Today programme is actually considering giving a Humanist an occasional slot on "Thought For the Day"!
Even ostensibly secular institutions like our national press (including the Independent) has been intimidated by the threat of Islamist violence from publishing the details of a major news story on the Mohammed cartoons.
Meanwhile, there are rumblings from within Islam for the "right" to use Sharia law courts to deal with Muslim family issues. This would lock Muslim women and children into an oppressive patriarchal system right here in the UK from which attempted escape would be punishable by beatings and death.
British secularists, like their Turkish counterparts, need to awaken from the complacency engendered by generations of secular progress to challenge the growth of religious influence before it is too late. Be in no doubt, despite their competing and contradictory claims there is a cynical religious alliance emerging which is aiming to limit freedom and impose bizarre doctrines on the rest of us. Secularists of all shades need to speak and act to oppose these trends before it is too late.

LETTER: by Sakarlal Gajjar, representative of Hindu faith, Leicester City Council Education Admission Forum in Leicester Mercury:

Inspired by the Government White paper, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness with the support of Hindu organisations is negotiating with the Government to set up a Hindu Academy in Leicester and Manchester. There are several state-funded Muslim schools and academies, alongside Jewish, Anglican and Roman Catholic schools, and they are all doing very well. There are 700,000 Hindus (about 67,000 in Leicester alone). Parents are concerned about their children losing touch with their culture and religion. Many feel their children's education should also have a firm grounding in their spiritual and cultural values. Since the cut in funding of Gujarati and the other language classes, it has become difficult for the children to communicate with their parents, grandparents and relatives here and abroad. In keeping with Hindu tradition, such schools will be centres of excellence. They will be dedicated to develop each child's full potential, spiritually, morally and academically. It's vision is to deliver a high standard of education and school discipline within a spiritual atmosphere.
According to Education Secretary Alan Johnson, faith schools play an important part in building understanding and tolerance, and it will be a new duty of the governing bodies to promote community cohesion. At present, state schools are riddled with anti-social behaviour, an anti-learning culture, bullying, racism, and poor performance. It is time that the mostly assimilating and friendly Hindu population had a school of their own faith to make their children good British citizens. The fear of separatism and dividing Leicester along religious lines is unfounded as we have already got RC and C of E schools, which are delivering good education and value for money. So the Hindu community should be given the same opportunity.

COMMENT (ONLINE) by Sue Boyd, Leicester: I've said this before, and I will undoubtedly say it again: the only place for ANY religion in schools is in an RE lesson, where children learn about ALL religions. Does it not occur to you that there would be perhaps more resources for state schools if government funding was withdrawn from religious schools? I am, and will remain, firmly opposed to any school that is faith based. Schools are for education, not religion; that is something to be taught at home.

Friday 4 May

NEWS ITEM in Leicester Mercury, by Ian Wishart, Education Correspondent:

Leicester's longest-serving secondary school head teacher says he fears the introduction of state-funded faith schools in the city could lead to segregation. Gary Coleby, who has been principal of Crown Hills Community College for the past 16 years, said he was worried faith schools could threaten work to raise standards and promote multiculturalism.
Leicester's first Muslim state school, Madani High, is due to open in September and consultation has just begun on plans for a Hindu school.
Mr Coleby, who is retiring this summer, said the city had made great strides in promoting multiculturalism. He said: "We've got really good multi-faith schools where people are achieving great things and there's nothing better for getting rid of fears of different communities than actually knowing people. Even though everyone who sets up a faith school would do it for the best of intentions, the unintended consequence could be segregation. There are other places in the city where people can develop their faith, you don't need to be with other people of the same faith all the time. That's a sad indictment of religion if that's what religion means."
Mr Coleby who chairs the Education Improvement Partnership, which includes all secondary and special school heads, said the result would be an education system that was "at best, a bit disjointed, at worst, racially tense." He added: "The logical consequence would be to have a Polish school, a Sikh school, a Mormon school. It's something where the intention is good but the reality is dangerous. My view is that ideally there would be no faith schools. I'm not arguing to get rid of the ones that already exist. Catholic schools in Leicester are broad and don't just take Catholic children."
Sakarlal Gajjar, a representative of the Hindu faith on Leicester's school admission forum, backs the planned Hindu state school in the city and said every religion should be able to educate children in the state sector. He said: "There has been nothing wrong with Catholics, Anglican, Sikhs, Muslims opening the schools. Everyone should be given an opportunity. The fear that faith schools bring about separatism is completely unfounded and I don't think they will impact adversely on other schools. On the contrary, it's about the balance of choice."
Coun Hussein Suleman, education spokesman for Leicester City Council and governor of the Madani High School, said: "I have yet to find any solid evidence that proves the theory that faith schools will cause segregation or diminish standards. I think that's an unfair criticism."

Saturday 5 May

LETTER by Mike Clutten in Leicester Mercury: [This is part of extensive correspondence in the paper following a news item in the Daily Mail about Lutterworth Grammar School, reported in the Mercury on 1st and 3rd May. This letter expresses what is probably the mainstream secular view.]

I expect you will receive a lot of comments like that from the anonymous 38-year-old mother deploring the fact that teenage girls can get the morning-after pill at school (Mercury, May 1). Are we to assume that she would rather that her daughter became pregnant?
Teenagers are going to have sex whether adults like it or not (they did in my day, many decades back) and the reason that they have so many unwanted pregnancies is because our enlightened education system does not offer them adequate sex education, including effective methods of birth control.
I wonder how many readers saw a recent Channel 4 programme in which teenagers from this country went to Holland to see how 11-year-olds were given contraceptive advice, including the virtues of abstinence.
The shaming thing was that the British teenagers giggled like infants while the Dutch children took the matter seriously, with the result that their teenage pregnancy rates are low while ours are the highest in Western Europe.
Parents do not like to think of their children growing up and becoming sexual beings but it is a fact of life and they will have to accept it and until they do and insist that sex education is taught properly in schools (and I mean in junior schools as well) teenage pregnancy results will continue to rise.
Until that happens Mr de Middelaer [the school head] deserves to be congratulated for taking the responsible attitude that he has done.
By the way, if one looks at his figures one assumes that there are 1,000 girls at his school so to give out 345 pills in four years is a pretty small figure and it doesn't sound as if anything surprising is happening. If there had been 345 teenage pregnancies in the Lutterworth area in that time there would have been grounds for serious concern.
Unofficial pressure groups like Family and Youth Concern are going to preach abstinence which just won't work on its own and makes me wonder just how much they know about normal teenagers. Eddie de Middelaer obviously does know and understand them and the people of Lutterworth should be grateful that they have such a decisive and knowledgeable man in charge of their local school.

[Other correspondence included: 8th May: SEX-ED POLICY IS BLATANTLY AMORAL by Michael Brucciani ending: "There is no such person as an unwanted baby. The cure for unwanted pregnancies is chastity. It is a moral problem, not one of ignorance. It is a matter of the will controlling the passions." WE BACK THE HEAD - PUPILS by Tim Nutt, who comments that pressure groups are promoting the story, and one "charity" has published the head's home address leading to fears of personal attacks. WOULD PEOPLE PREFER TO HAVE 345 UNWANTED PREGNANCIES? by Amy Stewart: "If the girls did not get the morning-after pill from the nurse they would go to a chemist or GP ..." WHO ARE THE REAL VICTIMS? by David Evans: "the victims are the pupils, who ... are not getting firm moral teaching."]

Sunday 6 May

Allan Hayes showed a group from the Leicester Victorian Society around the Hall.

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: Yvan Tardy The Situationist International. What is it?. Yvan Tardy (Senior Lecturer in French, De Montfort University) has been making a close study of this political group for years. Were they just an off-the-wall group of dafties, or had they invented a serious, but entertaining way to challenge capitalist and authoritarian ways of running society? Among other things we learnt that they were a group of film-makers and artists in the dadaist mould, as well as anarchistic activists, and were influential in the 1968 disturbances in France, but disbanded in 1972. One of the main protagonists was Guy Debord. It also had connections with the poseurs of the London Psychogeographical Association.

Tuesday 8 May

LETTER by Wilfred Gaunt in Leicester Mercury in response to the "Warning on faith schools" on 4th May.

Eight or nine years ago I got myself into serious trouble with the National Secular Society because, at that time, the first Islamic schools were lobbying for state funding; and, at the society's annual general meeting, a motion was put forward opposing this, with mine being the only vote against.
While the government funds any faith school, then it must, in fairness, fund all denominations. However, this does not mean that I agree with the policy.
In this country, Government-funded services are generally provided to all without distinction as to sex, race, religion or class. Why should the provision of general education be any different? Does two plus two equal something different from four dependent on one's faith?
Councillor Hussein Suleman seeks solid evidence that faith schools are divisive. He needs look no further than the wals in Belfast and Jerusalem. Doubtless the millions of rotted corpses following the partition of the Indian subcontinent, and the ashes of German concentration -camp victims are not solid enough to count as evidence for him.
In his book The Islamist, Ed Hussain talks of being taught that those not of his faith were sub-human. This, of course, is a feature of all faiths; claiming, as they do, to have some privileged relationship to the universe's creator above all others.
The near annihilation of the indigenous populations of the Americas, and the slave trade in black Africans, illustrates the result of this attitude when taught to children who have no contact with those outside their closed communities.

LETTER by George Jelliss in Leicester Mercury also in response to the "Warning on faith schools".

I would go further than Gary Coleby argues (Mercury May 4) and call for all religious organisations to be disqualified from educational provision. The continued involvement of the Church of England and the Roman Catholics in running schools, paid for out of the public purse, is an anachronism in the 21st century.
Schools should be funded by the state for the benefit of all young people, whatever the beliefs of their parents, and run by professional educationists. Certainly the main religions and cultural customs within the area should be taught about, though not proselytised. In place of religious education pupils should be taught the basics of scientific method and logical thinking, together with rational ethical principles.
Morning assemblies should no longer have to be of a religious character, but simply a means of giving the pupils a sense of community and involvement.

[I believe a number of other letters were sent by our members, but these are the only two I have seen published so far. There was also a "First Person" column by Peter Flack: "Should We Ban Religions From Running Schools?"]

Wednesday 9 May

Allan Hayes talked to Leicestershire NUT about faith schools

Thursday 10th May

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm Rose Panamudipo Action for Refugees. Rose Panamudipo is a qualified lawyer, originally from the Congo. She has lived in this country for several years and works with Refugee Action in Leicester, running training courses and coordinating a mentoring project in which volunteers help and befriend individual refugees. She will be able to tell us about asylum seekers and the difficulties they face.

Sunday 13th May

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: 6:30pm Ross Longhurst The Death of Marxism. Ross Longhurst again brings his sights to bear on a sacred cow of political thought. There will be those who disagree with him wholeheartedly. This should make for a lively evening. Ross is well known for his deeply thought-provoking talks to the Society.

