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Welcome to the Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats' web site

The Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats are campaigning for humanist and secularist views within the party. We are an Associated Organisation of the Party, and are affiliated to both the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society.

Recent updates

  • Article: Jul 24, 2014
    By Toby Keynes

    On Friday, Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill completed its Second Reading in the Lords, its first real challenge.

    The House of Lords debated the Bill for 9 hours and 43 minutes, before agreeing without a vote to pass the bill on to a "Committee of the Whole House".

    Thanks to Lord Avebury, Sal Brinton, Navnit Dholakia, Earl Glasgow, Antony Lester, Jeremy Purvis and Jenny Tonge, who all spoke in favour of the Bill.

  • Article: Jul 16, 2014
    By Toby Keynes

    Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill is due for its second reading in the Lords this Friday, 18th July 2014.

    The great majority of religious institutions remain implacably opposed to any measure that would allow anyone in the late stages of a terminal illness, to seek and be given medical assistance in ending their life, under any circumstances.

  • Article: Jul 2, 2014
    By Toby Keynes

    The government's consultation on humanist marriages has just begun - and you can contribute!

    The consultation asks

    • WHETHER the law should be changed to allow non-religious belief organisations such as BHA to conduct marriages;
    • HOW it should be done.

    If this proposal affects you, or if you have views on it, please do contribute to the consultation, at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/marriages-by-non-religious-belief-organisations .

  • Article: Feb 5, 2014
    By Toby Keynes, Chair, HSLD

    Yesterday, Tuesday 4th February 2014, the Scottish Parliament voted the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill (Scotland) into law, by a massive majority of 105 to 18.

    The first same-sex marriages in Scotland can now take place this autumn.

    We're proud that every single one of our MSPs - Jim Hume, Liam McArthur, Alison McInnes, Willie Rennie and Tavish Scott - voted for the bill.

  • Article: Jan 30, 2014
    By Toby Keynes, Chair, HSLD

    FEDERAL CONFERENCE, YORK, FRIDAY 7th to SUNDAY 9th MARCH

    As always, we hope to see you at Conference this Spring. Let us tempt you with:

    The Manifesto Debate: play a part in the process of building our party's 2015 manifesto; if there are any votes on humanist or secularist issues, we'll need your support.

  • Document: Nov 18, 2013
    74.23 KiB drawing or desktop publishing document

    Let's end religious discrimination in schools: The public agree

    A November 2012 survey by ComRes for the Accord Coalition found 73% of British adults thought "State funded schools should not be allowed to select or discriminate against prospective pupils on religious grounds in their admissions policy". Only 18% thought that they should.

    A September 2010 survey by YouGov for ITV gave British adults a list of eleven factors that "were important to you when choosing which school to send your child/children to", and asked them to pick their top three. Only 9% of parents picked "religion of the school".

    The party agrees

    "Allowing parents and pupils to choose schools, and not schools to choose pupils, by stopping the establishment of new schools which select by ability, aptitude or faith, and by introducing policies radically to reduce all existing forms of selection." - Adopted, Spring Conference 2009

    "We will ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction." - General Election Manifesto 2010

    Nick Clegg agrees

    "I'm a huge supporter of integrated schools for the simple reason that they teach positive values to little children."

    Four reasons to oppose faith-based selection

    1. Religious selection amounts to legalised discrimination by the state on the basis of belief or practice.

    2. Dividing children on the grounds of religion damages community cohesion. Allowing children to grow up with friends from diverse religious backgrounds promotes harmony.

    3. Religious segregation leads to socioeconomic segregation. Religiously selective schools typically admit a much smaller percentage of pupils on free school meals than others in their postcode or local authority.

    4. Many faith schools choose not to select children by faith and yet are still able to maintain their ethos - proving that selection is not necessary in order to do so.

    It`s time for Lib Dems in government to end this inequality.

    "I want my children to go to a school where they can sit next to a Christian, play football at break time with a Muslim, do homework with a Hindu and walk home with an atheist - and with other children getting to know what a Jewish child is like. Schools should build bridges, not erect barriers." - Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, Minister of Maidenhead Synagogue and Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education

    The Fair Admissions Campaign

    The Fair Admissions Campaign wants all state-funded schools in England and Wales to be open equally to all children, without regard to religion or belief.

    The Campaign is supported by a wide coalition of individuals and national and local organisations who hold diverse views on whether or not the state should fund faith schools. But they all believe that faith-based discrimination in access to schools that are funded by the taxpayer is wrong in principle and a cause of religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic segregation, all of which are harmful to community cohesion. It is time it stopped.

    The Fair Admissions Campaign's supporters include the British Humanist Association, the Christian Think Tank Ekklesia, The Liberal Democrat Education Association, Liberal Youth, The Hindu Academy, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Churches.

    Get involved

    • Encourage your local party to discuss schools admissions and suggest they submit a motion to regional or federal conference
    • Challenge discriminatory admissions policies in new or existing schools in your area. Visit the Fair Admissions Campaign website for help.
    • Challenge your local authority. Voluntary controlled faith schools have their admissions policies set by the local authority, 43 local authorities in 2011 allowed some religious discrimination in admissions.
    • Write to your MP and local newspaper
    • All state-funded schools in England must comply with the entirety of the English School Admissions Code. If an English school's admissions criteria break the law or any area of the Code, then you can complain about it.

    The legal position

    More than one third of state-funded primary schools in England and Wales, and about one fifth of secondary schools, are designated with a religious character (commonly known as "faith schools"). Due to an exception in the Equality Act 2010, all of them are legally permitted to have an admissions policy that selects children on religious grounds when the school is oversubscribed, though a school's policy is set differently, depending on its type.

    In 2010, the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote that an "argument is that discrimination is necessary in order to maintain the distinctiveness of religious schools and so maintain the plurality of provision... This argument is weakened by evidence which suggests, in relation to Church of England schools, that plurality of provision has been preserved even where those schools do not have faith-based admissions criteria."

    There is no requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights for the state to fund the provision of any faith schools, let alone schools that discriminate in their admissions policy on grounds of faith, and many countries, such as France, do not fund faith schools.

  • Document: Nov 18, 2013
    68.71 KiB drawing or desktop publishing document

    Many Councils still include a formal session of prayers at the beginning of their council meetings. They say they do it as a tradition, but they rarely ask anyone, including their own councillors, if it should continue.

    Why does it matter?

    Newly elected councillors are surprised that the first formal thing they are asked to do after signing the acceptance of office is to stand up at the beginning of their first council meeting and listen to a cleric. They haven`t come across it in other walks of life, in their workplace or at social occasions, so why in the council chamber? It might not be the most important issue they face on election, and there will be a feeling of not wishing to ruffle feathers with the wise old birds who have been councillors since the dawn of time. Senior council officers are expected to join in too, and they don't even get a say in the matter.

    And so prayers continue to be said year in year out in over half the councils in the country, while fewer and fewer councillors have any religious faith at all.

    Religion is a matter for the individual, not the state or the council. Prayers at council meetings hardly reflects how most people go about their business, and it re-affirms a link between organised religion and government that needs to be broken. It's time we did something about it.

    National Secular Society v. Bideford Town Council

    In February 2011, the National Secular Society won a legal challenge against prayers said at meetings of Bideford Town Council. The High Court ruled that: "The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue".

    Simply put, it was ruled that holding prayers is not within the Council's legal powers as they do not facilitate the discharge of any of the Council's functions.

    The Government responded by invoking the "general power of competence" within the newly passed Localism Act. The General Power of Competence is a localist principle that Liberal Democrats have long pressed for, and now achieved in government. Previously a council has only been able to do those things that the law specifically empowered it to do or which are incidental to those things. The general power of competence states that rather than looking to Whitehall to hand down specific powers, a council can do anything that an individual could do unless it is specifically prohibited by law. A good localist, liberal principle.

    Surely councillors should have their say, but many councils have simply carried on with prayers as before, without even consulting their councillors.

    I am a councillor - what should I do?

    There are many different things you can do, as a councillor, and particularly as a Mayor or Chair of your Council. Quite simply you should not feel obliged in any way to take part in any religious rituals. We believe in freedom from, as well as freedom of religion. Some councillors will not want to make a fuss and will stand or sit in silence through the ritual. You could simply withdraw from that part of the meeting, but why should you? Some councillors have faced criticism even for doing that.

    If Councils do have a general power of competence to decide to have prayers, why not put it to the test. Propose a motion that prayers should not be part of the formal council agenda and that those councillors who wish to pray together should organise to do so separately from the formal business of council. You are not denying anyone their personal freedom to their religion, you are just asking that they do not impose it on others. After all, they would not expect to do it in any other workplace. You may be surprised how many others, regardless of party or religious belief, will agree with you.

    As a mayor, or chair of your council, there is much more you can do. In many councils it is customary for the Mayor or Chair to appoint a chaplain, and decide on the prayers. There are many examples of Mayors or Chairs who have simply decided not to appoint a chaplain or have appointed a humanist celebrant, and so no prayers have been held during their term of office.

    You could replace prayers with a short period of silent contemplation, or choose secular readings of prose or poetry. As Mayor of my Council I used this as an opportunity for promote local poetry, prose and humour. It was enjoyed by all councillors, regardless of faith, and helped promote local talent.

    Some Mayors think that they are demonstrating the diversity of their council by letting the major religions take it turns to deliver prayers, but those of no religion are usually forgotten. Replacing one religion with several does not deal with the need to separate religion from government.

    Not the Council`s business

    Imposing prayers on councillors and council officers continues because it goes unchallenged. The National Secular Society and others will continue to challenge the principle of prayers at council meetings at national level. It is up to all Liberal Democrats to establish the principle of freedom from religion in their own council chamber, while retaining the right of those who wish to pray to do so, but separately from the formal business of a council meeting.

    The National Secular Society are campaigning against prayers in council meetings and can give more advice. Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats are affiliated to the National Secular Society and to the British Humanist Association, who can offer advice on seeking humanist celebrants for civic occasions. Eric Pickles letter to all Council Leaders setting out the general power of competence in the matter of prayers at council meetings can be read on DCLG`s website.

    Cllr. Richard Church

  • Document: Aug 27, 2013
    69.17 KiB drawing or desktop publishing document

    Essential events covering God, Islam, the party manifesto, the coalition and legally assisted dying - plus, of course, our AGM

  • Document: Aug 14, 2013
    58.47 KiB drawing or desktop publishing document

    Agenda for HSLD AGM to be held on Tuesday 19th September 2013 at Glasgow Conference

  • Article: Jul 10, 2013
    By Toby Keynes, Chair, HSLD

    This afternoon, Wednesday 10th July 2013, the House of Lords has just voted by acclamation to start the process that should lead to humanist weddings being legally recognised in England and Wales within a year or two.

    Amendment 90 to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill requires the government to arrange a review to determine whether non-religious belief organisations should be able to conduct legally-recognised weddings, and how this should be regulated, and to produce a report by the 1st of January 2015. It then allows the government to introduce any necessary legislation and regulations by order.