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Clergy back call to remove unelected clergy from Council committees in Scotland

Petition “…to remove the constitutional anomaly that imposes unelected Church appointees on Local Authority Education Committees” (signatures still urgently needed; you can sign and comment here)

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Image from Clergy Letter Project website home page

This just in, to the Public Petitions Committee, from Michael Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Clergy Letter Project, which exists to promote the acceptance and celebration of science among believers. It states, more clearly than I could ever do, the reasons theological, educational, and ethical for removing the existing power of the Churches to nominate three representatives to Scottish Local Authority Education Committees; a large enough bloc to swing the balance of power on 19 of Scotland’s 32 such Committees: Read the rest of this entry

#ElectNotSelect; Remove Church appointees imposed on Scottish Education Committees

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Debating chamber at Holyrood. Photo Mogens Engelund via Wikipedia

Sign the petition here, and your signature will go straight to Holyrood, and help get rid of the absurd legal relic whereby

Three of the full voting members of every Local Authority Education Committee in Scotland are unelected nominees of the Churches, whether the voters or their elected representatives want them there or not.

The time is ripe for change. Our petition, Unelected church appointees on Local Authority Education Committees, has widespread cross-party support in principle among MSPs. But we need to show that there is public support for change, or timidity will triumph.

Click on link to see the full petition, and, if you agree, to sign. Remember that the Education Committees, on which these Church appointees sit, control a larger part of Council budgets than any other Committee. They are the ultimate employers of School Principals and teachers, as well as being represented on senior teacher selection panels.  They decide on the opening and closing of schools, and whether a school should be denominational or nondenominational, and control local practice in such matters as religious education, religious observance, and instruction about sex in human relationships. The Church appointees vote on these matters, and in addition discuss policy directly with Council officials. You will find a full listing of the appointees, how they came to be selected (e.g. only answer to a newspaper advertisement; nominated himself after losing an election), and which ones are known Young Earth creationists (half a dozen; many more probable) here.

Why are these appointees there? Because District Council Education Committees must, by law dating back to 1929, include three appointees of the Churches, nominated by Church hierarchies, and immune to the electoral process. These nominees actually hold the balance of power in 19 out of Scotland’s 32 Education Committees, whether anyone wants them there or not, and they don’t even need to declare their outside interests!

Who selects them? One is selected by the Church of Scotland, one by the Catholic Church, and one by a third religious organisation (it must be religious) chosen by the Council with regard to local demographics. Fringe creationist churches are overrepresented here, as are the Episcopalians, with a mere 25,000 communicants but ten allotted slots.

This blemish on our democracy is also a breach of our right to equal treatment under the law, because it creates positions of power within our system of government that are only open to certain believers. Believers, moreover, in dogmas no longer accepted* by most Scots young enough to have children within the school system.

Since we are dealing with the law on a devolved matter, education, the Scottish Parliament is the only body with the power to remove this constitutional anachronism, which is why the Scottish Secular Society is petitioning them to do so.

Our petition will initially be examined by the Public Petitions Committee, who are greatly influenced by the number of signatures, as well as by the content, and intellectual weight, of individual comments. They can close (i.e. kill) the petition, or write to interested parties, including the Scottish Government, and then forward it to the Education and Skills Committee. This latter Committee, on which we know we have support, can then require the Scottish Government to state and explain its policy.

This theocratic anachronism that has survived only because unexamined. Given the choice, we are sure that the present Scottish Government (any Government) would rather let sleeping dogs lie. Help us to deny them that choice.

Want to do more to help? Sign (obviously); showing professional titles and degrees will add weight, as will indicating if you have a special interest (e.g. parent, pupil, teacher, Minister).

Publicise on your social networks, using #ElectNotSelect, and sharing the petition link (here) and, if you like, the link to this blog post (here).

Write to your constituency and region MSPs. Keep it brief. The very fact of your writing is more important than the details of what is in your letter. Mention the petition by name and number, and the issue of democracy. Mention also any reason you may have for personal interest in the matter.

But keep to the constitutional aspects. Attacks on religion in general, or broadening the discussion to include its role in the educational system, gives ammunition to our opponents. And we will have opponents; no one gives up power without a struggle.

