Saturday 28 November 2009

Thursday 19 November 2009

The Atheist Billboard Campaign

Following the highly successful Atheist Bus Campaign in the UK which sparked similar efforts around the world the British Humanist Association has now launched a Billboard Advertising Campaign based on a Richard Dawkin's aphorism.

This time it is aimed at getting people to think twice before initiating or allowing, the indoctrination of their children with cults of unreason and the accompanying gruesome myths. It has every sign of being another resounding success. The campaign target was set at £30,000 and in the first couple of days 32% of that has already been raised.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

TftD Appeal - BBC Trust Findings


The Sixth Appeal was received on 3 May 2009 and complained about the editorial policy on selecting contributors to Thought for the Day; in particular, the omission of the humanist or atheist voice from among its presenters.
Stage one and two complaints to the BBC Executive
The Sixth Appellant first complained to the Executive by email on 1 January 2009 and was answered by the Controller of Radio 4 on 8 January 2009. The Controller of Radio 4's email repeated the statement made to iPM on 7 January 2009. This stated that he considered it reasonable on balance to continue the slot using religious contributors only. The Controller of Radio 4 explained that broadening the brief of Thought for the Day from Christian and other religions with significant UK membership would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot. He also stated that within Thought for the Day a careful balance is maintained of voices from different Christian denominations and other religions with significant membership in the UK and that non-religious voices are heard elsewhere in Radio 4 output.
The Sixth Appellant replied to Controller of Radio 4 by email on 9 January 2009. She stated that the BBC is disregarding its own guidelines in respect of the Thought for the Day slot and that the slot should embody the principle of balanced broadcasting.

The Sixth Appellant challenged the assertion that the inclusion of an occasional humanist view point would "broaden the brief" and "detract from the distinctiveness of the slot". She also queried whether the Controller of Radio 4 is suggesting that only religious people are spiritual by describing Thought for the Day as a slot intending to offer an "interlude of spiritual reflection".
The Sixth Appellant wrote to the Trust on 9 February 2009; her complaint was referred to the Director of BBC Audio and Music as she had not yet received a stage 2 complaint response. The Director of BBC Audio and Music wrote to the appellant on 21 April 2009 stating that the views expressed by the Controller of Radio 4 were those of the BBC and that he did not believe Thought for the Day to contravene the BBC Editorial Guidelines on bias and impartiality. The Director of BBC Audio and Music referred to the balance achieved across other BBC programming.

Appeal to the Trust
The Sixth Appellant considered that Thought for the Day lacks balance because it excludes humanist and atheist contributors. She is of the view that balance might be achieved by regular inclusion of a humanist voice (and that balance is not achieved by reference to other existing output).
The Sixth Appellant specifically questioned the Executive's approach to achieving balance on two grounds:
a. First, for those who consider humanism as valid as a religious creed balance is self- evidently absent;
b. Secondly, the appellant sees no evidence of balance between the religions currently represented on Thought for the Day.
The Sixth Appellant suggested that balance be quantified, perhaps by identifying the thresholds for participation and how many slots per year this would give entitlement to.
The Sixth Appellant did not accept the justification given by the Executive at stages 1 and 2 of the BBC's complaints process for the exclusion of non-religious voices (and specifically how this might detract from the distinctiveness of the slot).
The Sixth Appellant also queried the way in which her complaint had been handled by the Executive. She noted that no response has been made at stages 1 and 2 to the specific issues that she had raised and queried why the BBC Religion and Ethics department have not responded directly at any stage.