Tuesday 15 May

Allan Hayes speaks at public meeting on proposal for a Hindu school.

LETTER by Terry Kirby, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

FORCE FOR GOOD IN EDUCATION /// I am writing in defence of Catholic schools.
Catholic schools not only teach the Christian faith (which, by the way, promotes true love of all our fellow human beings), they also take many non-Catholic pupils, and are generally much more "inclusive" than most of their opponents would have us believe. /// State schools, while undoubtedly well meaning ... do not teach their pupils about the loving God who died for our sins, rose again on Easter Sunday, and will look after us if only we will turn to him regularly.
This is infinitely better for our young people than the type of empty, meaningless rhetoric promoted by George Jelliss (Mailbox, May 8) and others.
ONLINE COMMENT: I am sick of all these "ANTI RELIGION" people, ban religion, ban religious schools...etc. What harm are we doing to you??? Are we asking for the ban of secularism, athieism? No. Are we forcing our religious views on you? No. So stop FORCING your views on us, who wish to bring our children up Catholic. Who here are the prejudiced ones??? Mrs T, Leicester
ONLINE COMMENT: for the sake of future generations, there should be no 'faith' schools anywhere and children should learn about all religions in their RE lessons. if you want to indoctrinate your children in your own home, that is your right, but faith schools of any kind are divisive and should be abolished. Sue Boyd, Leicester

LETTER by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury.

We should heed the sincere concerns of someone with the experience and commitment of Mr Coleby (Mercury, May 4). Being involved in religious education in Leicester community schools over several years, I also see the care with which they meet the religious and cultural concerns of parents. We must support them and resist policies that will damage them and divide us.
It is for people from all backgrounds, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Humanist and those who just do not bother about religion, to join in finding a way to bring up our children that brings them and us together. And common sense shows that we have to face up to the root issue of Catholic and Anglican schools. It is right that we should, since these schools are paid for almost entirely out of taxes (all wages and salaries and at least 90 per cent, often more, of any building expenses). They are not gifts from the churches, they are state schools leased to the churches.
It is true, as Mr Coleby says, that Leicester Catholic schools do not take just Catholic children, but let's look at the figures: in the primary schools, 63 per cent of the pupils are Catholic (90 per cent are Christian); in the secondary schools, the figures are 79 per cent (96 per cent) - and being a baptised Catholic is a leading criterion for admission.
In 2001, the Church of England set out its policy of using its schools to make up for small congregations and gain converts in the Dearing Report, The Way Forward. But is its way the right way forward?

LETTER by Dr H. D. Vyas, Gujarat Hindu Association, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

HINDU SCHOOL DEFENDED /// Every community has a right to adopt and follow their beliefs as they wish and there is nothing wrong with it. Leicester has a multi-racial society with varied faiths and traditions. We are living in peace and harmony. /// There are, as we are informed, more than 4,000 Christian schools and more than 200 Muslim schools in the country. What is wrong with the concept of having a Hindu school? Why should we object if parents wish their children to learn something about the rich Sanskrit Vedic scriptures of India? /// There is Vedic verse in Sanskrit which states "May we work together in peace and harmony and enjoy the fruits of our efforts by sharing with others. May we not be jealous of others' achievements. May peace prevail on earth". What a beautiful thought to think about and cater for! Does it connote any racism or prejudice?
ONLINE COMMENTS by Allan Hayes and Neil Garratt were later published as letters (see 21st May).

Thursday 17 May 7:30pm

IDEAS Group meeting. John Cook introduced a disussion on Education - Empowerment or Indoctrination?.

Friday 18 May

Allan Hayes attends meeting on Heritage Open Days.

Saturday 19 May

BLOG: Leicester Secularist Defending Freethought by George Jelliss, responding to an article "freethinking ruins all things".

Sunday 20 May

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: Mark Webber NATO - Where is it coming from? Where is it? And where is it going? Mark Webber is a lecturer and researcher from Loughborough University. [Sorry I wasn't able to attend. Can anyone report on it?]

Monday 21 May

There was another whole batch of letters in Leicester Mercury about faith schools (unfortunately I missed buying the paper that day so missed them). They are copied here from the LM site:

LETTER by Mark W Jacques, Quorn.

There has been considerable hostile comment in these pages of late concerning Catholic and other religion-based schools. In the 1960s, I taught at a Catholic school in Nottingham and wrote, for the school magazine, an article on the reasons for the existence of Catholic schools. I concluded as follows: "Catholics believe that a knowledge and practice of their faith is the way to secure eternal salvation, which is man's most important task on earth". This is true in all ages.
Behind the criticism of religious schools lies the dangerous, but prevalent, philosophy of humanism, or secularism, which is arrogance at its worst, as it seeks to put human plan above the divine plan.
When we read that a respected head teacher is critical of such schools, this merely illustrates how humanists have secured positions of authority.
In fact, secularism is behind many of the ills in this country today, as its proponents seek to undermine the deep Christian foundation of this once-great nation.
ONLINE COMMENT: Mark W Jacques makes the common mistake of those who have a faith in a supreme being, he thinks we all share it. I respect his belief, but he has no right to impose it on me. The world would be a much better place if he and others accepted this. Tony Church, Western Park.
ONLINE COMMENT: What an arrogant and insulting view. I have no religious faith and, while not perfect, certainly do not think that I contribute excessively to this country's ills. In my 50 years my only brush with the law is a single parking ticket (in 1982). I have made the most of the educational opportunities available and think that I contribute in a positive way life in this country. You say that your most important task is to "secure eternal salvation". Well, many of the rest of us believe that our greatest task is to work toward understanding, security and health here on this planet. And all of this without fighting over whose imaginary god is best! Neil, Leicester.
ONLINE COMMENT: This letter illustrates exactly why faith Schools are such a bad idea. The indoctrination of young minds by arrogant bigots determined to perpetuate beliefs that have already caused so much misery in the workd. The belief that the writer has that secularism is behind many of the ills of this country just goes to prove that organised religion doesn't have a monopoly on them. Mick Faver, Leicester.

LETTER by Allan Hayes, Leicester.

Dr Vyas (Mailbox, May 15) is right to take pride in his culture, but are separate schools needed for it to be passed on? And what better way of sharing with others than having our children grow up together? The argument that other religions have their own schools is understandable, but where does it lead? There is a better way. We must put living together in trust and co-operation as our top priority. We need to reverse this creeping division.
I take pride in being a humanist. We try to provide a voice for those who do not belong to the traditional religions. We oppose faith schools, but we do not ask for humanist schools. Rather, we co-operate with others in improving religious education and understanding in our community schools.

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester.

Terry Kirby (Mailbox, May 15) describes my call for teaching of the basics of clear thinking "empty, meaningless rhetoric".
Instead, he wants to teach pupils mind-fuddling myths involving supernatural beings, resurrection of the dead, sinfulness of many human pleasures, salvation of those capable of belief in such absurdities, and, by implication, a dire fate for unbelievers.
It's time to get all these nonsense-mongers out of our schools.
Perhaps then the standards of teaching English, maths and science, as reported in your Opinion column on the same page, could be much improved.

LETTER by Neil Garratt, Loughborough.

From my point of view, all state education should be secular. If parents want their children to go to faith schools, they should opt out of paying into the state system with a tax rebate. They can then pay up front, just like those who pay for their children to go to good private schools. Why not extend the notion to political schools, where history, economics etc are given a specific emphasis? Perhaps we covertly already have such a system? Did we always believe what we are taught in school?

LETTER by Mike Clutten, Leicester.

I hope that the county authorities will not* take any account of the 3,374 signatures on the petition sent to try and persuade them to stop subsidising families who chose to send their children long distances to faith schools at taxpayers' expense. We have to ask why people who choose to send their children to separate schools should expect council taxpayers to pick up the bill to get them there, a bill that apparently comes to almost a million pounds a year? [*Is this a misprint?]

Tuesday 22 May

Allan Hayes attends Comprehansive Futures Parliamentary seminar on faith schools and opposes Rev Jan Ainsworth, Church of England Chief Education Officer over faith schools.

NEW WEBSITE: Our member Wilfred Gaunt has set up a website for his proposed new political party: The Constitutional Reform Party. I've put a link to it in the Links/Forums section of our site.

Wednesday 23 May

POSTER: I noticed today that there are stickers with the wording "Muslims arise against British Oppression" all around Highfields. It is a call for a demonstration in London on 15th June. The posters give the link: britishoppression.com. The links to "more information" on the site don't seem to work. I haven't seen anything in the local press about it. Isn't this rather worrying? Is it known what local people are organising it? [I've sent details to the Leicester Mercury newsdesk and to Leicester local Radio.]

Thursday 24 May

Allan Hayes speaks at public meeting on proposal for a Hindu school in Leicester.

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm. David Johnson Slavery - the local connection, and local opposition to it. David Johnson, former history lecturer at Leicester University has written and lectured extensively on this shameful area of our history. This is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain (but not of slavery itself). What did landlocked Leicester have to do with it?

Friday 25 May

LETTER by Denise Pfeiffer, Leicester.

Mike Clutten (Mailbox, May 5) gives no credit to teenagers by suggesting that they are "going to have sex whether adults like it or not" just because that's what (he supposes) they did in his day. His suggestions that yet more explicit and comprehensive sex education is necessary belies belief, especially since he quite ignorantly suggests Holland's more open approach to sex has resulted in fewer teenage pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections because of its stance on sex education alone. In fact, experts (which Davina McCall is not) will tell you that Holland's low rate of STIs and teen pregnancies is due to a multitude of factors, in particular the fact that they place a much stronger emphasis on the family unit which in turn gives children and teens a stability that is not always apparent on this side of the pond.
Mr Clutten is totally wrong to suggest that children should be taught about such matters in junior school. Giving out the morning-after pill in schools is highly irresponsible and this laissez faire approach will serve to make the problems worse. What we surely need is more support for celibates of all ages, less pressure to have sex and a better view of teenagers, many of whom are much more responsible than Mr Clutten gives them credit for.
ONLINE COMMENT: The following UNESCO report on the Dutch approach supports Mike Clutten's position. Openess, information and regarding our children as responsible are emphasised. UNESCO. Allan Hayes, Leicester.

Saturday 26 May

LETTER by Tony Church, Western Park.

Mark W Jacques ("Secular danger to our nation", Mailbox, May 21) makes the common mistake of those who have a faith in a supreme being - he thinks we all share it.
I respect his belief, but he has no right to impose it on me. The world would be a much better place if he and others accepted this.

LETTER by Eric M Singer, Wigston.

The idea of "faith schools" must be to enable the teaching of the state school curriculum with a faith bias. There may also be, added to this, a teaching of concepts leading to the formation of a "world view" in keeping with their particular faith. These concepts may be alien to the majority of our society. It would seem to me that this is likely to cause misunderstanding between people, who have isolated tuition and little understanding of our society and its laws and structures. This is particularly the case when a faith's teaching is in conflict with the basis of our current society with its historical roots in a form of Christian faith and now reflecting the current atheistic liberalistic-based thinking.
Do we want to allow teaching in faith schools, which cannot countenance the evolutionary theory as fact, and teaches that God created human beings from the dust of the Earth, making them something special, rather than a chemical accident in primeval ooze. This would be a Christian school (not an Anglican one, though). Our society is based on atheistic scientific thinking. Children need to be uniformly taught atheistic science-based thinking to give them a base to form a useful part of society. Faith should not be taught in schools, but within the confines of the organisation of the faith.
School should be for academic and employment-related teaching, although there must be teaching on social interaction, behaviour, and the norms and values shared in our society - basically citizenship. These are essentials for our children.

Sunday 27 May. NO MEETING (information advised 22 May).

Monday 28 May

LETTER by Frank Evans, Enderby.

It is futile to try and save the planet - the prophesies in the Holy Bible foretell the end of this world. In the Second Letter of Saint Peter, chapter 3, verse 10, we read: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."

Tuesday 29 May

LETTER by Mick Faver Leicester.

Mark Jacques' letter "Secular danger to our nation" (Mailbox, may 21) illustrates exactly why faith schools are such a bad idea - because they involve the indoctrination of young minds by people determined to perpetuate beliefs that have caused so much misery in the world. The belief that the writer has that secularism is behind many of the ills of this country just goes to prove that organised religion doesn't have a monopoly on them.



Programme of events for June

Friday 1 June

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm. Louise Wells Action on Homelessness. Louise Wells works for Leicestershire Cares, an initiative of Business in the Community. She is the coordinator of a programme, "Business Action on Homelessness", which is just starting up in Leicestershire, having been operating since 1998 in a number of other cities, with the aim of helping homeless people to get back into work. [AH]]

CREATIONIST SPEAKER: 7:30pm. Those who are interested in countering creationism may like to know that Dr Robin Greer of Answers in Genesis is due to speak at Trinity Life Church this evening.

Saturday 2 June

WEBSITE: I'm afraid I didn't get to either of the meetings yesterday because I got too engrossed in preparing some pages on Historical Chronology for the Science pages on our website. The pages start here: The Nine Ages of History. There's a lot more work to do on this of course. If anyone knows important links that ought to be included please let me know. I would also be interested in finding a reliable Biblical Chronology that places characters like Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, and suchlike in a reliable historical setting (even if their doings are largely mythical). The best one I've found so far for instance gives Isaac dates that mean he lived to the age of 146, which I'm disinclined to think likely.

Monday 4 June

LETTER by David M. Adams, Oadby, in Leicester Mercury.

In calling for schools to teach "atheistic science-based thinking", Eric M Singer (Mailbox, May 25) confuses two issues. The term "atheistic science-based thinking" is meaningless. The laws of mathematics and science do not depend, for their use, upon any faith view. It is only in the evolution-versus-creation debate that faith issues arise, and only then because of the complexity of the science involved.
It is a national tragedy that post-war educationalists have shifted school science teaching away from concentration on the solid factual basics of chemistry, physics and biology, to the present mish-mash of dumbed-down general science syllabuses that deal as much with opinion and current bandwagons as with facts. The result of this arrogant sociological demolition of a once-world-class science teaching base is seen in drastically reduced demand for university courses in the basic sciences. This leads to a decline in our world scientific status, and also our national prosperity.
The origins of these long-term sociological manipulations of school science syllabuses lie in unaccountable quangos and politically-motivated think-tanks that seem also to have a common motivation in promoting atheism. Atheism is as much a faith-based world-view as is Christianity. It replaces trust in God with trust in man and puts man-centred thinking in the place of God-centred thinking. It replaces absolute truth with individual choice and leaves confusion in the place where a personal relationship with the living God gives stability, direction and purpose. Some improvement!
I write as a research scientist and a Christian.
ONLINE COMMENT: As an atheist, I agree with the writer that the term "atheistic science-based thinking" is a confusion. Just "evidence-based thinking" is sufficient. But he is wrong to say that Atheism is "faith-based". If I could be shown convincing evidence for belief in some form of god I would become a believer. Some religious believers seem to think that they have such evidence, but it is usually in the form of subjective experience, not available to others. And there are so many different forms of religion, which shows that it is not objective. George Jelliss, Leicester.
ONLINE COMMENT: What absolute rubbish, atheism is absence of belief in a supernatural being. Trying to conflate atheism as a 'faith' based position is arrant nonsense and just the latest desperate tactic of belivers in superstitions and fairy tales. Nick, Leicester.

Tuesday 5 June

LETTER by Alan R. Pendragon, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

Frank Evans (Mailbox, May 28) points out how futile it is to try to save the planet, as the Bible says in Peter's 2nd Letter, 3, v 10: "...the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up".
Mr Evans is quite correct. This is exactly what will happen to the earth, but neither he nor I will ever witness it, because it will not happen until at least a thousand million years' time, at which point the sun will expand into a red giant, and thus devour the earth as described.
Mr Evans's letter helps me to emphasise one of the many contradictions of the Bible, of which I have a list of 16. For the Bible also points out in Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 4: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever".
Now, I don't know how Mr Evans would define the word forever, but I personally would say that it meant "for all time". There's just one example of the many gaffes that the Council of Nicea let slip by in their somewhat failed efforts to produce a politically-correct book that would substantiate their dictatorial policies of fear and control.

Wednesday 6 June

LETTER by Harry Perry, in The Independent.

Sir, Can I suggest that any Catholic MP who intends to heed Cardinal Keith O'Brien's strictures on abortion should, in honour, resign their seat and stand again in the ensuing by-election with the following inserted into their election address: "I am a practising member of the Roman Catholic Church and pledge to follow the instructions of the Pope on any issue where failing to comply would mean my soul burning in Hell for eternity." Let's see how many votes they get then.

Thursday 7 June

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm. Allan Hayes Faith Schools. One third of our state schools are paid for out of taxes but controlled by and in the interests of the Church of England or the Catholic Church. The number of these "faith schools" is increasing and other faiths are demanding the same privileges. Allan Hayes, who was prominent in the successful campaign against a second CofE academy in Leicester, reviewed the situation and what can be done.

Sunday 10 June

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: 6:30pm. Adam Newman-Turner Mobility and Moving Populations - Cultural Benefit or Social Chaos? In this talk Adam looked at the issues raised by an increasingly mobile global work force and raised questions as to the educational and cultural implications. Adam is Deputy Head at Rushey Mead School, and Educational Consultant on Global Citizenship.

Monday 11 June

Allan Hayes and Eleanor Davidson attend meeting with Christians Aware to discuss futher joint events (following on this spring's dialogue series).

Tuesday 12 June

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm. Palestine Film Series: Gaza Strip. The director of this film planned a visit to Gaza of two weeks to film a documentary - he stayed three months and filmed 75 hours of film. "Gaza Strip is an extraordinary and painful journey into the lives of ordinary Palestinians struggling with the day-to-day trials of the Israeli occupation."

Saturday 16 June

EDUCATION NEWS ITEM by Tom Pegden in Leicester Mercury.

A run-down church is moving to a purpose-built site inside Leicester's newest school.
For years, St Christopher's Church, in Broughton Road, off Saffron Lane, has suffered from vandalism, poor heating and leaking roofs. Despite the main building being just 40 years old, management decided it was beyond repair and have built a £400,000 replacement inside the £20 million Samworth Enterprise Academy, in Trenant Road.
At 4pm this Sunday, the church will mark its 80th anniversary with a special Thanksgiving Service, with the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, taking part. Although it won't be the last service in the old building, it will help mark the end of an era. The new church will open when the academy welcomes its first pupils this autumn.
St Christopher's vicar, the Rev Alison Roche, said: "I think we are now the first parish church to be built into a new school. We're having the service this Sunday because I thought it would be good to celebrate the past. Anyone with connections to St Christopher's is welcome." The first service at St Christopher's was in the 'Barn' - the first building was a farm barn - in Southfields Drive in 1927. Work on the first permanent church in Broughton Road - now the church hall - started a year later. It cost £4,857, and opened on January 19, 1929.
Plans for a replacement were drawn up in the 1960s and the present church was built in 1967 for about £22,500. That building - and the old hall - show serious signs of disrepair. Plans to rebuild were initially suggested, but when the new Church of England academy, on the site of the disused Mary Linwood School, was announced in 2003, The Right Rev Bishop Tim Stevens suggested the church be incorporated in the project. Canon Peter Taylor, director of education at Diocese of Leicester, has been involved in the academy and the church move. He said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to meet the needs of the community. If the pupils want to use it, they will have access, while the church will have access to the school. It's unique in the way it's being done, with the diocese paying for the church. That is going to cost about £450,000, much of it coming from the sale of the old site."
Bishop Tim said: "This is an example of the church positioning itself to engage with children and families. It is a courageous step for the congregation, and demonstrates the church is committed to being a part of the life of the school, and serving the community." [See 21 June for a comment.]

Sunday 17 June

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: 6:30pm. Michael Gerard and Caroline Moles Visiting Palestine. These Secular Society members visited Palestine in April in the company of Claire Wintram, who talked to the society about her experiences last year. Is life really so bad for the Palestinians? This was their report back to the Society.

Tuesday 19 June

Allan Hayes attends meeting in Leicester Cathedral on consultation with youth, and challenges the Bishop over faith schools.

LETTER by Mel Vlaeminke, Billesdon in Leicester Mercury.

Congratulations to Adam Wakelin for his article "Uneven playing field?" (Mercury, June 11) about the charitable status of private schools - a worthwhile piece of investigative journalism into an under-researched area. The benefits of charitable status are little known even among people who are well-informed about education and, I suspect, among many of the parents who choose private education without realising how much the rest of us subsidise their choice. Please look further into this - I am curious, for example, about how Leicester Grammar School can afford its new "state of the art" school in Great Glen.

Wednesday 20 June

NEWS ITEM in Leicester Mercury.

Leading Muslims today said the awarding of a knighthood to controversial author Salman Rushdie could make some worshippers feel isolated. Sir Salman caused outrage among Muslims who said his book The Satanic Verses, published nearly 20 years ago, was blasphemous. The knighthood for the author was announced in the latest Queen's Birthday Honours list.
The move has been condemned by Pakistani leaders, and the country's national assembly called it "an insult to the religious sentiments of Muslims". Today, Muslims in Leicester agreed that the honour was a mistake.
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: "I'm saddened that someone of this nature who has caused so much upset has been awarded for it. These awards should be given to people who have made a positive contribution to this country. It has reopened a debate which was best forgotten. I am most worried about the community impact. At a time when there are tensions in our communities, I don't think it was well thought out. It is feeding into the hands of people who will use this to create misunderstanding in our community. I would urge people who want to express their opinions on it to simply write to their MPs."
Manzoor Moghul, chairman of Leicester's Muslim Forum, said he also disagreed with the giving of the honour but said it was wrong for people in Pakistan to be getting involved. He said: "The systems we have in this country belong in this country and they shouldn't be interfering in our affairs. They're opening up a chapter which was closed a long time ago. We should leave sleeping dogs lie. In the current climate, Muslims are under scrutiny. All this does is exacerbate it."
COMMENT ONLINE: This is great news! I have read most of Salman's books and recommend them greatly especially 'midnights children' and 'satanic verses'. Bravo! Zane Chudi-Wagar, Leicester.
COMMENT ONLINE: I don't believe he has earned this knighthood either. What I do object to is the cry of 'foul' every time something is felt as anti-muslim. This is the UK and people have freedom of speech, accept it or object but do not keep threatening us with suicide bombs and burning efigys, that is terrorism. We have authors who write unacceptable things about Jesus but we don't want them all killed we don't read or buy the said literature. Some people want it some don't. Freedom of choice is our way of life. Tony, Oadby.
COMMENT ONLINE: Salman Rushdie has written more than the one book which caused such a religious backlash. The honour system is part of British history as such, those that receive it (without having bought it) should be justifiably proud of receiving the honour from Her Majesty. Ian Woolnough, Desford.

EDITORIAL OPINION in Leicester Mercury.

The controversy which has surrounded the knighthood awarded to Salman Rushdie is depressing but predictable. What is particularly dispiriting is the criticism of Sir Salman which has been voiced in some sections of the British media. One would have thought that people would be queuing up to champion this remarkably successful and gifted author. Instead, some commentators have taken the opportunity to attack him as a person and belittle his work, while acknowledging that he has the right to freedom of expression.
For some reason, it was ever thus. Sir Salman has long seemed to arouse antipathy among certain sections of our chattering classes. For the record then, it is worth noting that his achievements do indeed merit a knighthood. His novel, Midnight's Children, was awarded the "Booker of Bookers" as the best novel to receive the Booker Prize in its first 25 years. His novels have continued to be highly acclaimed in many countries ever since; he has helped to mentor young Indian writers and has been a major influence for a generation of Anglo-Indian writers. By any measure, he has made a remarkable contribution to literature and is, without doubt, one of our most important authors.
The death threats issued against Sir Salman over his book, The Satanic Verses, were a direct assault on the principle of freedom of speech. The way that this country safeguarded him and defended that principle was something of which we should be proud. It would be utterly craven if we were now to decide that this writer should never receive an honour for fear of causing offence.
If his achievements have merited a knighthood - and they most clearly have - then we have every right to recognise him in this way. To do otherwise would be to capitulate to the opponents of freedom of speech and to abandon a principle which we regard as fundamental to our way of life.

Thursday 21 June

LETTER by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury.

I really must ask Bishop Tim and Canon Peter Taylor to examine their motives and their consciences in planting an Anglican church, a parish church, in the middle of a school that is supposed to be for all ("Church is moving into school", Mercury, June 16).

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: IDEAS Group meeting. Simon Perry introduced a discussion on "Why I am a Capitalist (and we should be too?)" Attendance was very good, perhaps near the limit for everyone to have a chance to say something. Simon's presentation, using a laptop and projector, owed more to Viz comic than to The Guardian, and as expected his thesis came under heavy criticism. Dave Ray presented a critical thesis on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and Rob Eustace told us of his very relevant experiences in bakeries.

Friday 22 June

BLOG: Leicester Secularist by George Jelliss: "Response to a Response", on the Government's comment to a Petition about promoting or practising religion in schools.

Saturday 23 June

LSS WEBSITE (maintained by George Jelliss): I've just extensively updated the page on the Eighth Age (1100 - 1600) on the History of Science pages. This activity has been stimulated in part by the proposed setting up of a "Science Group" by BHA members. (See 2 June above for previous report.)

Another new page added is a biography of W. H. Holyoak who ran the bookshop at Secular Hall 1881-1902. The information and photos have been provided by Ned Newitt.

Sunday 24 June

SUNDAY PROGRAMME: 6:30pm. HEADSTRONG EVENING. The discussion began on the subject of surveillance and freedom of information and individual freedom, and turned towards conspiracy theories. A smaller attendance than usual (9 members) but lively discussion.

Monday 25 June

James White, City Heritage Regeneration Officer shown round Hall by Allan Hayes.

Tuesday 26 June

Allan Hayes gives talk to Leicester religious education teachers on Humanism and Secularism.

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: 7:30pm. Palestine Film Series: The children of Ibdaa: To Create Something Out of Nothing. This is about the lives of several adolescents in a Palestinian children's dance troupe in the west Bank. They use their performance to express the history, struggle and aspirations of the Palestinian people, specifically the right to return to their homeland. The video offers insight into their families displacement from villages in historical Palestine to the emotionally and distressful aspects of life in a refugee camp.

NEWSLETTER: Harry Perry produced the first issue of a Leicester Secular Society Newsletter for Summer 2007, which came out a couple of weeks ago. This can be accessed as two MS Word documents by clicking on the title of this section.

Friday 29 June

Allan Hayes attends "Embracing Diffference Workshop", distribiutes information about the Society, the Hall and open day



Programme of events for July

Sunday 1 July

Allan Hayes speaks on Radio Leicester against faith schools.

Wednesday 4 July

LETTER by Mark A Sperry, Leicester, member of the British Humanist Association, in Leicester Mercury.

The new Samworth-Church of England Academy will open its doors to its first pupils in September. Some of those young people will be gay. How does the Church of England hope to prevent homophobic bullying in its school corridors and classrooms when it is firmly committed to a stance which relegates non-heterosexuals to second-class status?
The Government is trying to start a process which will tackle homophobic discrimination within schools, but the Secretary of State for Education has never tackled the Church about its heterosexist standpoint relating to sexual ethics.
Mixed messages harm children. The Bishop of Leicester cannot on one hand tell his pupils that they are all equally valued and important, and yet on another tell those of them who are gay that they are "sinners" and hell-bound.
The Church once supported a slave trade that viewed black people as mere commodities. Could we imagine any Church being allowed to run a school today if it held the view that non-white children were somehow inherently flawed?
ONLINE COMMENT: Sad, but true. If parents continue to insist on having their children educated under the umbrella of backward, hypocritical, homophobic institutions such as these then we get the society we deserve. There are alternatives - choose them! John Stitch, Leicester.

LETTER by John Lawrence, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

I respect Alan Pendragon (Mailbox, June 19), but must point out that the remaining life of the sun will be nearly five times longer than his "one billion years". This is arrived at from calculating (not by me) its known rate of thermonuclear conversion against its known mass of hydrogen. (So that's a relief, then!)
As for those who have written to Mailbox citing the "Letters of Peter" from the New Testament: I inform them that almost all major Biblical scholars agree these are spurious documents.
In the 2nd Letter, the author pretends at the start to be "Simon Peter" so as to leave no doubt who he means. Obviously written after the gospels appeared, he then claims to have been present at the "transfiguration" of Jesus, as in Matthew 17. Now this "transfiguration" is a stock theme in mythical tales, long before the gospels.
Observe the cynicism of the early Church which would include in their canon even recognisably-false documents so long as they were "on our side"! How can moral dictates come from an institution that knowingly incorporates lies?

Friday 6 July

LETTER by Peter West, Puntous, France, in Leicester Mercury.

How courageous of Mark Sperry, of the British Humanist Association, to attack the Christian Church about its stance on homosexuality (Mailbox, July 4).
Islamic organisations are also opening faith schools. Their stance on homosexuality is rather stronger than that of Christianity. Can we therefore look forward to a letter from the brave Mr Sperry attacking Islam? Somehow I doubt it!
ONLINE COMMENT: i suspect that even were the letter written, it wouldn't be published - you're not allowed to criticise islam, it's not politically correct :-/ Sue, Scotland.

Saturday 7 July

LETTER by Canon Peter Taylor, director of the Board of Education, in Leicester Mercury.

On behalf of the Samworth Enterprise Academy and the Diocesan Board of Education, I felt it important to respond to Mr Mark Sperry's letter "Lessons in Discrimination?" (Mailbox, July 4). All Schools are required to have a Sex and Relationships Policy; the diocese has recently produced guidelines for all its church schools in this area. The guidelines are very clear in recognising the diversity of human sexuality and in encouraging schools to value every individual whatever their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The policy builds on the national guidelines published by the National Society in 1993, which states, "regardless of background, behaviour, or sexual orientation, pupils should be caringly accepted within a church schools". Mr Sperry asks about homophobic bullying; bullying in all its forms is to be condemned and is not acceptable in any school be it a faith school or not. The academy, as are all our church schools, is committed to dealing with all forms of bullying promptly and effectively. Children attending the academy or any of our church schools are accepted, valued and supported as the unique individuals they are. On no account would any child be told or have inferred that they are "sinners" and "hell bound" because of their sexual orientation or for any reason. I am sure gay staff and pupils who are part of our church school community would find his comments abhorrent.
ONLINE COMMENT: Interesting, Canon - so Church of England schools are no longer teaching using the bible as a guide, then? John Stitch, Leicester.

Monday 9 July

Allan Hayes attends meeting on Faith Schools and Community Cohesion organised by the Runnymede Trust and Leicester City Council..

Tuesday 10 July

LEICESTER SECULARIST Blog: No Ex-Muslims in leicester? by George Jelliss: about the new Ex-Muslim Group started by Mariam Namazie.

Wednesday 11 July

Wednesday 11 July

Allan Hayes warns of faith schools at annual Community Cohesion conference in London.

LETTER by Mark A Sperry, member of the British Humanist Association, in Leicester Mercury.

To those of us who think that all religions are a pernicious influence on society, it comes as a comfort to learn that the Church of England in Leicester will at least ignore its own scripture and treat gay pupils in its care with the respect and encouragement they deserve. I suppose the Bishop and the team running the Samworth Academy have decided it is better to fly in the face of the beliefs of their God than ruffle the feathers of a mature secular society that has long ago left the Church behind on matters sexual. It states quite clearly in Leviticus and Romans that God is severely displeased with homosexuals, despite the fact that He, presumably, created homosexuals in the first place. I suggest the pupils at Samworth ask their teachers to justify why, in a democracy like ours, the Church should be given the privilege of using taxpayers' money to further its own ends in the field of education.

