BHA No Faith Schools Campaign


I met Jay at the British Humanist Association (BHA) conference this year. Without hesitation, this is someone to fund to keep the no faith schools campaign going. But do not just take my word for it. Professor Alice Roberts sent an email out this evening, highlighting the work Jay does. As the recent receipent of humanist of the year, the importance of secular education is one she has championed herself.

Her email via BHA follows, and the link to just giving is here


My name is Alice Roberts. I’m a biologist, a BHA Patron, an honorary fellow of the British Science Association, the Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, and the mother of two young children.

Throughout my career, I’ve done my best to speak up for causes I believe in, not least around religious discrimination in our schools, and I like to think that the support I’ve been able to voice has made at least a small difference.

However, I know that these issues demand the attention of someone working full time to campaign for change. Currently, there’s only one campaigner in the entire country dedicated to opposing undue religious influence in the education system. His name is Jay Harman, and he is employed by the BHA.

I’m writing to you today to ask if you can make a contribution at so the BHA can continue to employ Jay. Your gift will help the BHA to continue funding the vital work that Jay does for all of us.

My area of focus is and always has been science. Thanks to the BHA’s Faith Schools Campaigner, this September marked the first teaching of evolution as part of the English primary curriculum. This is such an important step and one that simply wouldn’t have been possible without the work of this important position. Our next ambition is to repeat this success in Wales.

There’s still such a long way to go. Earlier this year, Jay investigated the extent to which creationist private schools were continuing to receive state funds through their nurseries despite a Government ban last summer. Shockingly, Jay’s research revealed that the ban was having almost no effect whatsoever and these groups continue to receive taxpayers’ money whilst polluting the minds of young children with creationist and pseudoscientific nonsense.

Without a dedicated campaigner focusing solely on these issues, this would never have come to light. Can you donate so this vital work can continue?

If that wasn’t enough, last month Jay also revealed yet another way that ‘faith’ schools have been failing parents and children by demanding that they contribute often exorbitant sums of money towards the upkeep of the school and pressuring them into paying even if they’re not in a position to. And just last week, the BHA put out a landmark new report which showed shocking proof that virtually all religiously selective schools discriminate illegally in their admission arrangements, with many rigging their policies to prioritise affluent, and even racially exclusive intakes.

This system is desperately unfair and so many non-religious parents find themselves with no choice but to send their child to the local ‘faith’ school, knowing that their children will be taught a narrow and even indoctrinatory RE syllabus. Can it be right that religious groups can use taxpayer funds to gain privileged access to, and control of, children’s education?

If, like me, you want Jay’s work to continue, then please donate generously at so the humanist voice can continue to be heard.

Thank you,

Alice Roberts

P.S. Please don’t forget to donate. Please don’t put it off. Donate today at, so that every child can have a fair and balanced education, free from indoctrination in religion.

All donations will go towards employing the Faith Schools and Education Campaigner for another year and funding his campaigning activities. Any money donated over and above our target will go towards boosting the BHA’s education campaigns.

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Farewell Glen Carrigan:  Homoscientificus 

Just learned that blogger Glen Carrigan of Homo scientificus passed away this week. He wrote about “Psychology, humanism, health, and society” and you may have caught him on The Big Question (photo above from his blog post on) and various podcasts.

Whilst he may not be with us, the humanist ideals he espoused will live on. I just wanted to share something from a blog post he did following the General Election this year.

My heart goes out to all those that knew him.


“Remember, we can engage in democracy all year round, and perhaps we should actively do so. Having an idea, meeting people, making new friends and creating a plan is how it all starts. I recently heard a friend when asked “what can we do?” about a particular topic answer: “Get up from your armchair and actually do something.” This was at a conference concerned with Free Thought all over the world, and he was right!

So many people are complaining about X or Y party, say they would have voted but they don’t trust anyone, say it wouldn’t have made a difference, bemoan the fact that it’s a flawed system anyway so why bother, or chastise others for voting however they did, despite a lack of engagement of their own beyond the election itself sometimes. But what can we do?

