You may have already heard about this, especially if following on Twitter (which 1/5 of you dear readers do). The debate 9 March at University College London (UCL), which Professor Lawrence Krauss took part in on the atheist side, was organised by the Islamic and Education Research Academy (iERA) which provided for segregated seating by gender and mixed seating. Krauss, who had been warned this might happen by Dawkins, was assured by organisers this would not occur, so announced at the debate that people could sit where they wished.
Three men chose to relocate to the women section. Where upon organisers tried to move them; they called upon Krauss to say they were being moved despite his assurance. Upon which the professor packed up. The men were then allowed to sit where they wished, and Krauss took part in the debate.
So twitter has been aglow, and my new BFF to passionatley disagree with Monsar Ansar had this to say:
Contrast this with the UCL statement explaining that following the incident iERA are banned from using their premises:
UCL was founded in 1826 as a secular institution. That does not mean it is institutionally atheist but that it is an open institution, tolerant of difference, strong on of freedom of speech, but intolerant of discrimination on grounds of gender, race, religion or other irrelevant grounds. There is no shortage of other premises available in London to organisations wishing to operate to different rules. [Source]
Gender allocated seating is not acceptable, not because people may choose to sit where they may, but because the idea behind it suggests that women and men have their own divisions to be maintained in public. The political significance of feminism cannot be overstated in raising awareness – to single out areas for people arbitrarily on the basis of gender is not tolerable.
This would be my reaction if this gender separation happened in a mixed sex school debate or assembly. I am opposed in principle to same sex schools for again we are arbitrarily separating people on the basis of gender from one another.
So to suggest that religious freedom allows this separation may be justified if this was an Islamic meeting or designated islamic place where such rules operate. This was not the case at UCL; just the opposite. Also, an undertaking had been made that this would not happen to a key figure in the debate.
I disagree with Richard Dawkins that Krauss should have walked out in protest to gain more public attention to the issue. That has been secured. It is possible that people at the debate had not heard the atheist side before – and when uploaded on youtube (will include when link available) others not used to such debates may hear what the atheist side has to say for itself. The OUT Campaign was best served by the debate happening and exposing what took place.
Addressing what Monsar says – well we do allow in the UK religious institutions to discriminate on the basis of gender whether the Bishops in the House of Lords being still only male or gender segregation at a Mosque. That is on the basis that people voluntarily chose to be a part of such faiths and comply with such rules. Companies or public institutions cannot function in the same way.
Thankfully I am free to disagree with this while accepting that in some ways this is none of my business. Accept on the point of a faith being voluntary – it is a human rights issue that people may leave a faith without fear, or intimidation. Equally, that a woman and man may chose to sit in a public secular place with whoever she wants when allocated seating allows, while being treated as a person not a personification of a sexual gender.
Human rights trump religious ideas in enforcement. I am not a man, or a human mammal with urges and cravings, when considering such rights. In the eyes of the law we transcend gender, and in the body politic we metamorphose into something that makes us equal and entitled:
Citizens of a secular liberal democracy.
UPDATE Blog: Lawrence Krauss on Incest
UPDATE 8/4/2013: Video of Debate
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog