Because a secular state is the only state system that can guarantee freedom of expression and human rights for all.
I have always supported the rights of all people to practice their religion, or not to practice religion, within a secular state in which no particular religion, race or social group is favoured by the state or picked out by the state for particular censure.
The values enshrined by law and enforced by the state should and must be concerned with human rights above all else. To ensure that all citizens are protected from violence and intimidation that might emanate from the beliefs and practices of any social group, religious or political, it is vital that the ethical standards on non-violence are upheld. Clearly, no state is perfect in that regard and the UK Government is still open to many improvements.
The Protest the Pope March in London on the 18th September 2010 was in support of human rights that have been abused by some members of the Catholic Church, and by the Pope, in recent years and the way in which The UK Government has promoted the values of the Catholic Church by honouring the Pope’s visit without adequate censure concerning human rights abuse. Issues include:
- The covering up of child abuse, rape and sexual harassment by the Catholic Church.
- The refusal of the Catholic Church to release documentation of criminal activities to the relevant authorities.
- The Catholic Church’s unequal treatment of women and the belief that women are inferior to men in many spheres of life.
- The Catholic Church’s unequal treatment of gay people and the condemnation of gay sexual orientation.
- The Catholic Church’s promotion of untrue statements condemning the effective use of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV and Aids.
- The Catholic Church’s condemnation of secular society.
- The Catholic Church’s condemnation of atheism.
- The recognition of The Vatican as a Nation State when the Vatican does not adequately met the criteria for statehood as defined by the United Nations.
- The insufficiently critical and unbalanced coverage of the papal visit by the BBC.
- The financial support given by the UK Government to the Pope’s visit.
Like many people in favour of a secular society based on freedom and human rights, I support the rights of all people to think what they like and to believe in any political or religious movement providing that human rights abuses are not enacted in the furtherance of such beliefs.
In an open society, it is a legitimate activity for citizens to campaign to further their ethical, moral and political values, to publish their thoughts, form clubs, societies and groups and to protest peacefully. But citizens should also realise that such freedoms can only be guaranteed if the State also guarantees equal treatment under the law without undue favour or hindrance. The Protest was aimed at highlighting the UK Government’s overwhelming support for a religious entity that has broken the laws protecting our human rights nationally and internationally.
Though the protest was specifically aimed at the UK Government’s support for the Pope’s visit, speakers and campaigners on the march also condemned human rights abuses by other major religions and non religious organisations.
I joined the march to support secular and fair treatment before the law and I support the right for all people to promote their values without undue favour or hindrance from the state.
The British Humanist Association
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, gave the first speech to open the rally protesting against the State Visit of the Pope to the United Kingdom, to a crowd of nearly 20,000 people. The rally was held opposite Downing Street at just after 4pm on Saturday, and followed a march by the protestors which began at Hyde Park Corner earlier in the afternoon. The march and rally was organised by the Central London Humanist Group for the Protest the Pope campaign. Other speakers at the rally were Barbara Blaine from SNAP (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests), Clara Connolly from Women Against Fundamentalism, Sue Cox, sex abuse survivor, Professor Richard Dawkins, scientist, Dr Ben Goldacre, journalist, Johann Hari, journalist, Father Bernard J Lynch, an openly gay catholic priest, Maryam Namazie, One Law for All, Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society, and Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner. See, hear or read the speeches at:
All photos on this post by Nick Nakorn and Jo Jones.