Join a lobbying group or volunteer for a charity and work towards positive ends – I’d recommend the British Humanist Association if you’re concerned about free expression, secularism, science, and championing human rights for everyone. Actually join the political party that you currently support, and if you have concerns that they’re a bunch of self-serving Tories in top hats, or liberals that lean so far left they almost fall over, then join anyway and mix things up – They’ll probably be glad you did so and you’ll be able to join the debate and make a real impact. Are you a researcher or a lecturer, a labourer or a nurse? Well then join your union and put aside some time to campaign. Find or create some campaigns you think are worth fighting for and actually go for it: Write to MPs, petition other governments, satirise the current government … do something! If you’re a student, you probably have more time on your hands than the rest of us to do all of the above, so pitch in.

If you have principles then please stand up for them, in a democracy that’s what counts, it’s not enough to moan into an echo chamber or be outraged. By all means get a bit angry, but then do something with it … something legal! I’ll always vote and ACT in the interests of human rights, free expression, equality, secularism, science education, and justice. But it takes more than talking about something, whatever that might be, to achieve it. You got one vote after 5 years, well, for the next 5 years you could be doing so much more.”


From Chris Moos: “I’m thinking of my friend Glen Cas Carrigan who tragically lost his fight against depression yesterday. He was one of the most impressive and talented individuals I ever met and I feel privileged to have been able to get to know him, even if not enough. The chances that anyone who reads this will go through at least one depressive episode or other mental health issue in their lives is very high. Depression or any mental health issue are health issues, and as any other health issue they can be treated. I just want to tell you, you are not alone in your suffering, even if it might seem that way, and there is always help. If ever you feel down, please do reach out to me or one of the many people who care about you. There always is a way out, even if you cannot see it at the moment. Please, reach out.”


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Warwick Student Union Will Allow Maryam Namazie To Speak

Warwick Student Union has admitted that it’s procedure regarding external speakers was not followed, and that Maryam Namazie would never be excluded from talking when it was. 

In a statement released late tonight, they wrote:

Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed. Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse. There is a great deal that we now must put right, …

Among these things to put right, is to ensure the event goes ahead as planned by Warwick Atheist Secular and Humanist Society, and issuing an apology to Maryam.

They ended on a positive note:

We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie.

Maryam, thank you for all the hard work you have put into secularism, equality and freedom. It was the very least any of us could have done in appreciation, to mention how important it is for your voice to be heard on these issues.

Update: As The British Humanist Association point out (follow link for more), this incident is hardly unique:

The Warwick incident is the latest in a long line of overly censorious actions by universities and students’ unions. Other incidents in recent years include UCL Union banning a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon from appearing on a UCL AHS [Atheist Humanist Society] Facebook event poster; a talk by an anti-sharia activist at Queen Mary AHS being cancelled as a result of death threats; Reading University AHS being ejected by their Union from their freshers’ fair as a result of a pineapple being labelled ‘Mohammed’; LSE AHS being threatened with election from their freshers’ fair by their Union and University if they did not cover up Jesus and Mo t-shirts; and London South Bank AHS having posters taken down by their Union that featured the flying spaghetti monster.

In every case after the incident, the Union and/or University has backed down and apologised after the relevant incident.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Maryam Namazie Blocked From Speaking By Warwick Student Union


From Harry’s Place:

If you haven’t yet caught up with this story an excellent summary of Warwick Student Union’s disgraceful decision can be read on Student Rights. Briefly, Namazie had been invited to speak by Warwick’s Atheists Secularists and Humanists society [WASH] on 28 October, but her invitation has now been blocked by the SU on the grounds that ‘she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus’.

Although Warwick University is not a serial offender when it comes to extremist speakers, the SU’s position is clearly inconsistent. As Student Rights points out, Ken O’Keefe was given permission to speak earlier this year

(Read more of Sarah’s post here)

Nick Cohen has retweeted an article on Maryam he did some years back. As he says, liberals should be supporting her:

… Maryam Namazie’s obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it. She was born in Tehran, but had to flee with her family when the Iranian revolution brought the mullahs to power. After graduating in America, she went to work with the poor in the Sudan. When the Islamists seized control, she established an underground human rights network. Her cover was blown and she had to run once again. She’s been a full-time campaigner for the rights of the Iranian diaspora, helping refugees across the world and banging on to anyone who will listen about the vileness of its treatment of women.

