Report on the BHA`s Group Representatives` Annual Meeting



Report on the BHA`s Group Representatives` Annual Meeting
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 1
Summer 2015
Report on the BHA’s Group
Representatives’ Annual Meeting—Maggie Hall
Winter 2015
Religion and Freedom of Expression
Rainbows, Rights and
Robert Ingersoll—
Freethinking Allowed
On Saturday 21st November, Robert and I were privileged to attend
the BHA Group Representatives
Annual Meeting (GRAM). More
than 70 delegates attended, representing 42 groups, and in a packed
room at the Rocket Café in Holborn, London, we were treated to
several interesting and stimulating
presentations and workshops, and
had the opportunity to do some
useful mingling with people from
other Humanist groups from all over
the country. We came away with
new ideas, new enthusiasm and
realising that we had some thinking
to do. Several things stood out for
us. Some groups in areas with
smaller populations than Brighton
and Hove have considerably bigger
memberships. For example, Farnham Humanists, with a population
of 39,000, was able to attract a
membership of 50 in the period
following their inception in 2004,
now risen to 83. I didn’t get an opportunity to ask how many actually
attend. For comparison, Brighton &
Hove has a population of 273,000
and we have 37 members with typically an attendance of no more than
25. They also have a large committee of 10-11 people, whereas we
have six.
Many groups have a broader range
Secularist of the Year 2016
Happy New Year from the
and number of activities: discussion
groups and workshops, videos, monthly
“pub chats”, “What do Humanists Do”
events, annual festive event, dinners,
book clubs, walks & cycle trips, etc.
ple would make a viable group for us
to get someone down from the BHA to
give us our own training course and
he said it would need to be between
15 and 25 people. We are currently
Many groups do a lot more advertising
cogitating about this on the Committee
than we do, including much more paid
but I would be delighted to hear from
advertising, promotions on social media
any of our members who might be
as well as local press ads. Local radio
interested in joining in such a project,
seems to be used a lot too.
possibly in conjunction with another
In our first breakout group I was relieved group. I know we have members who
to find that there were also other groups are or have been involved in education in one way or another and I’m
who, like us, find difficulty in attracting
new, and particularly younger, members. sure we could easily get together a
One representative expressed the prob- small team of people who could help
educate local young people about
lem very well when he said that when
they do finally get some younger people what Humanism is. Speaking of
to attend they see “a lot of white middle- which, the new book “What is Humanaged, middle-class people” and conclude ism” by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, is to be sent to every
that it’s not for them and don’t return.
school in the country.
Finding a way to break that cycle is a
There were further workshops and
talks on running campaigns, communiThere was a very interesting presentation by Luke Donellan, BHA Head of Ed- cation and an interview and media
ucation, on School Volunteering. A BHA training workshop during which yours
truly enjoyed honing her improvisaSchool Volunteer Speaker training
tional skills being interviewed about
course is held regularly, but there have
been none anywhere near Brighton. The why humanist groups should take part
in Remembrance Day ceremonies.
nearest one planned at the moment will
be in Guildford, still quite a way away. I
The day concluded with the Website
collared Luke on this at lunchtime and he
of the Year Award , which went to
invited me to e-mail him on the matter,
Farnham Humanists.
which I did. I asked him how many peo-
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 2
W i nt er 2 015
Page 2
Religion and Freedom of Expression:
Maggie Hall reports on Chris Moos’ October talk
Back in October, we were delighted to be able to welcome Chris
Moos, who delivered a presentation entitled Freedom of expression
at universities in the face of the
religious far-right.
When Chris Moos and Abhishek
Phadnis took over the LSE Student
Union’s Atheist, Secularist and
Humanist Society in 2012, they did
not think it would be much more
than a place for like-minded nonreligious and secularist students to
meet and exchange ideas. Little
did they know that on British campuses, not everyone thinks that the
non-religious should have the
same rights to free expression that
their religious counterparts have or even the right to sit wherever
they like. Chris and Abhishek were
not amused - and started several
campaigns that carried the plight of
non-religious and secular students
to national and international attention and garnered the support of
renowned secularists like Richard
Dawkins, A C Grayling, Gita Sahgal, Pragna Patel and Maryam
Stanley StellerbyEnglish (SU Society and
Activities officer):
“What happened was that
over at UCL there was
some cartoons printed
which depicted the
prophet Muhammed,
which is obviously highly
problematic in regards
to the beliefs in Islam
[…] Printing cartoons in
order to act as a publicity stunt in order to
highlight freedom of
speech issues is only
seeking to offend a certain minority group and
that is completely unacceptable.”
Sherelle Davids (SU antiracism officer): “Some
people think that targeting religious minority
groups is not racist, but
it is and it will be dealt
with as such.”
The cartoons referred to were, of
course, the very mildly humorous
and, one would have thought, inoffensive “Jesus and Mo” ones depicted on the T-shirts worn by
Chris and Abhishek at the LSE
Freshers’ Fair back in the October
of 2013.
Chris began by giving us an account of his own experience of the
chilling of free speech in universities, commencing with some disturbing quotes from various LSE
Student Union representatives:
Alex Peters-Day (SU
General Secretary):
“There has also been
some case of Islamophobia[…] As a Union we are
here to make sure that
all students can participate in Union life, free
from intolerance, free
from bigotry […]. We are
taking a very firm stance
on this, we’ve got absolutely zero tolerance.”
However the two were astonished
to be approached at the fair by
several LSESU staff, who began,
without explanation, to remove
material from the stall and demand
that the two students removed their
T-shirts, with threats of being physically removed in the case of noncompliance. Although claims were
made that complaints has been
received, this was never verified
and, despite requests, no information regarding which particular
rules had been breached was
forthcoming. Instead they were
told that no reasons for removal
need be given, threatened again
with removal and subjected to the
intimidating presence of several
LSE security guards for the rest of
the day. On the second day of the
fair, Chris and Abhishek wore their
T-shirts with the faces of the figures blocked out with tape.
However, they were again ordered
to remove the T-shirts with more
threats of physical removal.
In the aftermath that ensued, the
two students were accused of Islamophobia and deliberately setting out to be offensive, despite the
fact that no-one other than the
LSESU staff had complained directly to them and that they had
received support from several students, some of them selfidentifying as Muslim. Eventually,
after taking legal action, these accusations were withdrawn and an
apology received from the LSE
Chris went on to highlight other
worrying instances of the chilling of
free speech in British universities.
At Reading University Fresher’s
Fayre in 2012 a similar incident
involved a pineapple which had
been labelled “Mohamed” in order,
as the Reading University AHS
members involved said, “to encourage discussion about blasphemy,
religion and liberty”.
Students at South Bank University
were criticised for displaying a
poster that parodied Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” (see
top of page 3).
Those at the University of Bristol
were unable to by the landmark
issue of Charlie Hebdo, featuring
pictures of the Prophet Mohammed
under the headline “All is forgiven”,
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 3
B r i g h t o n S e c u l a r Hu m a n i s t s
because it was banned from the campus.
There was also criticism when Chris
showed the front page of the magazine
during a presentation at Manchester University. A symposium entitled
“Understanding Charlie: New perspectives
on contemporary citizenship after Charlie
Hebdo”, due to be hosted by Queen's University Belfast Institute for Collaborative
Research in the Humanities. was cancelled by the Vice Chancellor, citing concerns about the security risk for delegates
and about the reputation of the university.
At Bath University a comedy sketch by a
theatrical society dealing with the bible
was removed from their show. This September, Maryam Namazie was blocked
from speaking at Warwick University, to be
unblocked following fierce criticism on
•Boasts links with Tories and LaTwitter, Facebook and in the national me- bour
•Recent attendees at their conferHowever, Chris was at pains to point out
ences, including in the HoC:
the difference between defending the right
to free speech and the content of the
–Baroness Warsi(Tory)
speech. There were occasions when what
the speaker is actually saying should be
–Kate Green, Labour's (former and
strongly opposed.
present) shadow cabinet spokesperson for women & equalities
Free speech arguments should not be
permitted to be used by religious extrem- –Julie Ward, Labour MEP wants to
ists and their allies to further their agenda. present MEND to EP as "a model
He used the example of MEND (Muslim
of best practice“
Engagement and Development), who
–Yasmin Qureshi MP, Gerald
claim to “promote dialogue” and “combat
Islamophobia”, but regularly hosts events Kaufman MP, Kate Green MP and
with Islamists and anti-democracy speak- Andy Slaughter MP, Jon Ashworth
MP, Afzal Khan MEP (all Labour)
ers who justify violence against women
and homophobia. And yet MEND
–Sajjad Karim MEP (Tory): “The
•is an Official partner of the Electoral Com- EU could learn a lot from
[MEND’s] work on countermission
Rainbows, Rights and Religiosity:
Malcolm Love reports on Gerard Phillips’ November talk
At the 4th November meeting, our
speaker Gerard Phillips gave a talk on
“Rainbows, Rights and Religiosity”,
which was stimulating and well presented.
Gerard, who is a Vice President of the
National Secular Society as well as
being one of our own members, began
with a bang, with a cartoon showing
the absurdity of those who are more
concerned with defending their religious rights than with justice.
He then outlined the main points of his
presentation. Firstly, why he is a Secularist, moving on to the “Gay Agenda”,
Page 3
Chris concluded his talk by posing
the question: So what should secularists do about freedom of expression?
•Religious extremists and their allies
have become adept at exploiting free
speech arguments to further their
•Defend the right to free speech but
beware of moral relativism –not all
speech should be supported, and
some needs to be opposed
•The racist and religious far-right are
akin – don’t engage, but marginalise
and expose them
•Expose the political use of free
speech arguments of the proreligious apologists on the Left &
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 4
Religion and Gay Rights, the LGBT
“Agenda” and the conflict between Religious rights and LGBT rights.
been equalised with gay relationships now open and accepted. However, he stressed that the present
state of things was not all good
news; for example, there had been
a 22 per cent rise in anti-gay hate
crime over the last 2 years, and
there are also thousands of cases of
homophobic bullying, according to
Going back over his early campaigning for
both issues, he described his involvement
in the 1983 Miners’ strike and early “Gay
Pride” marches. He then went on to define
Secularism and its basis in democracy, and
how it serves to protect him as a gay man.
On the “Gay Agenda”, he emphasised the
key point about equality, painfully achieved
in this country but far from the case in
many countries around the world. To illustrate this, we are shown a series of maps
and graphs showing the degrees of intolerance to the LGBT community worldwideand some shocking and surprising statistics were revealed.
Gerard next moved onto the question of
what it is like to be gay in Cameron's Britain – with a graphic illustration of how attitudes to same sex relationships had
changed over recent decades:
overall social disapproval more than halv-
ing over a 30 year timescale. He put this
growing acceptance down partly to excellent
work being done in our schools in recent
Taking a historical look at the Gay Liberation
Front Manifesto of 1971, he reviewed the
demands made there, and showed us how
most of the battles had been won. Police
harassment and social
discrimination had stopped, psychiatric attitudes had changed, the age of consent had
A comprehensive chart of the legal
milestones in regard to the situation
of the entire LGBT community
showed how much had been
achieved in recent decades. Posing
the question “Where are we now?”
Gerard reminded us that most of
the opposition to pro-gay legislation
had come from the churches and
particularly the 26 unelected bishops who sit in the House of Lords.
A final point that religious rights
should always be secondary to human rights concluded a passionate,
lively and well-argued talk.
Robert Ingersoll—Freethinking Allowed
Robert Stovold summarizes his October talk about the influential American freethinker
was to earn him the sack: “What do you
think of baptism, Mr. Ingersoll?”
“With soap, baptism is a good thing”.
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) was an
American politician. Known also as “The
Great Agnostic”, he helped advance a humanistic philosophy, and a rational scientific outlook on life. Ingersoll worked as a
teacher. He was a great believer in education, but not in traditional teaching methods, lamenting, “For the most part, colleges are places where pebbles are polished,
and diamonds are dimmed”. When his
unorthodox views on religion were probed
by a curious adult, Ingersoll's response
Ingersoll went on to become a lawyer,
and became the most famous lawyer of
his day. When a man called C.B. Reynolds stood trial for blasphemy, Ingersoll
gave his own thought-provoking definitions of the term: “What is real blasphemy? To enslave the minds of men, to
put manacles on the mind; that is blasphemy. To deny what you believe to be
true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie; that is blasphemy. To
strike the weak and unprotected, in
order that you may gain the applause of
the ignorant and superstitious mob; that
is blasphemy. To persecute the intelligent few at the command of the ignorant many; that is blasphemy. To forge
chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men; that is blasphemy. To
pollute the souls of children with the
dogma of eternal pain; that is blasphemy. To violate your conscience, that is
blasphemy. The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers. The man who bows to public
opinion and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer”.
“I deny the right of any man, of any
number of men, of any Church, of any
State, to put a padlock on the lips – to
make the tongue a convict. I passion-
ately deny the right of the Herod of
authority to kill the children of the
“For thousands of years, people
have been trying to force other
people to think their way. Did they
succeed? No. Will they succeed?
No. Why? Because brute force is
no argument. You can stand with
the lash over a man, or you can
stand by the prison door, or beneath the gallows, or by the
stake…. And so the man recants.
Is he convinced? Not at all. Have
you produced a new argument?
Not the slightest. And yet the ignorant bigots of this world have been
trying for thousands of years to
rule the minds of men by brute
force…. Suppose we put Mr.
Reynolds in gaol. The argument
has not been sent to gaol. That is
still doing the rounds, free as the
In spite of his eloquence, Ingersoll
lost the case. It was, after all, primarily about whether the blasphemy law had been broken, and not
about whether the blasphemy law
was a good one. However, there
were few blasphemy trials after
that one, , and Ingersoll is generally reckoned to have discredited
the blasphemy law.
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 5
As an atheist today, I go to Alpha
Courses and argue with Christians, and invite unsuspecting
Jehovah’s Witnesses in off the
doorstep for a cup of tea. I’m often
asked why I bother to talk to believers, and Ingersoll gave an answer that struck a few chords:
“Now and then, someone asks me
why I am endeavouring to interfere with the religious faith of others, and why I try to take from the
world the consolation naturally
arising from a belief in eternal fire.
And I answer, I want to do what
little I can to make my country
truly free. I want to broaden the
intellectual horizon of our people. I
want it so that we can differ upon
all those questions, and yet grasp
each other's hands in genuine
friendship. I want in the first place
to free the clergy. I am a great
friend of theirs, but they don't
seem to have found it out generally. I want it so that every minister
will be not a parrot, not an owl
sitting upon the limb of the tree of
knowledge and hooting the hoots
that have been hooted for eighteen hundred years. But I want it
so that each one can be an investigator, a thinker; and I want to
make his congregation grand
enough so that they will not only
allow him to think, but will demand
that he shall think, and give to
them the honest truth of his
“I want to free the schools of our
country. I want it so that when a
professor in a college finds some
fact inconsistent with Moses, he
will not hide the fact. I wish to see
an eternal divorce and separation
between church and schools. The
common school is the bread of
life, but there should be nothing
taught except what somebody
knows; and anything else should
not be maintained by a system of
general taxation. I want its professors so that they will tell everything they find; that they will be
free to investigate in every direction, and will not be trammelled by
the superstitions of our day. What
has religion to do with facts? Nothing. Is there any such thing as
Methodist mathematics, Presbyterian botany, Catholic astronomy
or Baptist biology? What has any
form of superstition or religion to
do with a fact or with any science?
Nothing but to hinder, delay or embarrass. I want, then, to free the schools;
and I want to free the politicians, so that
a man will not have to pretend he is a
Methodist, or his wife a Baptist, or his
grandmother a Catholic; so that he can
go through a campaign, and when he
gets through will find none of the dust of
hypocrisy on his knees.”
The philosophy of agnosticism (which
claims that God’s existence can’t be
known) overlaps with the philosophy of
atheism (living life without God) because if you don't know whether God
exists, your live your life without invoking a belief in him. Ingersoll’s agnosticism seems also to have been a form of
atheism, for he said, “To me, it seems
easy to account for these ideas concerning gods and devils. They are a
perfectly natural production. Man has
created them all, and under the same
circumstances would create them again.
Man has not only created all these
gods, but he has created them out of
the materials by which he has been
surrounded. Generally he has modelled
them after himself, and has given them
hands, heads, feet, eyes, ears and organs of speech. Each nation made its
gods and devils speak its language not
only, but put in their mouths the same
mistakes in history, geography, astronomy, and in all matters of fact, generally
made by the people. No god was ever
in advance of the nation that created
him. The Negroes represented their
deities with black skins and curly hair.
The Mongolian gave to his a yellow
complexion and dark almond-shaped
eyes. The Jews were not allowed to
paint theirs, or we should have seen
Jehovah with a full beard, an oval face,
and an aquiline nose.”
Here are his views on Deism, the idea
that God started the universe off, but no
longer intervenes in it: “A few years ago
the Deists denied the inspiration of the
Bible on account of its cruelty. At the
same time they worshiped what they
were pleased to call the God of Nature.
Now we are convinced that Nature is as
cruel as the Bible; so that, if the God of
Nature did not write the Bible, this God
at least has caused earthquakes and
pestilence and famine, and this God
has allowed millions of his children to
destroy one another. So that now we
have arrived at the question – not as to
whether the Bible is inspired and not as
to whether Jehovah is the real God, but
whether there is a God or not”. “They
tell us now that all is good; that evil is
but blessing in disguise, that pain
makes strong and virtuous men – makes
character - while pleasure enfeebles and
degrades. If this be so, the souls in hell
should grow to greatness, while those in
heaven should shrink and shrivel.”
“There are in nature neither rewards nor
punishments, there are consequences”.
With regards to the claim that we should
love God, Ingersoll asked:
“Can it be our duty to love anybody? It is
our duty to act justly, honestly, but it cannot be our duty to love. We cannot be under obligation to admire a painting - to be
charmed with a poem – or thrilled with music. Admiration cannot be controlled. Taste
and love are not the servants of the will.
Love is, and must be free. It rises from the
heart like perfume from a flower.”
Ingersoll’s consistent use of scientific rationalism put him on a collision course with
religion. He explained the difference between the two ways of thinking:
“The instant we admit that a book is too
sacred to be doubted, or even reasoned
about, we are mental serfs.” “We have
already compared the benefits of theology
and science. When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts
and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags
and skins - they devoured crusts, and
gnawed bones. The day of Science
dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago
are the necessities of today. Men in the
middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes
and kings of the theological times. But
above and over all this, is the development
of mind. There is more of value in the brain
of an average man of today - of a mastermechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of
an inventor, than there was in the brain of
the world four hundred years ago. These
blessings did not fall from the skies. These
benefits did not drop from the outstretched
hands of priests. They were not found in
cathedrals or behind altars - neither were
they searched for with holy candles. They
were not discovered by the closed eyes of
prayer, nor did they come in answer to
superstitious supplication. They are the
children of freedom, the gifts of reason,
observation and experience - and for them
all, man is indebted to man”.
I’ll close now with a summary of Ingersoll’s
philosophy, in his own words:
“Happiness is the only good. The place to
be happy is here. The time to be happy is
now. The way to be happy is to make others so”. Many of Robert Ingersoll’s writings
are available free online. You can find
some of them here:
Brighton Secular Humanists Newsletter, Page 6
Brighton Secular Humanists
Living Without Religion.
Challenging Religious
Fancy attending the Secularist of the Year award in 2016?
Secularist of the Year is an annual
event arranged by the National
Secular Society. Last March, the
2015 award was won by the staff of
Charlie Hebdo, in honour of the
twelve people killed in the attack
on the magazine’s office in Paris.
