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In the Press

  • Christianity in Britain is being downgraded with other religions rising in prominence, a landmark study found.
     
    The report found falling church congregation numbers and an increase in those practising other faiths was responsible for the decline.
     
    It also cited a growing number of atheists as one of the key reasons for a ‘revolutionised landscape’ of religion in the UK.
  • The National Theatre has just revived Harley Granville Barker’s play, Waste, about public and private morality in politics. The action turns on a Bill to disestablish the Church of England and divert the church’s assets to educational purposes. Set around 1930, the key plot themes are timeless – political chicanery, the relation between idealism and character flaws, the power of political outsiders… and the role of religion in society. This is a question for anguished reflection in every age, it seems – and readers of the new report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB) ought to see the play and consider how far the issues have, and have not, moved on in the last eighty-plus years.
     
    When the play was in rehearsal, I met the Director and cast to discuss the issues at stake in (dis)establishment. I made no assumptions about their religious affiliations, and I hope I made the case for both sides fairly – after all, plenty of Christians, including a key character in the play, were passionate disestablishmentarians. This wasn’t a “Christians versus the rest” issue. After an hour’s discussion, one of the cast paused and said, “So, what you are saying is that, if this Bill had passed, the whole way we think of ourselves as a country would be different”. Actors may be better than theologians at summing up a point succinctly….
     
    She was right, because the common assumption that religion is in decline and can safely be relegated to the margins of our cultural life is simply wrong. Patterns of religious observance and affiliation are changing, but religion shows no sign of going away or allowing itself to be relegated to the private sphere. The CORAB report understands this. It is precisely because religion remains a potent factor in understanding British life that the Commission set itself up in the first place. And it is good that the report strongly affirms the notion of the Common Good to which the great majority of the world’s great faiths are committed, and calls for much greater religious literacy among opinion-formers and policy makers. Religion is not just about private morality and behaviour, it is about a vision of how disparate people can live well together. Religious communities reflect the truth, which is now a commonly-held foundation in moral philosophy, that morality and ethics cannot be understood properly without locating them within a framework of traditions, communities, narratives and practices.
  • The coronation of the next monarch should be a “pluralist” rather than a Church of England ceremony, according to a two-year inquiry into the role of religion in modern Britain.
     
    It also recommends offsetting the dominance of Anglican bishops in the House of Lords by appointing numerous leaders from other faiths.
     
    The conclusions come in a report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. Its chairwoman is Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former judge and first woman president of the Family Division.
  • A scheme offering schools £30,000 to hire and promote gay and transgender teachers has been slammed by critics as being 'profoundly misguided'.
     
    The Leadership Equality and Diversity Fund, backed by the Department for Education, will provide training to existing staff, or recruit new staff, in an effort to promote diversity within schools.
     
    Applications are encouraged on the basis of 'protected characteristics', as outlined in the Equality Act 2010, which include age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief and sex.

    The category also includes sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.
     
    Schools with low numbers of staff who are gay, mature or returning to work after having children, are thought to benefit from the grant, which can provide additional training for promotion.
  • Parents should talk to their children about sex from the age of three or they will grow up to think it’s a taboo subject at home, a public health chief has warned.
     
    Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, says that when three-year-old boys ask why their anatomy is different from that of girls, parents should give a factual response about the production of sperm.
     
    Ashton says that if parents evade such questions when their children are young, by the time they reach adolescence and need sex and relationship advice, they will seek answers elsewhere.
  • Inside drab terraced housing, with a plentiful supply of tea and biscuits, a parallel British legal system is in operation.
     
    This is the view of Machteld Zee, a Dutch researcher who gained unprecedented access to sharia courts in London and Birmingham that she believes conduct their work “in the shadow of the law”.
     
    Ms Zee, who describes herself as “an atheist – like 70 per cent of the Dutch” – decided that the topic of her law PhD at Leiden University would be on how legal systems in different states interact with religion. 
     
    The 31-year-old from Gorinchem in the Netherlands was looking for a case study for her thesis, and heard about the sharia system in Britain. 
     
    An estimated 30 sharia councils exist today in the UK, giving Islamic divorce certificates and advice on other aspects of religious law. They have garnered fierce criticism, particularly for their treatment of women seeking religious divorces, who make up the core clientele. 
  • 'When I get married — whether it’s to a man or a woman...’ my 11-year-old niece told her grandpa the other day. But I don’t think she thinks she’s a budding lesbian (would she even know at that age?).
     
    It’s just the way she has been taught to think at her impeccably right-on school in the People’s Republic of Brighton.
     
    It reminded me queasily of another niece’s experiences — this time at an overwhelmingly white, Christian state school in Worcester. Her dad had wanted to know why when she said ‘Mohammed’, she automatically added the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him’.
     
    ‘Oh, it’s what we’re taught we have to say in RE,’ my niece replied.
     
    Did the schools ever consult us on whether we wanted our children’s heads to be filled with such politically correct bilge?
  • An international summit on human gene editing drew hundreds of people to Washington DC for three days this week, with many more joining online. The meeting, which wrapped up on Thursday, was convened by the scientific academies of the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. Its central issue: whether or not powerful new molecular engineering techniques should be used to create genetically modified children.
     
    The summit was not designed to produce consensus among the participants, a mix of scientists, academics, ethicists and others, but its organizing committee released a statement at the end of the deliberations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, its conclusion was inconclusive.
     
    The statement asserts that germline gene editing for human reproduction — that is, genetically altering sperm, eggs, or embryos and initiating a pregnancy with them — has not been shown to be safe or effective, and that for now “it would be irresponsible to proceed.” Nor should any such effort be made, it says, until “there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.”
  • The Senate voted today for a bill that would de-fund Planned Parenthood after it was caught selling the body parts of aborted babies. Hearings have exposed how the abortion company likely violated federal laws to sell the body parts.
     
    The bill would block, for one year, most federal payments to Planned Parenthood. At least 89% of federal funding of Planned Parenthood would be blocked by this bill. The bill would repeal a number of major components of the Obamacare health law, including two of the major provisions that will lead to rationing of lifesaving care — the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” and the “excess benefits tax.”
     
    Senators voted 52-47 (see below for roll call) for the reconciliation bill which would de-fund Planned Parenthood and repeal major portions of Obamacare.
     
    The bill now goes back to the House and will head to President Barack Obama once the House approves the measure. Though Obama will veto the bill, the vote makes it clear that, under a pro-life president, Congress can get a de-funding bill approved with a majority vote that the president would sign into law.

    “Tonight’s vote is a landmark victory for all who prioritize comprehensive women’s health care over abortion industry profits. We thank Senate Leadership for following through on their promise to advance this defunding provision to the President’s desk,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
  • An unprecedented decision by the home secretary, Theresa May, to refuse British citizenship to the wife and children of a supporter of Osama bin Laden in order to deter other potential extremists has been ruled unlawful by the high court.
     
    Mr Justice Ouseley quashed the refusal of British citizenship to the wife and two adult children of the Islamist extremist, who is a refused asylum seeker but cannot be deported to Egypt for fear he will be tortured.
     
    The judge said May had acted unlawfully because parliament had not expressly provided that British citizenship could be refused to deter others from engaging in extremism in the future.

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