The ESC considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The ESC considered whether the Executive handling of any of the appeals at stages one and two of the complaints process might amount to a breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability, the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints.
The ESC considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints or of the Complaints Framework had been established in this case.
b. The ESC considered whether the Guideline on impartiality applies to the issues raised by the appellant and, if so, what due impartiality requires in this case.
The ESC found that Thought for the Day is a stand alone strand and a reflection on the issues of the day from a faith perspective. It concluded that Thought for the Day is religious in content The ESC confirmed that the approach to due impartiality had to be adequate and appropriate to such a slot. The ESC found that due impartiality in this context does not require the more rigorous approach to due impartiality expected of news and current affairs. Due impartiality did, however, apply to the slot's content and will vary according to the subject under discussion.
The ESC did not agree that due impartiality requires the inclusion of non-religious contributors in Thought for the Day.
The ESC stated that due impartiality on any given subject matter (and particularly controversial subject matters) should normally be achieved within each Thought for the Day slot or (normally explicitly) across two or three slots. The ESC accepted that in some cases it might be acceptable to meet the requirements of due impartiality on a particular subject by reference to the Today programme as a whole but stated that this would have to be judged on a case by case basis.
The ESC noted the Sixth Appellant's comments regarding thresholds for participation in Thought for the Day but stated that the adoption of such a policy is a matter of editorial discretion for the Executive of the BBC. However, it also noted that the BBC need not necessarily ensure a balance of contributors to Thought for the Day in order to achieve due impartiality.
c. The ESC considered whether Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines?
The ESC did not consider that Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines.
d. The ESC considered whether any remedial action is required in this case>
The ESC did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.
The ESC stated that it is a question of editorial discretion for the Executive as to whether a slot commenting on an issue of the day from a faith perspective should be featured in BBC programming.

The findings of the GAP regarding the Sixth Appeal
The GAP considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The GAP considered whether the Executive handling at stages one and two of the complaints process in this case might amount to a breach of the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints.
The GAP considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints had been established in this case.
b. The GAP considered whether a slot exclusively for religious contributors is consistent with the Public Purposes.
The GAP found that the Public Purpose requirements and existing underlying Public Purpose Remit and Plan do not limit or prevent the BBC broadcasting religious content that excludes non-religious contributors.
c. The GAP considered whether the Executive is meeting the Public Purpose Remit and Purpose Plan by featuring non-religious content in mainstream programming.
The GAP considered that the BBC's approach to featuring non-religious content and contributors in mainstream programming is consistent with the BBC Public Purpose Remit to reflect religious and other beliefs.
d. The GAP considered whether there had a breach of the Public Purpose.
The GAP concluded there had not been a breach of the Public Purpose in this case.
e. The GAP considered whether any remedial action is required in this case
The GAP did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.

Monday 16 November 2009

Interfaith Week

Some potent thoughts for Interfaith Week from Dinah commenting on Platitude of the Day for 16th November 2009; "Reverend Canon Doctor Alan Billings":

"To achieve religious toleration there have to be neutral spaces in society such as schools, workplaces, political assemblies and public services where people regardless of their beliefs or non-beliefs can meet on an equal footing: places indeed where religious faith ought to be irrelevant. By continually pushing a religious agenda into such spaces, the government risks fatally undermining this neutrality, and increasing intolerance, because whatever Karen Armstrong thinks, most religions are at heart incompatible.

Billings’s job is to sell Christianity as the one true faith where the only path to salvation is through Jesus Christ. This would be regarded as blasphemy by a Muslim. They can’t both be right (though they could of course both be wrong). Given this, tolerance can only go so far, and can only work when religion is separated from the state and for the most part confined to private spaces.

If Billings and his ilk were serious about promoting religious toleration, they would be avidly promoting secularism, not continually griping about it undermining religion and chipping away at its foundations.

Thanks to the mainly abysmal teaching of history in the UK today few people today learn about the religious intolerance in our past, which makes them easy meat for religious propagandists. By all means have RE in schools, but make it mandatory to include real religion, its history and its dark side with examples from all faiths."

Retaining DNA won't get rid of rape | Lisa Longstaff | Comment is free |

The Home Office has had to reduce the time the police hold the DNA of people not convicted of any crime. But six years is still unacceptably long and it is still unclear how many people's DNA will be kept indefinitely.

We are told that retaining samples helps catch rapists and murderers. But no reliable figures exist on how many violent criminals cleared of one offence were later convicted through DNA.

Despite having the biggest DNA database in the world, the proportion of reported rapes that result in a conviction on the charge of rape in Britain is an abysmal 6.5%. The catalogue of errors in the Worboys and Reid cases had nothing to do with storing DNA but with evidence (including DNA) not gathered, misinterpreted and even lost. Women can be disbelieved, denied protection and urged to withdraw. DNA will never make up for biased and careless investigations and prosecutions.