Sunday 15 July

LEICESTER RADIO: Eleanor Davidson reports: You might like to listen to an interview re hospital chaplaincy I gave for BBC Radio Leicester 15/07/07 for their faith programme - 'Wake Up to Sunday with John Florance'. (On Listen Again it is 1 hour and 18 minutes into the programme and lasts about 5 minutes.) Eleanor adds:

You'll perhaps be interested to hear that I've been invited to join the multi-faith chaplaincy team of a large, ethnically diverse college in Leicester as their "(Faith) Ambassador" for the Humanists/Non-Religious. The college accepts people from the age of 14 - 104 years, has a total of 25,000 students and 1,500 staff. Again, it's voluntary - wish I could be paid for something!!

It's another significant step forward for secularism/humanism in the community and promises to be a challenging and exciting initiative. The college used to have just a Christian chaplain but now the 'Inclusion Co-ordinator' - a Hindu - is aiming to enhance understanding and respect within the college community with this development.

Tuesday 17 July

LETTER by Mrs C. Gough, on behalf of a Christian fellowship in Wigston, in Leicester Mercury.

In response to Mark Sperry's letter ("Policy in conflict with scripture", Mailbox, July 11) about involving the Church in schools, we would like to say how we value the historic role of the Church in the establishment of schools in this country.
The Christian faith is about sacrificial giving and laying down one's life for others. Living near the new academy, we welcome this positive contribution to our community.
To assume that the Church's role in education is to indoctrinate and be judgmental towards the young flies in the face of how Church schools encourage multi-faith celebration and provide effective educational environments.
This is seen in parents' demand for Church schools, whether they are from faith backgrounds or not. To only have secular schools creates a moral vacuum which we see filled by the materialistic values of our day - worship of the gods of consumerism and celebrity.
We acknowledge the hard verses about homosexuality in the Bible that Mr Sperry mentions, and such verses are difficult issues for Christians. However, these verses are so few in a Bible so large, and to focus on these takes them out of proportion.

Thursday 19 July

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: IDEAS Group meeting. Wilfred Gaunt introduced a disvussion on "Choice and the Illusion of Freedom". With everyone away on holiday the attendance was reduced to six, but sufficient for a good debate. Besides the philosophical issues the smoking ban elicited some heated exchanges.

Friday 20 July

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

There are four very questionable statements in the letter from Mrs C Gough (Mailbox, July 17).
(1) The historic role of the Church in the 19th century was to obstruct the efforts of reformers such as Robert Owen, George Birkbeck and Henry Brougham to bring in proper mass education rather than mere Bible classes;
(2) That the Church is indeed involved in education for purposes of indoctrination is clearly shown by their own Dearing report;
(3) That parents from non-faith backgrounds "demand" Church schools is a fantasy. They may choose Church schools but that's only because they have no better alternative;
(4) To claim that secular schools would create a moral vacuum is outrageous. Ethics is a branch of philosophy and depends on rational judgements. It does not require theological beliefs. The teaching of philosophical thought should replace RE in our schools.

Thursday 26 July

WEEKDAY PROGRAMME: Don Cupitt The Meaning of the West: Secular versus Religious Interpretations. Don Cupitt became nationally known for his three BBC television projects Open to Question (1973), Who was Jesus? (1977), and The Sea of Faith (1984). The latter and the accompanying book of the same name gave rise to a wide questioning of the nature of religion and to the setting up of the Sea of Faith Network (national conference in Leicester, 24-26 July 2007). About this talk he wrote: "There is currently much controversy, in the European Union and elsewhere, about what 'Western Culture' is, and what makes it the most powerful and dynamic cultural tradition that has yet appeared amongst human beings". He told us about his theory, now being worked out in a new book. [See Leicester Secularist response below.]

Saturday 28 July

LEICESTER SECULARIST Blog: Western Culture? There's No Such Thing by George Jelliss. This is a response to Don Cupitt's talk.

Sunday 29 July

ATHEISTS ALL OUT CAMPAIGN: I've just noticed that there is a new campaign on the Richard Dawkins site. He wants people to come out as Atheists by buying his new T-shirts with a big cursive scarlet letter A. I'll try out the HTML provided by P. Z. Myers:

It works!

Monday 30 July

LETTER by Frank Friedman, member of Leicester Secular Society, in Leicester Mercury.

DEADLY SERIOUS: So, Liam Donaldson proposes that consent to organ donation after death should be assumed, the onus being on an individual to explicitly opt out if that is their wish. The unspoken assumption is that the dead own their organs. What utter nonsense! How can a person be the owner of anything after death? Let's concentrate on the rights of the living. If my organs can help them, let it be their right to have them, and let's end once and for all this mean-spirited agonising over the rights of a dead so-called "donor".
ONLINE COMMENT: Surely, a deceased person still has rights until Probate or Letters of Administration have been granted to those dealing with his/her affairs? As this will mainly be their family or someone close, they are in effect the 'owners' of the body during that time. Either they, the family, or the person during life, can say what should happen to that body, no-one else. The only time the hospital could claim the body, or parts thereof would be if no relatives or friends of the deceased can be found, resulting in the state disposing of assets and paying for burial. To forcefully remove any part of the dead without permission from those described smacks uncomfortably of body-snatching.
Susan Shenton, Countesthorpe.
ONLINE COMMENT: Susan Shenton's legalistic argument perfectly illustrates my point about mean-spiritedness. As far as I know, a cadaver has no rights, and neither is it part of the estate of the deceased ? lawyers, please correct me if I'm wrong. But all this misses the point. While any dispute or investigation into consent goes on, a person is suffering or dying and organs are losing their viability. This means that action must proceed with urgency, and therefore that the rights of the living should instantly trump all other claims. Let there be no opt-out.
Frank Friedmann, Leicester.



Programme of events for August

Wednesday 1 August

LETTER by Mrs Rainbowleigh Clarke, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

GIVING WITCHES A BAD NAME: I am on the committee of the second largest pagan group in the UK and a resident of Leicester - in fact, born and raised here. I am also a witch. I know many Wiccans and the story "Witches force shopping centre to change name", (Mercury, July 23), is one of the silliest I have heard all year. There are no High Cross Quarter festivals. In fact, the so-called coven has taken a very strange mix of things to make a faith. It would be a silly thing to link them to a recognised religion like Wicca.
If the reporter in question, or anyone else who has an interest in running this story, would like a rounded view of witches and Wicca covens, they can contact me or do a Google search for groups like the Pentacle Magazine or E Cauldron.
There are many witches in the shire and we are not so silly as to complain about the name of a shopping mall. I would just hate for people to see us as weird, when people here work hard for the Beltane fair which has free entry for everyone.

Thursday 2 August

WEBSITE: (maintained by George Jelliss). I completed a new page in the Science section on the LSS website. This is a historical approach to the development of Chemistry, from Greek atomists, through the mediaeval alchemists, to the periodic table of Mendeleev, and the most recent ideas in quantum chemistry. There are many links to biographies of the thinkers and experimenters involved, and to more detailed explanations of difficult concepts. I hope this will be found to be a useful resource for those who would like to update their scientific knowledge, or those who have never studied the subject properly before. I'm still learning more about it myself, and will be updating it further in due course. My next task is a page on Physics!

BHA SCIENCE GROUP: The above work has been partly stimulated by the formation of a Science Group by members of the British Humanist Association. It now has a discussion forum on Yahoo. You don't have to be a scientist to join, but you do have to be a member of the BHA.

Saturday 4 August

LETTER by John Lawrence, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

SOME ANIMALS ARE NOT SO SACRED: In her letter about the tuberculous bull, Verity Hunt Sheppard defends the Skanda Vale community on the grounds that they believe "all life is sacred".
What do they say about rats, lice, locusts, mosquitoes, parasitic worms, bacteria that cause death to humans or other animals?
Most forms of life exist at the cost of some other, though some are ecologically necessary to others. The correspondent refers to sacred books, but such books came solely out of human heads.

LETTER by Maryam Laurence, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

ISLAM PROVIDES PERFECT GUIDE: I am an English convert Muslim. I would like to express to your readers how utterly impossible it is to even suggest Islam could "reform" (Mailbox, July 21). Islam is not merely a lifestyle choice that you can mix and match to suit your preference, or alter to meet with non-Muslim approval. It is the way of life made for us by our Creator and as such it is perfect, complete and unalterable.
Exaggerated rumours like those quoted in Mr Adam's letter are always being circulated as if they were accepted knowledge when they are glaringly incorrect.
It seems to me that the powers of the West are afraid that ordinary people will find out they would be happier worshipping God in the lifestyle designed by Him, for their contentment - Islam. So they stimulate much controversy and misunderstanding around this simple, beautiful and deeply satisfying way of life.
If you don't believe Islam is the way of life God sent, then, very well, don't live that way. But I recommend you don't dismiss the possibility until you have thoroughly and fairly researched it.
While doing so you will see Islam gives nothing but good and noble instructions about kindness and responsibility; and then you too can be as puzzled as we Muslims are over the current situation.
ONLINE COMMENT: You seem to be missing the point that this is your interpretation of Islam. There are many different interpretations ranging from yours to that of the Taliban. Just as you may argue that their interpretation is wrong, they would argue that it is you who has misunderstood Islam. I think there are only a few who would see the Taliban or the Ayatollahs of Iran as beacons of "kindness". This applies to all religions, not just Islam, with followers using it to justify cruelty and intolerance. You should be congratulated for wanting to live a good life, but religion is neither sufficient nor necessary for that.
Neil, Leicester.

Saturday 11 August

LETTER by R. Tilley, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

ONE PATH TO REFORM FOR ISLAM: If Maryam Laurence was to try living in one of the countries in which Islam is in control, she might realise what David Adams (Mailbox, July 21) said about it is in no way exaggerated rumour or "glaringly incorrect", and that it is indeed time, as the latter said, that Islam reformed itself.
But I can't see much chance of this happening until its devotees come to realise (as, I feel, many Christians have effectively done) that the scriptures on which their beliefs are based were not divinely dictated, but are portrayals of the conception of "God" of the people who wrote them.
As such, they can be updated in accordance with the growth of our understanding of what is of ultimate importance.

LETTER by G. A. Harrison, Kirby Muxloe, in Leicester Mercury.

YOU'RE LUCKY TO LIVE HERE: I am very pleased that Maryam Laurence has found happiness in her religious conversion (Mailbox, August 4). She is very fortunate to be living in this country, where choosing her religion is perfectly acceptable.
In some Islamic countries, particularly where Sharia law is imposed, had she made a choice to convert from Islam to another religion, she would be an apostate.
As an apostate, her husband would be compelled to divorce her.
Her children would be taken from her and she might quite possibly be condemned to death.
If she was raped, she could be charged with adultery and possibly stoned to death.
In a court of law, her word as a woman would count for very little against the word of a man.
If she lived in a country divided into Sunni and Shia sects, she could be bombed or killed by members of the opposite tradition, even though they worship the same God. In this country, we are governed by civil law where we can practise any faith and worship any God under the protection of the state, provided we do not infringe the rights of others.
Most religions are fine in principle, but it is those who claim the right to control other people's lives, using their own interpretation of the written word, who cause problems and inter-faith conflicts.