You can also send a comment to the Committee. Keep it brief, and we would ask you to stick to the issues of democracy and equality; see preceding paragraph. If you belong to any relevant professional organisations (e.g. teachers’ unions, parent-teacher councils), write to them as well.

When? As soon as possible. The more immediate support we can show, the more organisations will be willing to support us.

Notes: We will be accused of attempting to drive the Churches out of public life. On the contrary, our petition, explicitly, would leave Local Authorities free to consult or co-opt church representatives, much as they can and do co-opt representatives of parents and teachers, if they choose to do so.

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St Mary’s Edinburgh, seat of the Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews. Photo Michael T R B Turnbull via Wikipedia

The Church appointees are non-party, but they are not non-partisan. Nor are they independent, since they owe their positions to their hierarchies.

The Churches have claimed that the system somehow broadens and strengthens the local roots of democracy. In reality, most Church appointments are made by remote hierarchies, with the Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews making appointments from Highland to Dumfries and Galloway.

Scotland, we are often told, is a Christian country. To the extent that this is true, special representation of religion is unnecessary, because Christians vote, and are free to stand for election, just like everybody else.

The Scottish Secular Society is a faith-neutral body, and one of our Board members sits on Scotland’s Inter-Faith Council.

*Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014, Tabel 2.4, downloadable here, shows 68 percent of 18-24 -year-olds and 56 percent of 25-39 -year-olds describing themselves as “no religion”

An involuntary asylum seeker

Haifa Amg's photo.

Haifa addressing Scottish Secular Society, 2nd June 2016

Haifa Amg does not want to be an asylum seeker. She wants to be a doctor, and was studying towards this in Glasgow. Then the Saudi Arabian authorities took action that made this impossible.

Haifa is one of what must be a small number of women funded by the Saudi government to study abroad, and had a scholarship that paid her fees. Saudi regulations required her to have a male guardian, but in her case this was no problem, since she was accompanied here by her husband Amri, a teacher of mathematics, and their children. What neither of them realised was that Amri would be asked to act as a conduit for unofficial payments from the Saudi government towards a group who were converting a church  into a Wahhabist (which by many definitions would make it extremist) mosque.  This he was unwilling to do. The Saudi government imposed escalating pressures, culminating with freezing their Saudi Arabian bank account, and suspending Haifa’s scholarship. No scholarship, no bank account, no money to pay fees, no longer a student, loss of student visa. Haifa and family were left with two choices; to return to Saudi Arabia, where they could expect savage punishment, or to seek asylum. Unsurprisingly, they chose the latter, and their hearing is in August. The Draconian regulations that apply to visa seekers in the UK forbid them from working meantime. Rather than have the family sent to a detention centre, they have sold all their valuables, and survive on the goodwill of well-wishers.

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Haifa and Amri at Scottish Secular Society meeting, after her talk

I had the privilege of hearing Haifa address the Scottish Secular Society last Thursday, and here, with her permission, is what she had to say. As you will see, her family is being punished for the crime (and in Saudi Arabia is indeed is a crime) of unbelief, and it is this punishment that has frustrated their plans, and brought them to their present situation. As for the Saudi authorities, they come across as incompetent and inconsistent. Not for the first time, I have the impression of a lot going on behind-the-scenes. A new king came to the throne of Saudi Arabia early in 2015, since when the regime has become even more repressive, and I wonder if there is any connection with the events described here. I also wonder if the London Embassy, which issued Haifa’s scholarship, was aware of her husband’s record of dissent back home; they certainly seem to have been taken by surprise when he would not serve as a tool for their mission of advancing Wahhabism. But it is time to let Haifa speak for herself:[1]

‘It is a mysterious thing – the loss of faith – as mysterious as the faith itself’; George Orwell

That evening, I successfully rejected the idea of the validity of Islam as the true path in my life, when Amri, my husband, showed me a YouTube video on how the Jews perform their prayers.

It was a shocking moment. I got it… Islam is a religion resembles other religions as simple as this!
So there is nothing supernatural about it.

That day was a revolutionary day, I abandoned the Quran, I completely stopped praying.

Let me tell you about the old me.. The devout Haifa.

I was brought up in a conservative environment. My family was considered moderate, they were not very religious in their day, as they were used to have a satellite TV at home, which meant I had access to a variety of international channels. I spent my childhood as normal amongst my family, and life carried on as usual.