Yes, DNA can prove innocence as well as guilt. But this can generally be settled by DNA taken at the time – there is no reason to keep it for years. And there are concerns that minorities are overrepresented on the DNA database. Scientists have also warned against the dangers of over-reliance on DNA. We're defending one rape victim who has been arrested for making a false allegation on the grounds that no DNA evidence was found.

Can DNA be abused? We don't know. But mistakes are made, and politicians and police are not always motivated by justice. We have reason to worry that rape investigations may be used to "gather intelligence" not on rape but on anything. We have seen counter-terrorism legislation used for extensive surveillance of peaceful protesters. Parents sending kids to a school outside their area, people who don't clean up dog mess or anyone taking a photo of the police, have also been targeted. Corporations have invoked anti-stalking legislation, supposed to protect women, to get injunctions against lawful protests. And anti-trafficking laws supposed to protect the victims of trafficking are used to deport them.

When police stand accused of repressive behaviour in a number of spheres, while neglecting serious crimes including against women, it would be irresponsible to widen their powers.

For more than 30 years we have stood against attempts – by any party – to manipulate rape survivors' pain in order to attack human rights. When the rights of victims or defendants are undermined, this soon becomes the norm and justice can be denied to anyone. Recent increases in police powers have not benefited rape victims. Sexual violence against women remains pervasive and often unpunished.

In June, meeting with DPP Keir Starmer, we spelled out what should be done to reverse the endemic deprioritising of rape. He wrote to every chief crown prosecutor conveying our concerns. The issue is not the DNA, but the will.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Sunday 15 November 2009

Atheists Lead The Movement To End Poverty

In just over one year the community of Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious (AASFSHNR) at have raised $1 million (USD) in interest-free loans to help end poverty. is a US non-profit organization that connects lenders with borrowers, from around the globe, who need a micro-finance loan. Peter Kroll, the AASFSHNR community team leader, created the community on August 28th, 2008 with the ambition to organize those who share his world view that "people should care about reducing the suffering of other human beings because we acknowledge the evolutionary fact  that we are all one human family."

Kiva's co-founder Matt Flannery has put out his call that "now is a time for the world's privileged to demonstrate to the world's poor just how compassionate and resilient we are." The AASFSHNR community has responded, as well as many other communities and individuals. More than four years after Kiva's founding almost $100 million has been lent worldwide.

Micro-finance is the brain-child of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mohammad Yunus. Yunus realized decades ago, on a visit to a poor village in his country of Bangladesh, that the local people were caught in an endless cycle of debt caused by loan-sharks. He realized what a difference it would make by "removing the barriers faced by the poor so that they can unleash their creativity and intelligence in the service of humanity."

TftD Appeal - update

I have heard from the BBC Trust that the findings of their Appeals Panels which sat on November 5th are going through their processes and are expected to be published shortly.
They have asked for a contact phone number so I presume I shall hear before the press.

It would be interesting to know how many appeals on this subject they were hearing.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Bans & Burqas

With this subject Nuts & Reasons finds itself in something of a quandary. It is not sure which it dislikes most, the burqa or talk of an arbitrary government ban on it. This arises from a recent report in the Daily Telegraph (12/11/2009) which revisits the topic of burqa-wearing in France,  home to the biggest European muslim minority, and the ongoing debate on whether a legal ban is needed to avoid the undermining of the secular state. At least some of the momentum for this topic seems to be provided by Sarkozy's personal dislike of the burqa which he categorises as a sign of women's "subservience" and  "not welcome" in France.  This presumably feeds into the secular state argument because it assumes that  the woman under the veil is actually "subservient" to the extent that she is  unable or unwilling to play her full part in a secular society due to her religious beliefs or family pressures. This assumption may well be justified but banning the veil, as well as being an infringement on the basic liberty to wear what one pleases, would surely not alter a lifetime's indoctrination one whit. 

