From NSS Newsline - Fri, 25 Sep 2009

Monday 28 September 2009

Pope to visit Britain – but not everyone is pleased

The news that the reactionary head of the Catholic Church, Joseph Ratzinger, is to be accorded a state visit to Britain next September was greeted with dismay by the National Secular Society this week. The Pope will meet the Queen and speak in both Houses of Parliament. The whole visit will have the full panoply of a visiting head of state, although the Vatican has only a few hundred (all-male) inhabitants.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "This is dismal news indeed. Why Britain should seek to laud such a nasty extremist is beyond me. We should not forget that his ’teachings’ have resulted in the banning of condoms in developing countries where HIV is decimating the populations. He encourages population growth in places where starvation is common. He persecutes homosexuals, treats women as second class citizens, has colluded in the large-scale cover up of child abuse. His Church interferes illegitimately in politics and undermines democracy. It siphons huge amounts of money out of poverty-stricken economies – what is there to celebrate about such a bigot? The NSS will be joining other groups in protesting against the celebration of this ghastly man’s presence here."

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association is planning to picket the Labour Party Conference in Brighton next week in protest at Gordon Brown’s invitation to the pope. If you’d like to join them, they can be contacted through their website.

Former Bishop of Oxford says Bishops will stay in Lords

The former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, has said that it is "unlikely" that the proposals to reform the House of Lords in a way that would remove the bench of Bishops would succeed. One of the options proposed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw was a fully elected second chamber, which would leave no place for the Lords Spiritual.

Lord Harries told the Tablet: "Jack Straw’s views are, frankly, not likely to take effect. It is unlikely that his proposal will ever come to pass. Reform is a long way down the line and there would be very strong opposition to a totally elected House."

Lord Harries, who was a member of the Wakeham Commission (to which the NSS gave evidence ten years ago calling for the abolition of the Bench of Bishops) said that removing the Bishops would "raise the whole question of establishment". He did concede that some change might be acceptable – a reduction of the numbers from 26 to 16 for instance.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "Despite Lord Harries’ special pleading, it is perfectly possible to still have an established Church without giving clerics the right to sit in parliament; no other Western democracy with an established church has them. Having said that, nothing would please us more than if, when the bishops get their marching orders, it does lead to disestablishment. We will continue to work for that."

Meanwhile, the Tablet says that plans to elevate Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor to the House of Lords have been "put on hold". It is not clear why or by whom the plan was stymied, but the NSS and its members have been lobbying the Government, indeed the PM himself, not to offer a peerage to Murphy O’Connor as it would appear to be rewarding him for his disgraceful behaviour in protecting the known serial child abuser Father Michael Hill, the Gatwick Airport chaplain.

BA cross woman loses her plea for protection from costs

The infamous "BA cross" woman, Nadia Eweida, who wanted to go to the Court of Appeal to overturn an employment tribunal ruling that she did not suffer religious discrimination from British Airways, has been told that she must pay her own way if she proceeds.

Ms Eweida went to court yesterday to try to obtain a "protective costs" order that would absolve her from having to pay costs if she lost. Her plea, which was backed by the human rights group Liberty, was refused. It is now unlikely that she will continue in this crusade against her long-suffering employer.

Miss Eweida has returned to work for BA after the firm changed its uniform policy, but she still intended to pursue BA, even though they had capitulated to her every demand.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "Far from being an innocent, persecuted Christian as she was portrayed, Ms Eweida was a plain nuisance to BA – read this for more information. I am surprised to see Liberty assisting this vindictive woman’s campaign which would have resulted in an utter waste of taxpayers’ money on a large scale if the case had gone to the appeal court."