At fifteen, the family moved out to another area with a different ambiance, an ultra-conservative environment. The people in the neighborhood, where our new home located, forced my father not to install the satellite dish on the rooftop, it was considered a sin. A sin to have channels, except of course,
the two Saudi official channels that promote Wahhabi tenets. Therefore, I began to change, I became very strict, and with the help of my new friends at school, there was a transformation in my personality, I believed it was an enlightenment.

I worked very hard to memorize the Quran. Many verses of the Quran contain the direct and indirect indications to use violence, and deeply misogynist attitudes. At the time, I came to understand that great mental effort to memorize them was going to be for the sake of God. That God that lived within me a great deal of my lifetime, literally I was haunted by him. I was haunted by the literal truth of the Quran and the eternal punishment,

As a result of this horror, I became to be known with my strict beliefs which were praised and encouraged to have, as they were considered a high level of faith. And they are still promoted.

My brothers insisted to install the satellite TV after a while nd indeed they managed to do so, however my strict religious behaviors developed.

I did not like it.

I did not want a satellite TV at home, so I started to spend my time in a solitary, praying, memorizing the Quran, reading the hadith and studying for my school.

I remember that I prayed A LOT more than normal, I genuinely cried in my prayers to be accepted late at night. I fasted A LOT, and there came a period throughout my adolescence to fast every other day,
as this is the perfect method to fast according to the Hadith.

At high school, I was popular in preparing Islamic seminars preaching Wahhabism and advising the rebellious girls to repent.

In fact, the political Wahhabi doctrine is nurtured and inculcated at early stages of childhood in state schools. This kind of education is still taught, in addition to mosques where the Quranic lessons and seminars preaching Jihadism take place

The aim to belief in Jihad is to serve the long-run purposes, They inculcate its significance in people’s brains, And when it is needed, it is just activated

So when it comes to Jihad, I truly talked to myself that I would go for Jihad sometime, because the martydom for the faith is one of the fastest ways to enter the paradise. It felt so real, it really did.

Wahhabism is there … in the air!!!

And of course, with the great help of media, Television, radio, newspapers and social media. The government shapes the mentality of the people in Saudi Arabia, and tries its hardest to spread it worldwide, directly and indirectly

When I look it now, all these means contribute to build a radical personality which is a very dangerous to have in a society,

But the truth is I did not know!! My critical thinking was not enhanced or in another word was deliberately ’deactivated’. My mindset was totally controlled to blindly accept what was given without questioning.

Basically I was a victim of fear and horror that are promoted day and night and sponsored by the government, and there was a pang of remorse resulted if I did not pray properly, or even if I happened to accidently hear music which is forbidden

In my society I lived within, it was 100% of the people who believed the way we lived was the true way of life. It was very impossible not to join.

There was no space or time to think for myself. To think of the validity or morality of many things in my belief. No room to critically think about the contradictions I had been experiencing, which were obvious to see but just I needed to open my eyes and before that I desperately needed to open up my mind’s doors. At the time, my consciousness was unconscious.

Indeed, Wahhabi ideology that oppresses people is enforced by the authority. And by the use of scare tactics, they force you to believe it is the true and only way to a normal life. They shape your mentality to just think about what is going to happen to you afterlife. Every moment in every minute in everyday,
you feel that fear from the hell takes you to the certainty of its existence.

My life was guided by fear, and inspired by ignorance, and this strategy still works with many others.

So how come I ended up to be a big fan of Bertrand Russell whose principles and views contribute to build up a new understanding of life on the basis of evidence, science and knowledge?

At the age of 19, I was told that Amri’s family proposed to deliver me to their son, Amri, I did not personally know him but I heard he’s a good guy and a mathematics teacher. I agreed to marry him,
despite the fact I did prefer a Mattawa, a very strict person like I was.

Amri is a different person, he is a rebellious son, he did not pray at the mosque, or show his religious attitudes to his people. He was considered  shocking in his day on account of his advanced views in religion and politics.

Amri spent almost his childhood amongst the doves and pigeons, he loved them. He started with one dove, and ended up with more than 100.