Sunday 12 August

NEWSLETTER: Harry Perry has produced the second issue of a Leicester Secular Society Newsletter with "More Summer News 2007". This can be accessed as two MS Word documents by clicking on the title of this section.

Sunday 19 August

SPECIAL GENERAL MEETING 6:30pm — to formally approve the transition of the Society to a company limited by guarantee.

Thursday 23 August

IDEAS GROUP MEETING 7:30pm — Jill Perry introduced a discussion on "Abortion - What really are the issues?".

Saturday 25 August

OPINION COLUMN in Leicester Mercury: The Editor explains the reasons for their disastrous decision to invite the Bishop of Leicester to write a regular article for the paper.

VIEW FROM THE HEART OF THINGS: This newspaper is a platform for many different tones of voice. Our First Person column and letters pages allow thousands of people to have their say on issues that occupy Leicester and the wider county. It is in that spirit we invited the Bishop of Leicester to write a weekly column.
The dialogue between faiths has been a keystone in the harmonious development of our city. The Church of England has been at the heart of that dialogue. What better perspective from which to comment on the challenges that face us at this crucial time in the history of modern Leicester.

ARTICLE by the Bishop of Leicester

EXTRACTS: The Diocese of Leicester is itself a community of more than 300 churches set in every town, village and neighbourhood and connected to a huge range of different organisations and initiatives. In our universities, hospitals and prisons are Church of England chaplains, serving and supporting people in responding to needs and opportunities of every kind. Across the County, the Church of England sponsors and supports nearly 100 primary and secondary schools in order to provide a Christian upbringing for each generation. /// I passionately believe that people of faith have a huge contribution to make to keeping our communities cohesive and harmonious, but not everyone will agree. Some believe that faith is the cause of the division, rather than the solution. /// Faith cannot be confined to the personal and private sphere - it has to do with public truth and with how human society is ordered and managed. /// No doubt there will be some who oppose the idea that a secular newspaper is any place for a Christian minister to be writing.

Wednesday 29 August

LETTER by George Jelliss in Leicester Mercury.

So, not only do we have to put up with two religious "thoughts" every day, but now we have a weekly sermon direct from the Bishop of Leicester (Mercury, August 25). All this, taken in conjunction with the Government's policies of promoting sectarian schools and religiously-motivated service providers, seems to be part of a creeping return to mediaeval theocracy.
The Bishop uses the term "faith" four times in his first article and claims that "faith cannot be confined to the personal and private sphere - it has to do with public truth and with how human society is ordered and managed". But what is "faith"? It is merely personal opinion, often fanciful wish-fulfilment, not based on scientific evidence. Public policies must be based strictly on the facts of the case, and not on "faith" in some supernatural intervention or doctrinaire outdated religious notions.
The Bishop also talks about providing a "Christian upbringing for each generation" through the involvement of the church in education. I'm sure Muslims and Hindus welcome this for their children as much as humanists! Such biased evangelism must stop. The promotion of religions within the publicly-funded education system cannot be justified. Of course, maintaining a good ethos within a school is important, but this is a matter of philosophy not religion.

LETTER by Harry Perry, Desford in Leicester Mercury.

I was amazed to read that the Mercury is to provide the Anglican Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, with a regular weekly platform to promote his archaic religious doctrines. Does the Church of England not already have enough free publicity in the form of religious broadcasts by the BBC? Are publicly-funded Anglican schools not enough for them to indoctrinate our children that you now have to serve more of it up with our tea?
The vast majority of people are perfectly capable of living good, honest and responsible lives without the assistance of anachronistic religious dogma.
I suggest that, in fairness to this majority of Leicestershire people, you should either withdraw this offer or provide equivalent space to others and especially to the atheists, humanists, Brights, agnostics and secularists who have got something more relevant to say.

LETTER by Allan Hayes in Leicester Mercury.

Your decision to provide the Bishop of Leicester with a weekly column in your paper will dismay many who have come to regard the Mercury as a forum for a balanced and fair exchange of views. A weekly column is in no way comparable, as you suggest, to occasionally sharing in the letters pages and the First Person column.
At a time when many of us are deeply concerned about social cohesion, about faith schools and about religious education, this privileging of the leading representative of a religion is totally unacceptable. The Bishop is not a neutral commentator. Whatever his personal qualities, he is a political as well as a religious figure, and, as Bishop, is bound to act in the interest of his own institution, as we have seen over the two academy proposals.
I ask you to reconsider this decision in the interest of the city and the standing of your newspaper.

Wednesday 29 August

Allan Hayes attends Leicester Heritage Open Days launch (in preparation for 9 September)



Programme of events for September

Saturday 1 September

OUTING: Watermead Park Guided Nature Ramble. Members of the Society and their friends went on an afternoon ramble through Watermead Park, led by a Park Ranger. After the ramble a Social gathering was arranged at the nearby home of member David Ray.

Report by Dave Ray

The Walk in the Park afternoon event at Watermead with food and get together at my house afterwards was successful. 19 people came on the walk. It was enjoyed by all. More arrived later for the food and chat and a couple would have joined if I had been organized enough with the relevant forms.

The Ranger, Jenny, was clearly really enthusiastic about her job. She had a good knowledge of the flora and fauna in the park. Her enthusiasm and outgoing lively personality made the afternoon a success. I was interested to learn that there are five species of bats in the park, otters have been sighted and grass snakes secrete a foul smelling substance when cornered.

We started the walk twenty minutes later than the advertised time. That was actually advantageous because a couple of people who arrived late were fully included and I think only Satish and me were bothered about dawdling. The weather was kind making the whole thing really quite pleasant.

The meal and chat in my garden went off well, I thought. People brought plenty of food and drink. Rob Eustace supplied a huge fruit cake and thirty pints of homebrew. With what I supplied the spread was quite impressive. I enjoyed myself and I think that the general reaction was good.

Did anyone take photos on this ramble? It would be helpful if you could let us have a couple to illustrate this report.

COLUMN by The Bishop of Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

EXTRACT: Young people are not "yobs". /// ... over the past 20 years the provision of youth centres and youth workers has been drastically reduced. Resources are now put into learning and skills and career development, but young people need some space to discover who they are with sympathetic and professional adults who are not only concerned with their education and careers.
Ironically, it is the churches which are now the major voluntary sector employers of youth workers in the country and our own diocese, here in Leicester, is just about to embark on a major new youth strategy for precisely that reason.
There were several very extensive and adequate responses to the Bishop's views from social commentators (too long to reproduce here, since this is not a religious issue).

LETTER by Mark W. Jacques, Quorn in Leicester Mercury.

HUMANIST VIEWS ARE SO INTOLERANT: It was depressing to read the three letters (Mailbox Augst 29) condemning the weekly articles by the Anglican Bishop of Leicester. Two of these three are from humanist "regulars", and all three prove that, in the sphere of intolerance, humanists come top of the poll! They claim to be superior to the Creator when they seek to deny Him, and they are unable to acept the voicing of the Christian point of view, even though they are free, as individuals, to reject what is written. Such people are now in influential positions in our country and are trying to undermine what has made it great. / The letters mention "medievalism" and "archaic doctrines", but what is true remains true in all ages. Ny only concern is that the Bishop will water down the Christian message to try and placate atheists and humanists. What he ought to do is proclaim the Christian message in full and with clarity.

LETTER by Colin Newell, Oadby in Leicester Mercury.

DON'T READ IT!: We are a Christian country and yet, just because the Bishop of Leicester is given a say once a week, some people are up in arms. Such terms as "biased evangelism", "equivalent space for atheists, Brights" and "many will be dismayed" were used. What nonsense! If you do not like it, do not read it. Go and dance round your little forest fire.

Tuesday 4 September

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

SECULAR HALL HAS PLACE IN OUR HERITAGE: In the article by Mike Polanyk about National Heritage Open Days (The Week, August 30), there is mention of five religious buildings included in the programme, but no mention of Secular Hall.
In my view, this omission is typical of the pro-faith bias of your paper.
In fact, last year the Secular Hall (with its five distinctive busts depicting Robert Owen, Tom Paine, Voltaire, Socrates and Jesus) was one of the most visited of the Heritage Open Day buildings.
This year the hall is open on Sunday, from 10am to 6pm, and at 6.30pm local historian Ned Newitt will base his talk on a scrapbook of the eary activities and personalities involved in Leicester's unique Secular Society.
EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: Our list included a selection of buildings, of which the church list was but part. It was not intended to be comprehensive and that is why it included a website reference for further information.
COMMENT: The omission in The Week (an insert in Leicester Mercury) which led to this letter being published, thus resulted inadvertently in welcome publicity for our Open Day at just the right time. The letter was accompanied by a rather old and faded photo of Secular Hall. On the Open Day itself I took a new photo from roughly the same position, and reproduce it here:

Secular Hall, 9 September 2007. Click to see larger image and other views.

Wednesday 5 September

LETTER by E. C. Birch, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

FAITH IN RELIGION: Letters from George Jelliss, Harry Perry and Allan Hayes (Mailbox August 29) express dismay regarding the column of the Bishop of Leicester appearing in the Mercury. Like it or not the vast majority in this country are Christians. Surely, therefore, there is a strong case for such a column. Mr Jelliss says that faith is a personal opinion and not based on scientific evidence.
I would refer him to the observations of Albert Einstein, one of the greatest of all scientists, who stated: "The harmony of natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared to all systematic thinking of human beings is utterly insignificant."
Einstein is not necessarily referring to the Christian religion in his observations but is certainly casting doubts on Mr Jelliss's comments on "outdated religious notions".

Allan Hayes attends Leicestershire Economic Strategy Consultation

Saturday 8 September

Allan Hayes warns of faith schools at Fabian Society Autumn Conference, London

Sunday 9 September

OPEN DAY Following the success of last year's event the Hall was once again open all day from 10am to 6pm for visitors, with guided tours, a film-show, music, and general mayhem. It was advertised as follows:

10.00am to 6.00pm: guided tours, live music, refreshments, showings of the BBC programme "Secular Believers", exhibition of ephemera and pictures of the Secular Society and early secularists. Opportunities to meet members of the Society.

6.30pm: Talk by Ned Newitt, "Selections from the Secular Society Scrapbook: a look at the early activities of the Society through printed materials"

Leicester Secular Society founded 1851 is unique: the oldest secular society in the world, and today one of the most active groups in the city with over fifty talks and social events a year and increasing membership showing appreciation of its relevance to today's society.