Every year, Brighton Secular
Humanists sponsor a member to
attend this wonderful event in
London, which includes lunch and
a glass of mojito. In return, the
sponsored person has to write a
few words about it for our
newsletter. So don’t forget, in
2016, it could be you!
If you’re interested in a free ticket,
please contact a member of the
Valerie Mainstone
Happy Yuletide/Winter Solstice/New Year!
By the time you get this the Yuletide bit will
probably be a fading memory but I hope I’m in
time to wish all our members a very happy New
Programme, 2016
We meet in the King and Queen
Pub, Marlborough Place, Brighton,
on the first Wednesday of every
month except August, at 7:30pm
for an 8pm start.
Wednesday 3 February:
Speaker: Michael Mashall,
(Project Director,
The Good Thinking Society)
“The Good Thinking Society's
investigation into 'faith healer'
Peter Popoff"
In recent months, the GTS has
been investigating ‘faith healer’
Peter Popoff and his highlylucrative current business of
promising to heal sickness and
cancel debts in exchange for ‘seed
faith’, in other words: cash
donations. In May of this year, they
attended Popoff’s event at The
Troxy Theatre, London, to covertly
record his miraculous claims and
supposed acts of faith healing, and
to witness thousands of people
donating large amounts of cash to
his ministry.
Our meeting in December
somewhat poorly attended,
shame as those of us who
rather jolly time with music,
provisational entertainment
very well) and even some
was unfortunately
which was a great
did turn out had a
a quiz, a bit of im(which went down
homemade mince
January is the time for those much maligned
New Year’s Resolutions. It’s fashionable these
days to sneer at the idea, but I still think that if
you’re going to resolve to do anything, surely it
should be at the beginning of the year. “This
year I’m definitely going to ……..”. OK, so what
if by the end of the year you haven’t managed
to lose weight, give up smoking, be nicer to
Jehovah’s Witnesses (well alright, perhaps
there is a limit), at least you will have tried, and
that at least will give you more of a chance of
succeeding than not bothering.
Elsewhere in this Newsletter you will find a report of the BHA GRAM meeting Robert and I
attended in November with some food for
thought arising from it. For a while we have
been beating our brains on the committee about how we can increase both
our membership and our attendance
(see the figures quoted in the report).
One of the conclusions we have so far
come to (we’re still on the case) is that
we cannot do this with just the efforts
of the Committee. We need your help.
We do our best to raise our profile and
make ourselves known in the community, but I believe nothing succeeds like
word of mouth. Do you have friends or
family members who you think might
be interested in attending a meeting or
even joining us? Do you have connections with other groups where you
meet people who may share our values? Do you have access to other
societies’ newsletters or websites that
might be willing to advertise our events
or even give us a little space for an
article on humanism? We would be
delighted to see some new faces at
our meetings in 2016 – especially if
they are younger ones! So this year’s
resolution for me is “This year I’m definitely going to do my bit to grow Brighton Secular Humanists”. Now about
yours ……….
Happy New Year!
Maggie Hall, Chair
Wednesday 2 March
Speaker: Maude Casey
“The Refugee Crisis”
Secretary: Valerie Mainstone
(Tel. 01273 729311)
Newsletter Editor: Robert
Stovold (Tel. 07754 046749) Email:
[email protected]
What’s On in Brighton?
Nerd Nite – “ It’s like the Discovery Channel… with beer!” Short scientific talks on
weird and wonderful topics:
Philosophy in Pubs – Monthly friendly discussion in The Palmeira pub (Holland
Road/Davigdor Road) on the second Sunday of the month at 7pm.
Skeptics in the Pub – A talk and discussion related to science, skepticism,
rationalism and critical thinking. SiTP events are ticketed. There’s a nationwide
network, with several branches nearby:
Sunday Assembly Brighton - Sunday Assembly Brighton is part of a global, secular
congregation that meets monthly to hear great talks, sing songs and celebrate life.
Normally on the 4th Sunday of every month at St. Andrew’s Church, Waterloo Street,

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