While I was in a solitary to practice my faith, Amri was in a solitary with birds on the rooftop of the family’s house, that consequently gave him abundant leisure to reflect on politics and theology. Those moments of reflections developed his understanding towards the conception of religion in Saudi Arabia
and its close association with the authority.

Indeed, he was exceptional in a society of which Raif Badawi said:

‘The whole society is forced into one singular line of thinking and one simple philosophy under the ruling regime. This line of thinking trusts that everything it believes is the shiny truth’

While I was practicing my religious beliefs, Amri , on the other hand, rejected them. He refused to accept the ideology which prevailed amongst his people. A society that was forced to blindly accept a body of ideas which were unquestionable, and questioning was taboo.

Amri’s enlightenment completely differed from mine. He spent his days at the family’s house,
supporting his sisters’ rights of education. He even managed to buy a computer from his allowance
in order to allow his siblings to learn more and eventually brought the internet to help them expand their mindsets. He used to have debates with his father about the relationship between the religious authority and the government on the way they control people and manipulate them.

Amri was dreaming to study politics. However, at the university he was told ‘these studies were not for ordinary people, if he had someone to pull strings in order to get into the school of politics, he should ask them to help’.

Amri chose mathematics instead, his great pleasure, it is the language of truth as he always says.

His attitudes, however, were unacceptable and inappropriate in politics, religion and his lifestyle too. So in order to tackle these issues, he needed to change. He needed a religious woman to convert the “infidel”. The marriage was an attempt to convert the rebellious son.

Indeed, Amri accepted me despite my narrow-minded views. He used to say to me ‘if I had something I believe was right, I could convince him with logic not by force’

I could not dictate what it was inculcated in my mind to him. We had countless discussions and debates at home about some Islamic stories and historical events, analyzing their rightness, morality, and intrinsic values as some are difficult to believe. And others are unethical to accept to believe in.

I began to change because I started to critically think. Truly, I started to enjoy the discussions, I was heard, and able to voice my opinions. I was able to speak out that rational voice inside my head that encourages me to question and analyze the reality I had been living.

With Amri, there was a different world, a world (which was our home in Saudi Arabia) where we could discuss anything, anytime no boundary lines. It was indeed what was meant by the freedom of expression.

With Amri I could not wait to trip the ‘mind’ fantastic. He changed my attitudes towards life with logic and love throughout the years,

and that moment in that evening was the point when I said enough is enough. Enough of favouring the comfortable myths over the facts.

Amri was an excellent and passionate mathematician teaching high school students. We together produced handbooks in order to facilitate the maths curriculum and to make it enjoyable too. The students loved and enjoyed them and started to change their attitudes towards math.

Our goal from that was to make the students think differently about the philosophy and the facts behind the numbers and equations, as we do with our own children.

Exactly like Bertrand Russell, said

‘I should make it my object to teach thinking, not orthodoxy, or even hetero- doxy. And I should absolutely never sacrifice intellect to the fancied interest of morals.’

Amri also worked hard in order to develop a new educational system at school. It was a challenge but he really enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, he was forced to transfer from  school to another, because he failed to show his Islamic beliefs in public. Persecuted even by the educated society, but he carried on his career as he loved.

Amri’s ambition did not stop at teaching, he wanted to fulfil more, so he applied at the educational ministry in order to get a scholarship to complete his postgraduate overseas. He was interviewed and successfully passed, waiting for the application to proceed.

at the time during the Arab Spring and its revolutions, Amri expressed his views to his colleagues about
the promises and the positive changes the Arab Spring might bring to Saudi Arabia.

Afterwards, and out of the sudden, his salary was suspended for three months, and then he was sacked without any justifications, his dream to study abroad was over because his job was over

What a harrowing experience!! After years of contributions and hard work, he was fired. We did not know what to do. Amri’s dream was crushed. I knew how important it was to him, I could do nothing but support. We were devastated but we must find a way.

I forgot that I got excellent high school qualifications, so Amri reminded me, encouraged me, and fully supported me to think about our family’s future very seriously. I felt dizzy, trembled and then I fell sick for a while as it seemed to me there would be a very challenging life ahead, but I was ready somehow,
I needed a push. Amri was the only one who changed my attitudes towards my own life, so I would do the impossible to support.