Secular Hall, opened in 1881 and a Grade II listed building, is one of the most important Victorian buildings in the city: this is rare opportunity to see the whole building.

Photos from the day will shortly be available in an updated report. Photos from the archive, as displayed in Ned Newitt's talk and exhibition, should also be available soon.

Tuesday 11 September

LETTER by Frank Evans, Enderby in Leicester Mercury.

FAITH COMES FREE: Birds of the feather, flock together. George Jellis [sic], Harry Perry, Allan Hayes and Eleanor S. Davidson all have something in common - they do not believe in God.
I have this thing called "faith," of which they know nothing.
I agree with George Jellis that it is not based on scientific evidence, neither can it be purchased for gold.
It is not merely a personal opinion, it is a free gift from God himself - it is a special thing.

Wednesday 12 September

LETTER by Yassir Hussain, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

UNIFORM CHOICE RAISES QUESTION: Why are young British Muslims attending a new state sector faith school wearing the national dress of Saudi Arabia?
The new Madani High School, in Leicester, should be a shining example of how Muslims born and raised in the West can integrate into western life, be proud in Britain and yet uphold Muslim values.
The jubba (long gown), which is the main uniform for the boys, is a highly impractical garment whose only connection to Islam is that it is worn in the Middle East. What has Islam in the UK got to do with Saudi Arabia?
Islam is free from such physical identity and this school should define what a British Muslim is with its uniform policy and not adopt the national dress of another country.
It does not fill me with confidence about the type of British citizen this school will produce.
ONLINE COMMENT: Yes, the school clearly 'should be a shining example of how Muslims born and raised in the West can integrate into western life' - but by it's very nature and by it's actual make up, it's hardly ever likely to be. I'm not quite sure why you seem so very surprised, Yassir ! John Stitch, Leicester.

Thursday 13 September

LETTER by Alan R. Pendragon, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

EINSTEIN WAS MISINTERPRETED ON HIS RELIGIOUS CONVICTIONS: Nothing could be further from the truth than E. C. Birch's claim that the observations of Albert Einstein cast great doubts on George Jelliss's comments about "outdated religious notions" (Mailbox, September 5).

Although born of Jewish parents, Einstein rejected his parents' faith at an early age and he certainly never believed in Christianity or any other form of organised religion - although, it is true that he had an open mind, with regard to spiritual matters, as he was, in fact, a true agnostic.

Later in his life, being aware that many people had misinterpreted his comments about religion, he made the following statement to clarify the matter beyond any shadow of doubt: "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God, and I have never denied this, but have expressed it clearly. In fact the idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and even seems naive. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

If Mr Birch wants to read an intelligent observation about religious faith, I would recommend two books by the American philosopher Sam Harris - The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation - and I would challenge Mr Birch, and indeed anyone else of religious faith, to refute the logic and insight of this modern-day philosophical genius.

ONLINE COMMENT: You can fling cartloads of Reason and Logic and bare-faced scientific Fact at these people, Alan but I'm afraid they seem to be programmed by their faith to systematically deny it. I'm starting to understand that this process is pretty much the nub of what 'faith' is all about! John Stitch, Leicester.

Friday 14 September

LETTER by Allan Hayes in The Guardian.

Francis Beckett ('We will enter into no further correspondence with you', Education, September 11) gives a stark example of the charade of consultation that those of us involved with faith-school proposals have come to expect, but he is mistaken in stating that church-run academies are are not allowed to use faith as an admissions criterion.

Consider the C of E Greig city academy in Hornsey: 200 places are offered each year in the following order - up to 71 to children of actively participating C of E families; up to six to children who are cared for with C of E involvement; up to 56 to children of families actively participating in a Christian church belonging to "Churches Together in Britain and Ireland" or "The Evangelical Alliance".

The C of E national advice to diocesan boards of education in 2007 recommends a three-tier stratification for entry of families: at the heart of the church; attached to the church; known to the church. Last week's "joint vision statement" from the government and religious bodies, Faith in the System, an appalling example of spin and bias, shows that unless something is done then we can only expect more favouring of faith schools by the government.

Monday 17 September

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

TICKING THE BOX: Colin Newell (Mailbox, Sept 1) claimed we live in a "Christian country" and E. C. Birch (September 5) made a similar claim, but the most recent YouGov poll, commissioned by John Humphrys, found only 26 per cent believe in a god and another 28 per cent believe in "something"! And those figures include non-Christians. A Mori poll last year showed 36 per cent of the population held humanist beliefs. It seems that many "tick-box Christians" are really humanists. They follow the golden rule, but do not accept the Nicene creed.

Einstein said a lot of contradictory things about religion, so E. C. Birch and I could indulge in a duel of quotes, but whatever god it was he believed in, it was a very abstract notion, like that of Spinoza, and not a personal god.

Mr Newell, who envisages us dancing round a fire, confuses humanists with pagans, though I do like a nice November 5th display. [A further line was omitted: Finally, all regular readers of the letters will be aware that Frank Evans (11 Sept) has a hot-line to his god, but does he need to gloat over it?]

Wednesday 26 September

LETTER by Harry Perry, Desford, in Leicester Mercury.

NOTHING SPIRITUAL ABOUT ECONOMICS: As Bishop Tim Stevens says, he is no economist (Mercury, September 22).

The underlying cause of the Northern Rock crisis was not its mis-selling of loans at high risk (a possibly libellous claim by the Bishop), nor lending too much on the basis of too little security, but to an over-dependence on money market inflows. When those dried up the Bank of England was approached, precipitating the panic.

Northern Rock's mortgages are secured on the housing assets bought by borrowers so, ironically, it was not a failure of "sinful" borrowers to repay loans that caused the run, but "virtuous" savers who were panicked into making withdrawals!

The questioning of health authority Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals is not about debt but about the length, complexity and cost of leasing arrangements and the huge consultancy fees. PFI is making future generations the victims of our selfishness in failing to vote for parties who will finance public services from taxation today. One doesn't need to be a Christian to make this observation.

Tim Stevens says that the great world faiths always opposed lending money at interest. Odd, then, that Christianity dropped its opposition to usury in the 17th century in order to facilitate the development of capitalism. Islamic societies did not follow suit, and this helps explain their general backwardness, but even Muslims nowadays are finding ways of outwitting their God on this one.

Borrowing is not an evil. It is quite sensible when you need capital and can afford the interest. The evils associated with lending can be dealt with by proper regulation.

Tim Stevens concludes "we have been created as an act of love by a creator God who does not ask us to repay him??? How we order our economic affairs is essentially a profound spiritual matter???." What piffle. In fact, as we all know, we have evolved over millions of years to live together in rule-governed communities. How the rules governing our economic affairs are decided is a result of a struggle between different social groups with different interests, conflicting values and contradictory objectives. There is nothing spiritual about it at all.

Saturday 29 September

COLUMN by The Bishop of Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

EXTRACT: Belief in freedom and justice, care for one another and compassion for the weak, all have a basis in faith. Before you reach for your pen, I know all these qualities are found in people with no faith, but faith drives the monks of Burma to be a sign of self-sacrificing generosity to a watching world.



Programme of events for October

Tuesday 2 October

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

WRONG REASON: In his column (Mercury, September 29), the Bishop of Leicester claims that it is "faith" that drives the Burmese monks to stand up to the military, yet he admits that 85 per cent of the population is Buddhist, and that includes the army and police.

What drives the monks and other ordinary people to put their lives at risk is hunger, poverty, oppression, lack of representation and other injustices.

Religion has nothing to do with it. If anything the quietist teachings of Buddhism lead the believers to put up with suffering for far too long before they start to fight back.

Wednesday 3 October

Roofing contractor shown the Hall roof by Allan Hayes

Thursday 4 October

British Humanist Association (BHA) Local Representative Group meets Keith Murdoch, Leicester City Council Director of Partnerships and negotiate recognition of the Group and the Society

Saturday 6 October

COLUMN by The Bishop of Leicester in Leicester Mercury.

EXTRACT: At the height of the floods, one or two bishops seemed to be suggesting that the weather was the direct consequence of human sin. I could not disagree more!
No reasonable person could be expected to believe in a God who rewards good behaviour with good weather and bad behaviour with floods.
Isn't this is a radical new interpretation of the Noah story?!

Monday 8 October

LETTER by Harry Perry, Desford, in Leicester Mercury.

MADNESS OF SEGREGATION: A big "yes" to your Opinion (October 3): our children should grow up together. The backtracking of the Muslim school on the non-Muslim quota illustrates the power the Government has placed in the hands of separatist school managers. Whether Muslim or Christian, these powers are being used systematically to discriminate against other religions and non-religious children and teachers.

With all their faults, our state community schools have been vital in allowing our children to learn to live together in harmony over the last 50 years of immigration to Leicester. Together these generations of children (of religious and non-religious heritage) have been taught by teachers of similarly different backgrounds and have grown up to achieve an enlightened city almost free of community conflict. The beneficial effect of integrated community schooling is felt not only in the classroom but at school gates, at parents evenings and school concerts where parents of different races and religions meet.

One of the great success stories of Leicester has been the integration of a large number of people with a Hindu heritage. Unfortunately, in response to the establishment of the new Christian and Muslim academies, we now have Hindu fundamentalists working to establish a state-funded Hindu school in Leicester. How sad this is.

The potential flashpoints in future are less likely to be between immigrants and white British hosts (soon to be just another ethnic minority) than between minorities who turn away from integration and identify more with ancestral homelands and religions.

It could then take only a flare-up in Kashmir, a political assassination in the Punjab, or even a disputed cricket decision to lead to violence on our streets.

So, Leicester Mercury, why not make a direct appeal not only to the Hindu and Muslim communities, but also directly to the Church of England, which started this sectarian ball rolling, to end the madness of segregated schooling and work toward an integrated educational system that equips children to live in an integrated society?

Wednesday 10 October

Roofing contractor shown the Hall roof by Allan Hayes

Thursday 11 October

LETTER by Allan Hayes, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

GOVERNMENT POLICY RECIPE FOR DIVISION: Madani High School's behaviour is a direct result of Government policy, which "supports the right of faith schools that are their own admission authority (most of them) to give priority for some or all of their places to children from the faith concerned". It might have been stopped in 2005, when the original offer of 25 per cent was reduced to 10 per cent, but no-one objected then: indeed, the adjudicator welcomed the 10 percent.

Also recall the Government's giving in to the massive campaign mounted by the Catholic Church earlier this year when it was suggested that new Catholic schools, only new ones, should be required to make 25 per cent of their places available to non-Catholics. It is only by changing this policy that we can avoid serious division.