In France the burqa is already banned in Government Offices, Colleges and Schools. There is surely no objection to this being extended to any employment situation which calls for efficient communication and good relationships with colleagues or members of the public, or on safety grounds where flowing garments or lack of vision could pose a personal danger to the wearer. These are valid reasons. The only state input needed here is to ensure that employers who insist on these conditions would not be liable for court action on the grounds of religious discrimination. Otherwise the state should not interfere.  If, due to cultural pressures, muslim women continue to wear the burqa in other situations against their true inclinations, some other means of intercession should be found. Perhaps for example a targetted government advertising campaign. One hopes that, in any case, the more extreme aspects of immigant islam, exposed to western culture, will gradually wither away with succeeding generations.  In this respect the banning of burqas in schools was surely a significant step. 

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Labour has created 3,600 new offences since 1997 - Telegraph

By Chris Irvine
Published: 7:40AM BST 04 Sep 2008
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, will reveal the statistic as he sets out a fresh initiative to cut crime.
Critics of the new laws blame a government addicted to pushing complicated legislation through Parliament, and keen on grabbing a cheap headline.
A total of 3,605 offences have been introduced since May 1997, an average of 320 a year.
They include 1,238 brought in as primary legislation, which means they were debated in Parliament, and 2,367 by secondary legislation, such as orders in council and statutory documents.
The worst offender is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has created 852 new offences.
This is followed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and its predecessor the Department for Trade and Industry, which between them have created 678 offences.
Meanwhile the Home Office is responsible for 455 offences.
Among some of the more bizarre criminal offences created in the past five years include disturbing a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officer, or offering for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day.
Under Tony Blair, Labour introduced 160 new offences in his first year, but in 2003, 493 offences were created.
Mr Huhne said "In what conceivable way can the introduction of a new criminal offence every day help tackle crime when most crimes that people care about have been illegal for years.
"This legislative diarrhoea is not about making us safer, because it does not help enforce the laws that we have one jot. It is about the Government's posturing on punishments."
Here is a list of some of the new criminal offences brought in under Labour:
- Creating a nuclear explosion
- Selling types of flora and fauna not native to the UK, such as the grey squirrel, ruddy duck or Japanese knotweed
- To wilfully pretend to be a barrister or a traffic warden
- Disturb a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officers
- Obstruct workers carrying out repairs to the Dockland Light Railway
- Offer for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day
- Allow an unlicensed concert in a church hall or community centre
- A ship's captain may end up in court if he or she carries grain without a copy of the International Grain Code on board

I hope you have all been keeping up. Ignorance of the law is no excuse you know!

Catholic Truth

Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens  won a public debate in London in which they argued against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world". Click here to view.

We’ve had an influx of atheists on our blog recently, following our criticisms of that debate which was inherently hostile to the Church.  One of our new atheist friends challenged us to a one-to-one debate on the same motion, so that this event will be entirely focused on the arguments. Delighted to oblige, lead blogger, Athanasius will represent Catholic Truth.  So, tune into our blog at 6 pm to follow the debate.  Please note that debate is limited to the two named bloggers - other comments welcomed on the ‘Audience’ thread only.  Intrusive comments will be deleted, so please take care to post on the correct thread.

If you go on the website you will see a handy little poll on the bottom RH side of the page. It invites you to vote 'yes' or 'no' to the motion that "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the World"

Thursday 5 November 2009

"Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species."

This was the title of the meeting on Wednesday 4th. of the Brighton & Hove Humanists Society. Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society gave a rivetting account of the circumstances and the furore that attended the publication of "Origins" and this was followed by an entertaining re-creation (written by Terry) of the historical debate between T.H. Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford).  Derek Lennard effectively took the part of Huxley and Terry Sanderson, appropriately attired and with appropriate accents played the Bishop. Keith Porteous-Wood, Director of the NSS, acted as the commentator.  There was some heckling from the audience.

These monthly meetings in the back room of the Lord Nelson have of late been very well attended but this particular one really packed them in. Some late-comers may even have been disappointed. It was encouraging to see a good sprinkling of younger people. Although handily placed the venue is not ideal because of "noises-off". It is a pub after all. If attendances keep up they will have to consider alternatives I think.