What was the major I wanted to study abroad? specifically in the UK? At the time, I did think of two things, medicine or cooking!! ‘Yes these what I wanted to study’. I said. But my priority would be sure for medicine as it is my dream,

At the time, It was very difficult to find an offer at a medical university, so I applied for a culinary art management at the University of West London, imagining that once I finished my studies I would be able to open an organic restaurant somewhere.

I set a plan to manage to get English qualifications, but Amri asked me to be in 10 weeks.

“I said what?!!! Are you serious? I cannot do it, I cannot speak English, all I knew was my basic English grammar at high school, and this has been for a long time ago”

It was an imperative necessity to do so, there was no option but this, so I must do it for my family.

I needed to meet the deadline, the English test!! Without a soul knowing what we had been doing,
I studied at home practicing reading, listening, writing and speaking all at home.

And that day had come, the exam day ‘the exam was on Cambridge university standards’ Oh .. It was intense that day!! I managed to get the required English qualification exactly as I planned and I obtained the university’s offer too,

We could not apply for the visa within our country, fearing that if the authority found out what we had been planning, they would prevent us or they might arrest Amri. So we escaped to Egypt!! Amri somehow knew about Egypt as he went there during the Arab Spring. We could enter it without a visa.

We spent a while in Egypt in order to get British visas. Indeed, we managed to obtain them
and were supposed to stay there until we would be able to travel to the UK according to the visa entry date.

Out of the blue, the Egyptian military staged a coup over the elected president. We witnessed people protesting in the streets and a state of emergency was declared. It was definitely unsafe for us to stay there, so we fled Egypt to Morocco. There, we spent one month and then travelled to the UK at last in August 2013.

When we arrived in the UK we had savings in our bank accounts, but no income, so we needed a sustainable income. Therefore, I applied at the Saudi embassy to get a scholarship as all self-funded students do once they arrive in the UK, but I was rejected.

I was refused to get the scholarship unless I could meet conditions and terms which were not applied on my classmates at the university at the time, and indeed I successfully met them and because my position in the UK was much stronger than to be in Saudi Arabia, I successfully secured a government-sponsored scholarship after a while.

I managed to change my major to medicine after successfully completing my A-levels, as the Home Office suspended the University of West London from issuing international visas. So we moved to Preston, while the Saudi government funded my pre-medical course at the University of Central Lancashire, but during the second semester of it, I was instructed not to continue within the University of central Lancashire,

I was confused, shocked and angry, an academic year to be lost just like that. All because the educational department at the embassy did not investigate, that the course was not complied to the current system, According to the paragraph seven in its regulations and terms, and therefore they asked me to fail in the exam in order to retake another course within another university in accordance with the system.

At the time, my dream to study medicine became a nightmare. What on earth was I going to do?!!!
It was impossible to find another medical university in the UK within a short period of time.
So I was instructed to apply at the University of Glasgow for a pre-medical course. And as the Saudi government has a mutual agreement with the university of Glasgow for a medical degree, I successfully obtained an unconditional offer in the course based on an interview and a higher English qualification.
The embassy proceeded my application at the University of Glasgow afterwards.

Meanwhile, we had very hard times dealing with the Saudi government. Amri was electronically elected via elections held online to be the chair of Saudi Students Club in Preston. Amri’s duty was to assist Saudi students in their academic issues.

He was instructed to continue efforts started by his Saudi predecessor of converting a local church into a Wahhabi mosque, ‘they wanted Amri to complete the purchase’ He was also asked to stand up every Friday prayer to call for donations from the local Muslims in order to support activities held in the mosque. Amri felt uncomfortable and therefore he informed the government about these suspicious behaviors.

Surprisingly they responded to Amri, just to follow the current system. Amri realized that he had to end his duty, as this was not what he was supposed to do, to be used and manipulated in order to achieve interior motives. Within one month, he resigned and his resignation was officially accepted.

After the resignation, money began to appear in his British bank account, without his consent or prior knowledge. The money was transferred by the Saudi embassy in London. Amri is concerned about the money-laundering issues associated with terrorism, as the money might be used to train or equip jihadists in the UK. With the use of Wahhabi ideology, this money might be used to help drive terrorism.