The key fact is that as long as we allow state schools to be run by the Anglican and Catholic churches then other religions will claim the same treatment and division will result. And please don't hold up Samworth Academy as a model (Opinion, October 6). It proclaims its own religion; a new parish church has been built as part of the school, and most of its governors are appointed by the Bishop and David Samworth. This is not an inclusive school.

It may not select at the moment but consider the admissions policy of the Church of England's Greig City Academy in Hornsey. Two hundred places offered each year: *Up to 71 to actively participating CofE families; *Up to 6 to children who are cared for with CofE involvement; *Up to 56 families actively participating in specified Christian churches ("active participation" means fortnightly attendance at Church, for the family, and at Sunday School, for the child, for more than a year).

Saturday 13 October

Allan Hayes speaks against faith schools at Comprehensive Future AGM in Birmingham

Tuesday 16 October

Allan Hayes talks to 340 sixth formers at King Edward VI Fiveways School Birmingham about Secularism and Humanism

Thursday 18 October

Ideas Group: Allan Hayes talks on BHA policy on Religious Education

Saturday 20 October

Allan Hayes attends Secularist of the Year meeting in London. This year's prize was awarded to Mina Ahadi. See Iranian Dissident Wins Secularist of The Year Prize by Barry Duke in The Freethinker.

Richard Dawkins commented "A religion so insecure as to mandate the death penalty for apostasy is not to be trifled with, and ex-Muslims who stand up and fight deserve our huge admiration and gratitude for their courage. Right out in front of this honourable band is Mina Ahadi."

Wednesday 24 October

Roofing contractor shown the Hall roof by Allan Hayes

Saturday 27 - Sunday 28 October

Allan Hayes contributes to the annual Battle of Ideas in London

Tuesday 30 October

BHA Local Representative Group meets Joe Pajak, Leicester City Council Director of Children and Young Peoples Services and Partnerships and Fiona Moss, Advisor for RE and negotiates recognition

Wednesday 31 October

Allan Hayes meets James White, City Heritage Officer to discuss roofing tenders



Programme of events for November

Monday 4 November

Allan Hayes and Wilf Gaunt participated in the BBC programme 'The Big Questions' live from Samworth Academy, Leicester.

Wednesday 6 November

Allan Hayes gave a talk on Humanism and Secularism at the meeting of the Leicester Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE).

Saturday 9 November

Allan Hayes gave a talk to a Unitarian Group on Humanism and Secularism.

Wednesday 13 November

LETTER by Allan Hayes, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

I FEEL BETRAYED OVER ACADEMY: A few days ago I took part in the BBC's Big Questions event in the fine new Samworth Enterprise Academy, Leicester. I came away with a feeling of betrayal and a deep concern for the future.

The reason? Taxpayers put up over 90 per cent of the building cost and will pay all salaries and wages for evermore. Yet we are told on one side of the impressive entrance that it is a "Church of England School" and on the other side that the room behind the cross is an Anglican Church - in fact the new parish church is an integral part of the school.

The Bishop and Mr Samworth each appoint five of the 16 governors (one of the others is the head teacher).

According to Peter Hobson, a governor, (Mailbox, October 15) three-quarters of the pupils are of "no religion": he says this shows inclusiveness. But why should these children have as their local school one that is so clearly biased towards one denomination? A school run by a hierarchy that publicly states that its policy is to use its schools to "challenge those of no faith", "to tie the parish church and the school as close together as possible" and to "to bring others into the faith"? (quotations from the CofE document, The Way Ahead).

This is not the way ahead: it is profoundly mistaken as many in the Church of England recognise. And it is only part of the government's plans for faith schools.

What is to be done? Most of us, of whatever religion, belief or life-style want a school system that is not divided by religion.

But unless we get this across to our politicians we will not get it.

Allan adds

I notice in today's Mercury (Homes Plan Set For Church Land) that the David Wilson homes wants to build 24 houses on the Church land freed by moving the parish church inside the school. Will the Church tell us what that will bring in? Does anyone have an idea.

Saturday 16 November

Allan Hayes spoke about faith schools at the Compass East Midlands Debate 2007: Building the good society, in Nottingham

Sunday 17 November

Allan Hayes attended the annuual meeting of Humanist SACRE representatives in LondonTuesday 26 November

Meeting of the Board of Directors of Leicester Secular Society.

Thursday 28 November

Meeting of the Board of Directors of Leicester Secular Society.

Friday 29 November

Allan Hayes speaks at the Labour Humanists meeting in the House of Commons.



Programme of events for December

Tuesday 4 December

LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

Dear Editor,

Since your paper became the local church gazette, by giving a regular column to the Anglican Bishop, I have boycotted it, except for reading the Bishop's column on your website, but in it he seems to say nothing that a competent journalist could not put together. So why employ him and lower your journalistic standards?

However, in his latest column on AIDS he succumbs to a religious bias, in that he omits to mention the disastrous policies of his rivals, the Catholic Church. For instance: the London Oratory School reneging on its promise to raise money for the Terence Higgins Trust; the Vatican's general opposition to condoms, and claims by Cardinal Trujillo that they are porous to HIV, and by Archbishop Nzeki of Nairobi that AIDS has grown because of availability of condoms, and by Archbishop Chimoi of Mozambique that condoms imported from Europe are deliberately infected with HIV. The World Health Organisation has condemned the Vatican's views.

Yours Sincerely

George Jelliss

Wednesday 5 December

Abortion Debate at Leicester University. Organised by Harry Perry for Leicester Secular Society was chaired by Kate Squire, Managing Editor of BBC Leicester, and featured leading national speakers from Abortion Rights (Mary Williamson) and LIFE (Joanne Hill) and local speakers Allan Hayes, of Leicester Secular Society, and Arthur Clarke of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Saturday 8 December

George Jelliss attended the four short lectures given at the Bishopsgate Institute (10am to 4pm) under the heading No Command but their Conscience [George provided a link to http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=1230 but this appears to have been removed from the BI website - FF].

George comments: David Nash gave a wide-ranging survey but a couple of points that stuck in my mind were: (1) Charles Bradlaugh's involvement with Surendranath Banerjea in the movement for self-government in India. He became known as the "member for India". Annie Besant's involvement was later (1913). And: (2) secularists becoming known as "pro-Boer" because of John Robertson's objective report on the situation in South Africa. I was also interested to learn more from Laura Schwartz about Harriet Law. After trying to defend christianity against G. J. Holyoake she became one of his secular lecturers, and later editor of the Secular Chronicle where she promoted women's issues. Anna Davin and Deborah Lavin were entertaining on their topics of Street Preachers and Edward Aveling but I had the impression that much was lost due to the limited time available. The Bishopsgate Institute, built in 1895, is a pleasant place and its archives and Library contain much of interest to secularists. I wish I'd known about it when I lived in London!

Sunday 9 December

On his way back from revisiting old haunts in London, George Jelliss went to the lecture by Mazin Zeki at Conway Hall on "Racial & Religious Hatred Laws: Human Rights Aspects" (3pm to 4:30pm).

He comments: This covered a number of recent cases from a legal viewpoint. The speaker's main argument was the need for clear definitions, but surely this problem bedevils the whole of political discourse (what does "the left" mean these days?). One questioner made some interesting points about discrimination on the basis of social status (i.e. class) not being covered by such laws.

Thursday 13 December

LETTER by Alan R Pendragon, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

NOT A BEGINNING BUT AN END RESULT: So, Janet Lowe disagrees with me when I say that we only have one birthday, as she claims that some of us are born again when we accept the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives (Mailbox, November 30).

Her argument, in itself, only emphasises my point about the incorrect usage of the written and spoken word. She uses the ludicrous phrase "born again", when what she is in fact describing is not a beginning, but is really the end result of an impressionable person having changed his or her mind, largely due to being given the sort of charismatic ideas that rightly or wrongly compel people into going along with them.

She then goes on to justify her erroneous phrase by quoting a passage of biblical scripture, an action which instantly reminded me of a quote given by the Hungarian writer Max Simon Nordan (1849-1923) who once said: "As a work of literary value the Bible is surpassed by everything written in the last 2,000 years by authors even of the second rank, and to compare it seriously with the productions of Homer, Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe would require a fantasised mind that had entirely lost its power of judgement.

Saturday 15 December

LETTER by John Lawrence, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

STARS IN THE SCIENTIFIC FIRMAMENT: In the TV series, Story Of India, I was enthralled by the achievements in science, maths and technology in the Gupta kingdom, in the 5th century CE.

Their astronomers established that the sun is at the centre of our planetary | system. Even the great Ptolemy had missed this, although Aristarchus had | worked it out nearly 400 years earlier.

In Europe, the astronomer-monk Copernicus established it, but when his findings were published at the end of his life, they were condemned. Giordano Bruno later published a defence of Copernicus' theory; he was chased by the Inquisition and burned at the stake in 1600.

More famous is Galileo, who published that Ptolemy had been wrong and Copernicus was right. At the age of 70, he was threatened with torture, and so retracted, (with fingers crossed), then kept in house arrest until he died at 78.

Not for 346 years after Galileo did the Roman Church, concede that they had been wrong about his scientific views: without conceding that he had been wrongly treated.

Thursday 27 December

LETTER by Harry Perry, Leicester, in Leicester Mercury.

WI CHAIR RIGHT TO 'COME OUT' AS AN ATHEIST: Britain is a secular country where our forbears have fought for hundreds of years to establish the freedoms to believe or not to believe as we wish, without discrimination.

That is why I say three cheers for WI chair Jane Harris (Leicester Mercury, December 21), who has joined Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg and thousands of others in the past year by "coming out" as an atheist.

The thoughts she put in her column [in the Leicester WI December newsletter] were expressed with care and consideration, and in no way justify the hue and cry launched by some Christian WI members.

She should not feel intimidated by them - like anyone else under threat from religious discrimination, she can gain practical and moral support from organisations such as the Leicester Secular Society and the British Humanist Association.

The WI is supposed to be a secular organisation, not a religious one, so the saying of Christian prayers at its meetings certainly seems inappropriate and must serve to exclude people of other faiths and no faiths. Jane was absolutely right to point that out.

We must not allow a situation to develop in this country, as it has in the US, where people are fearful of "coming out" as atheists because their jobs and social standing are jeopardised by campaigns from fundamentalist Christians.

Midwinter greetings to all your readers.

Another LETTER by George Jelliss, Leicester, also in Leicester Mercury.

NATURAL STATE? In response to the recent "born again" correspondence, I would point out that everyone is born an atheist - without any knowledge of gods.

A child who learns about the various supposed gods becomes an informed atheist. Someone who comes to believe in gods but later loses this belief is thus a "born again" atheist, since their belief returns to its original state. A person who relapses back into religion is not "born again" but "gone again".


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