Doesn’t religion cause enough trouble already?…Religious organisations call for widened representation in the House of Lords and a new UK religious censor to get all easily offended by the depiction of religion in the media

Posted: 7 December, 2015 in Nutters
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living with difference A major new report on the role of religion and belief in public life has been criticised by the National Secular Society for calling for a multi-faith approach completely at odds with the religious indifference that permeates British society. The NSS said the Woolf Commission is wholly misguided in calling for religious representation in the House of Lords to be extended to representatives of other faiths and denominations rather than calling for the abolition of the bench of bishops.

The report was convened by the Woolf Institute, a religious group which studies relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Patrons include the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Iqbal Sacranie, former general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Lord Harry Woolf, the former chief justice. Its Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life was chaired by Baroness Ann Butler-Sloss.

Perhaps the most controversial and self-serving of the Report’s recommendations however is for the House of Lords to include a wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England. Such a move could see a reduction in the number of bishops and places given to imams, rabbis and other non-other non-Christian clerics as well as evangelical pastors.

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society commented:

We completely reject this recommendation. The United Kingdom is unique among Western democracies in giving religious representatives seats in its legislature by right. The vast majority have abandoned all links between religion and State, with no discernible adverse consequences.

The report also calls for the introduction of a statutory entitlement for pupils to learn about religions and non-religious worldviews. It also says attempts should be made to increase religion and belief literacy amongst all journalists and says every newsroom should retain at least one religion and belief specialist . Indeed it would seem a wise move to try to understand better why it is that so much of the world’s troubles, wars, violence and killing is so closely associated with religion.

In fact the report speaks at great length of it’s ideas to plant religious propaganda staff in news rooms. The report states:

Religion and belief literacy

Serious and ongoing attempts need to be made to increase religion and belief literacy among all journalists and reporters. Possible ways of achieving this include:

  • every newsroom retaining at least one religion and belief specialist, or subscribing to one specialist agency
  • short courses on political religion tailored to the needs of newsrooms
  • a core element in all media training courses to include world religions and the implications of the changing religious landscape
  • exposure to relevant resources on religious literacy in world affairs
  • the possibility of short placements in religious media outlets and organised exchanges of journalists in religious media with those in other outlets
  • a national commitment to funding such projects by relevant civil society bodies.

And alarming the report calls for a panels of religious censors to be created:

Advisory panel

Consideration should be given to establishing a panel of experts on religion and belief for the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to use when there are complaints about the media. This may strengthen self-regulation of the media and help reassure the public about the quality of reporting on religion and belief. The panel would also be responsible for publishing an annual index of religion and belief literacy which would identify media outlets with best practice as well as those who need to improve the quality of their reporting on religion and belief. It should be noted that the Religion Media Centre is already working towards these proposals.

[Note the Religion Media Centre seems to be a research unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. The director is Abby Day, a former journalist and academic publisher. She is the author of Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World] .

The next proposal is straight of the book of 1984 Propaganda Annual:

Awards scheme

It would be relevant and valuable to establish a prize (along the lines of existing prizes for religious broadcasting and for issues like mental health) which would recognise and reward the best in religion and belief coverage in the print and social media.

Butler-Sloss concludes saying that the 144-page report’s recommendations amount to a new settlement for religion and belief in the UK.

Keith Porteous Wood responded:

Britain urgently needs a new settlement but, for the most part, this report doesn’t represent a sensible way forward. Instead of a multiculturalist, multifaith framework, which has serves us so poorly until now, we need a secular framework where everyone is equal before the law and where citizens interact with the state as equals, not as members of religious communities through a group identity. In a society as irreligious as ours, where religious belief is declining and simultaneously diversifying, this is a vital principle. It offers our best hope of fostering a fair and open society in which people of all religions or none can live together harmoniously and as equal citizens.

Thankfully the government is not well impressed by the report, and even the Church of England is displeased. The Telegraph writes:

The report provoked a furious row last night as it was condemned by Cabinet ministers as seriously misguided and the Church of England said it appeared to have been hijacked by humanists.

A source close to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, described the report’s recommendations on faith schools as ridiculous . The source said:

Nicky is one of the biggest champions of faith schools and anyone who thinks she is going to pay attention to these ridiculous recommendations is sorely misguided.

The Church of England said the report was a sad waste and had fallen captive to liberal rationalism .


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