Amri indeed made a stand. He did not submit to their orders to do what they wanted. Instead he requested an official statement from the embassy to clarify why the money was deposited into his bank account. Amri was trying to safeguard himself not to breach the law in the UK.

Therefore, the government started to abuse us as a family by using their totalitarian methods. They gradually began to oppress us, step by step.

They began by frezzing my home bank account which we used to save money into, so I could not access to it anymore, and when I phoned the bank to unfreeze it, I was asked ‘to come back home to sort it out’

Then, they suspended the monthly allowance my children and myself should receive according to the scholarship agreement, and Amri was told the embassy would take their money back by deducting it from my scholarship. Besides, he received phone messages that if he did not listen to them, my scholarship would be affected as a result.

Two Saudi nationals were sent to our home’s doorstep in Preston, shouting threats that they would take revenge.

My children witnessed this incident, they felt insecure, haunted, that those two people might come anytime to attack us. They were haunted by every single sound they heard at night. And there was no way to calm them down but to sleep with them in their room.

Could you imagine that feeling of horror every night you go to bed; you don’t know whether you wake up in the morning or not, feeling unsafe..uncertain?

After a while, he was invited to travel to London to discuss this matter at the embassy, and Saudi officials threatened and blackmailed him that they would prosecute him back home.

Amri had been asking for an official statement, what are they really concerned about he is wondering?!
Is issuing this letter a real issue for them?

Finally, after these attempts failed to discipline him,the Saudi authority refused to pay the tuition fees to the university of Glasgow despite the fact that they  had confirmed the scholarship prior to the commencement of the course. They had even provided me with an official letter to confirm the scholarship to the Home Office in order to obtain the visas.

They cancelled the scholarship because it is the only and the shortest way to get Amri back to Saudi Arabia to punish him.

So this is it. This is our experience as Saudi citizens under the repressive system. Manipulation..Abuse and with the use of scare tactics they impose what they want on their citizens.

1] I have very lightly edited the English when it seemed to me unclear. The unedited original is on Haifa’s FaceBook page, at https://www.facebook.com/haifa.sham.7/posts/250280668669734

Scottish victory over creationism gets 300,000 FB Likes, international attention. What next?

On May 12, the Education and Culture Committing of the Scottish Parliament formally closed consideration of the Scottish Secular Society’s petition, as having run its course. This petition sought guidance to exclude creationism from Scotland’s publicly funded schools. The Committee had asked the Scottish Government to clarify its position, and in his reply the Minister responsible had finally brought himself to say that creationism should not be taught in science classes. For more on the year-long process that led to this point, see here and here.

Last Sunday, May 24, the Herald, one of Scotland’s leading newspapers, reported on this final act, and I duly recorded the story in the petition bibliography, expecting to hear no more. I was wrong.

The Herald story itself remains top of the “most read” list at time of writing, after 5 days, and has attracted 57,000 on-site Likes.

NCSE, National Center for Science Education. Defending the Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools.To my surprise, the story has gathered international attention. A story in The Independent (does that count as international? Are England and Scotland part of the same nation? Do not attempt to answer this question here. The same comment applies to a summary by the London-based National Secular Society.) A report from our good friends at the California-based National Center for Science Education; also from Patheos. Favourable comment from Russia Today. An interview on The Sceptic’s Guide to the Universe, the leading US podcast of its kind (episode #516, about half way through; 100,000 downloads).

IFLScienceAnd a story on I Freaking Love Science [1], whose FaceBook posting had earned 292,706 Likes, 38,006 Shares, and 9,754 comments in its first 24 hours. A followup hostile letter in The Herald, May 31, notable for the comments it drew which were the very opposite of what the writer was hoping for; a report on that letter by The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a widely read and superficially facetious but in fact well-informed critic of Creationists.  A further commentary in the Herald on June 2 by Andrew Denholm, Education Correspondent, who celebrates a victory for common sense, while denying that anything has happened. (I will add details here if yet more stories appear about the Petition.)

So what has happened, and why does it matter? What has happened is that the Scottish Government has moved from merely saying that creationism is not part of the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught in science classes. A shift from “need not” to “must not”. In terms of mechanical application of the rules, no real change. In terms of framing and context, pivotal. If Creationism is not scientific in the science class, how can it be scientific elsewhere?