There is a petition to sign, started by the WASH President Benjamin David. As he mentions, quoting George Benard Shaw:

Lest we forget: “censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” (George Bernard Shaw)

It is absurd. Maryam has campaigned against theocracy and Islamism not least because it kills and oppresses so many Muslims; not just ex muslims or others. It is not a crime, nor an offence, to be an atheist. It seems being an outspoken one may insult others; yet that same quality makes a speaker appropriate for what WASH stands for. Question and challenge her if you disagree with her. 

Critics of theocracy are imprisoned and flogged.  A state executioner will behead, or an indoctrinated extremist will machete on the public street. This does not happen in the UK, where free speech and religious freedom walk hand in hand.

The Warwick Student Union are in danger of joining hands with the oppressors of free thinkers and religious minorities in other countries by suppressing an event one of their society has organised. 

It is not too late for them to support feminism, secularism and freedom – however laid bare and outspoken it might be. 

Update: latest response by WASH on what they comment is a misleading statement by the Student Union claiming only reviewing if Maryam can speak. 

They include screen shots from their correspondence with the Student Union, that a decision had been made to ban her.  

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Religious Extremism Is A Struggle For All Of Humanity

We must act as a global citizenry to prevent extremism impacting not just the human rights of others, but our own. Too many are being killed for wanting religious freedom and exercising free speech. Whether it is a magazine office in Paris, a blogger returning home from a book market in Bangladesh, or Christians beheaded by ISIS, this threat is too close to home to be considered a faraway problem. We must act not just to support others rights, but our own. 

Pope Francis is visiting the USA at the moment. Addressing Congress, he mentioned religious freedom and religious extremism:

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

This contrasted with what he said while with President Obama.

I too was surprised he did not mention it with the US President. Obama’s foreign policy on Syria and Iraq failed to contain ISIS, contributing to the problem, while also failing to invest in civic resources that would have supported the Arab Spring when it happened. We have instead seen an Arab Fall, with sectarian bloodshed part of the power struggle between factions in the region, and just beyond. Bloody tyranny is no answer to bloody theocracy.

When our chief ally, Saudi Arabia, is about to crucify someone who as a juvenile protested the government, western nation states seem to be more concerned with keeping the arms flowing one way (never mind who they kill in Yemen) and the oil the other way, than to say: enough. Instead, forget the persecution of Shias, liberals and others. Similarly with the Iranian nuclear deal improving trade relations, who cares if a slice of Iran’s new economic growth might go on terrorism and religious persecution?

Our response has to go beyond what our nation states will do; which is virtually nothing. We need to show support directly for the victims of these regimes, finance NGOs that support them, and champion the civic activists on the ground who are at the front line of combatting extremism and standing for human rights.

Not least because this extremism threatens ours. A global hit list has been published for secular and atheist bloggers, by the group targeting those in Bangladesh. In our globalised world, distance is becoming an irrelevancy not just to digital information but the violence that wishes to disrupt the exchange of ideas in a pluralistic world. We must be vigilant in promoting civil liberties, secularism and human rights here given the onslaught and the panic that would have us become that which we would seek to defend ourselves against.

We must swim against this tidal wave of blood that would drown out free speech and religious freedom. Too many are having to do this alone. We must become part of a global citizen activism that will not sink in the face of a theocratic or tyrannical nightmare but instead plunge headlong in to defeat it.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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“Islam and The Future Of Tolerance” and Sam Harris on Profiling


Not out in the UK till November, we got a taste of what the dialogue between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz on Islam will be like, at the book launch event at Harvard’s Kennedy Forum, on the 14 September.

Maajid Nawaz is often criticised as having no standing among muslims, because he is not devout. That poses the question whether such critics felt he had more standing when he was active in Hizb-ut-Tahrir trying to spark an islamist coup in countries. Nawaz has been that angry young man, discriminated against, running for his life and very near killed by racist thugs. Then he found a political and religious group that welcomed him and gave him a purpose to stand tall for. Islamism. As a recruiter, he knows from the inside just how it works and how others can provide useful cover to such extremism. 

Maajid knows how to distinguish islamism from islam, to an extent that Sam Harris publicly states he has changed his opinions and nuanced his position after their dialogue, which the book recounts for us. That in itself makes it for me a must read. Together with the acclaimed video for #NotAnotherBrother against ISIS, and the recent report on people leaving extremism from islamism or the far right, there is much to learn from the Quilliam Foundation that Nawaz co-founded.