In the course of its submission to the Scottish Parliament regarding our petition, the Society for Biology commented:

We recognise that questions regarding creationism and intelligent design may arise in the classroom, for example as a result of individual faith and beliefs or media coverage…. [W]e urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.

Quite so. But why only in science lessons? Creationism is, and should be, regularly discussed in Scottish schools, not in the context of science, but in that of Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS).

As most readers will know, “Creation Scientists” and Intelligent Design proponents want to claim scientific respectability for the doctrine of separate special creation. The Government’s new position will make it far harder for them to do so. Nonetheless, it would run counter to the entire spirit of RMPS for instructors to tell students what to think. So teachers, who may themselves have had little formal training in biology, have to convey quite detailed evidence in such a way that students can come to their own well-informed conclusions. My colleagues and I are putting together materials that all those involved in these classes might find helpful, and would appreciate suggestions.

1] Filter-protected version of the real name

Keeping creationism out of Scottish schools; the long, long paper trail

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepageThe petition is closed. It has done its work, and I’m impressed by the process. Creationism may not be taught in science classes; and we already have the Minister’s  statement in Parliament that in other classes, where appropriate, it should be discussed but not promoted. It has been a long and tortuous process, so I have collected here links to the key documents, and to the more than 60 press reports I know of.

NoblePamphletAttention will now inevitably shift to Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies, where Creationism is (and should be) one of the topics selected for in-depth study.  The evidence in favour of evolution is conclusive, yet Creationists deny this, and RMPS laudably shies away from telling students what to think. How do we cut this Gordian knot? And how best do we help RMPS teachers without any formal instruction in biology, when they face the specious pseudoscience of the Intelligent Designers?

More on this in due course. Meantime, the story so far:

Official documents, petition details, public comments:

Petition abstract:

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

That’s all! NB: No need for legislation; a simple Ministerial or departmental statement would suffice. No distinction between science and non-science classes, and no suggestion of preventing discussion of such ideas, as long as they are not presented as viable alternatives to known science.

With Spencer Fildes, giving evidence before Public Petitions Committee

And what happened? In brief, exceptional public interest (see this list); two hearings before the Public Petitions Committee (as one of which Spencer Fildes, as petitioner and Chair of the Scottish Secular Society, and I as scientific adviser to the Society, gave evidence); referral by that Committee to the Education and Culture Committee; a request from that committee to the Scottish Government to respond to the issues we had raised; a Ministerial response that went some way towards what we had asked for; and formal closure.

And much more besides; see here. The issue is no longer hidden, the prerogative of the most unenlightened to do whatever they want in name of religion has been challenged and to some extent limited; and the genie is out of the bottle.

And so it ends, not with a bang, but a quiet sigh of satisfaction.
Petition site and comments: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance

BBC recording of hearing; Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman give evidence to Public Petitions Committee  http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/scotland-30004391

Or SSS version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi0RD3VAR1I

Transcript at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9635&i=87504 or (PDF) http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9635&mode=pdf

Official report of the second hearing by the Public Petitions Committee at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9759&i=89401

Official reports of the hearings by the Education and Culture Committee at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9836&i=90184#ScotParlOR and http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/28862.aspx?r=9951.

Press coverage: live links supplied where possible. Headline where different from link. Commentary as I saw fit:

(Additional post-May 24 2015 coverage at https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/scottish-victory-over-creationism-gets-300000-fb-likes-international-attention-what-next/)

Independent, 27 May: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-schools-says-scottish-education-minister-10279509.html (quotes me as “delighted”)

[US] National Center for Science Education, reporting on Herald 24 May story: http://ncse.com/news/2015/05/update-from-scotland-0016382 Also reported on by IFLScience, http://www.iflscience.com/environment/creationism-banned-science-classes-scottish-government  and Russian RT agency http://rt.com/uk/262377-scotland-snp-creationism-classrooms/ May 27

Herald 24 May 2015 http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scottish-government-creationism-banned-from-science-class.126976076 Quotes the crucial new language (emphasis added) “Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the ‘Principles and Practice’ papers and the ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ documentation for each of the eight curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.”

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (see Dec 23, Sept 12, Sept 7) “I have emphasized over and over that we are in a war and the battle is for the hearts and minds of our kids and news coming out of Scotland only confirms this.”