No sooner had the live streamed event (video above) finished, then twitter was awash with extracts from a recent Sam Harris interview, on profiling. Out of context, the quotes as presented had me shaking my head, and remembering Maajid saying that in dialogue we all will say stupid things. Yet when you watch the interview segment on profiling in full (see video below) it shows Sam saying that he needs to be considered a risk at airports (assuming not recognised as a celebrity atheist writer against Jihadism). In short, it should not be based on race or appearance, as much as by age at which people become radicalised to Jihadism. 

If you listen to the following sound cloud, Sam Harris recounts the Twitter storm that met him when he finished the Boston event. The exasperation comes across, in the wearisome of here we go again house keeping. To have a genuine dialogue, and to explore differences and find agreed actions, we need to at least represent each other’s views correctly.

It is noticeable that before the book is published, this smear campaign is happening to the co-authors. A previous reblog on here looked at Nathan Lean’s comments about Maajid Nawaz. It ruins the narrative of Reza Aslan if the dialogue shows an anti-theist does embrace pluralism that includes Islam, but wants to try and deal with the violent tendencies which Islamist extremists advocate via their religious ideology. Let alone the anti-liberal views.

The smearing of both co-authors on social media should alert you that some really do not want you to read the book. Soon we will be able to show that we can make up our own minds, when we do pick it up.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Charlie Hebdo Are Not Mocking Aylan Kurdi

I really do not want to become the “what were Charlie Hebdo thinking?” blogger when outrage emerges on social media about one of their cartoons. I will always be Je Suis Charlie because no one should be murdered for drawing a cartoon. This general convention of how civil society in a free country should work, bears no reflection on how you may view the said cartoon. It is a nonsense asking if you are still against the killing of cartoonists for drawing a cartoon, when asked “are you still Je Suis Charlie?” Yet nonsense, like misunderstanding, is everywhere.

It helps though to appreciate the style of satire being portrayed. Outrage is best informed, rather than a demonstration you do not understand something. So let me set the scene for the first of two cartoons by Charlie Hebdo that have everyone racing to condemn them.

Too many in Europe say we are full. This is increasingly including mainstream politicians. The refugees rather than fleeing ISIS, and the squalor where they may have first taken refuge, are after the good life in the west. That is the perceived goal as seen by the anti-immigration brigade against refugees fleeing war and oppression.

It is that attitude which Charlie Hebdo are lampooning here:

When Aylan’s dead body washed up on the Turkish shore, the photograph shook the world. The caption reads “so close to his goal” with the advert for fast food aimed at children offering a 2 for 1 offer. The cartoon is ridiculing both the idea a child is selfishly trying to achieve a “goal”, as it is the commercialisation of childhood which cheapens life, like smugglers on an unseaworthy vessel do. Children all over the world are human beings first, second, and third. There is also quite possibly a back story too regarding McDonald’s, as in France recently their staff were told not to give food to “tramps.”

The other cartoon shows a Christian boasting he can walk on water (as Christ “did”) but look Muslim children cannot. It is mocking the supposed superiority Christian racists use in their self-proclaimed righteousness over Muslims. Let us be clear – Charlie Hebdo is against all religious hatred on this score. Let alone the racism of the far right.

By all means decide using Aylan to make these points is distasteful. As I am sure you did the photograph of him which caused political leaders to do PR face saving exercises across Europe. Maybe we can all forget that our elected representatives were not doing enough to help alleviate the refugee crisis. That we, the electorate they answer to, were sending the message that we rather they did not do too much.

A photograph can change views. Cartoons can also provoke a reaction. Your response should be anger at the attitudes that Charlie Hebdo is mocking here. Instead though, cartoons challenging the vile reasoning of too many xenophobic morons have caused outrage.

That outrage is better served at our failure to fight fascism and tyranny, and failing to welcome refugees before a photograph of a dead child washed up on a beach. We cannot bring him back, and I can appreciate many seeing the cartoons with misleading captions, as a betrayal of his memory.

You can still find the cartoons distasteful. But at least understand what they are critiquing.

More can be read on Sunny Hundal’s facebook post.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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