Herald 15 May 2015: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/creationist-teaching-just-around-the-corner-in-scottish-schools.126123235 Denholm, still spinning (see also his November 21 article, below), reports the Education and Culture Committee as agreeing that no new guidance was necessary (not noticing that new guidance had just been issued).

Herald 12 May: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/formal-ban-on-teaching-of-creationism-rejected.125864971

Evening Express 2 May 2015: http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/scotland/creationism-science-ban-bid-slammed/ Channelling David Andrew Robertson

Free Church News 18 March: http://freechurch.org/news/scotlands-science-minister-no-need-for-ban-on-creationism-in-schools Scotland’s Science minister: No need for ban on creationism in schools

The National 11 March: http://www.thenational.scot/news/its-official-government-minister-says-creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-science-classes.926 It’s official: creationism is not for science classes

Press and Journal (Highlands and Islands), 11 Mar: MSPs hear ban appeal

Courier and Advertiser (Fife), 11 Mar: Classroom is no place for politics

Herald 10 March 2015: http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/msps-to-debate-banning-teaching-of-creationism.1425976145 MSPs to debate petition calling for ban on teaching of creationism

Scotsman 10 March: http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/creationism-teaching-ban-to-be-considered-1-3714209

[Dundee] Courier via Press Association, 10 March 2015:  http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/scotland/scottish-secular-society-asks-holyrood-for-ban-on-creationism-in-schools-1.848950 Scottish Secular Society asks Holyrood for ban on creationism in schools

STV News 10 March: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/313316-creationism-should-not-be-taught-in-science-lessons-says-alasdair-allan/ Creationism should not be taught in science lessons, says minister

Glasgow South and Eastwood Reporter, 10 March:  Teaching of creationism threatened in Scotland’s schools

Southern Reporter, 10 March: Creation teaching ban call made

Evangelical Times March 2015: http://www.evangelical-times.org/archive/item/7231/Education/Creationism-in-Scotland/

Herald 8 Feb: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/msp-calls-for-crackdown-on-creationism-in-schools.117960634

Holyrood, 4 Feb 2015: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/comment/name-god In the name of God; discusses John Mason’s counter-motion opposing the petition

Herald 1 Feb: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/creationism-on-trial.117408336 Creationism on trial (letters)

(US) National center for Science education, Jan 30: http://ncse.com/news/2015/01/dueling-legislation-scotland-0016156 Duelling legislation in Scotland. The reference is to our petition and the supporting parliamentary motion, as opposed to John Mason’s petition defending creationist teaching.

The Biologist, ca. 28 January 2015: http://thebiologist.societyofbiology.org/biologist-news/14-news/1133-creationism-in-scotland-s-schools-petition-makes-progress

ForbesForbes Magazine 30 Dec 2014: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2014/12/30/creationism-in-europe-you-bet/ Reviewing Creationism in Europe (Johns Hopkins Press) writes:

As scientist blogger Paul Braterman reports on events in Scotland (https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/ok-to-teach-creationism-in-context-says-scottish-government/), this [introducing ID in schools]could prove to be a successful strategy.

Scotsman 27 Dec 2014: http://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/letters/test-the-word-1-3644430 [1] Richard Lucas of SOLAS advocates debates about the truth of creationism:  ”Or are aggressive atheists afraid that evolution, an indispensable foundation of their belief system, might not stand up to open debate in our educational institutions?”

Herald [Glasgow] 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081 A hostile commentary.

Herald 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081Herald 1 December: Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.

Scotsman 26 Dec: http://www.scotsman.com/news/biology-teachers-need-more-guidance-1-3643988  To my surprise, the statement I gave them was printed intact as an article. I referred to the strongly supportive statement at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_DD_Society_of_Biology_10.11.14.pdf from the Society of Biology, the UK’s largest professional association of biologists, which states:

We encourage the Scottish Government to follow the strategy taken in other nations of the United Kingdom to provide clear guidance to schools and the teaching community stating explicitly that creationism and intelligent design are not considered to be scientific theories based on tested hypotheses, and therefore should not be taught in science lessons. Furthermore we urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.

I mentioned that this had not been available as it should have been to the Committee and to the Government when considering the responses to our petition, and invited the Government to think again. I also drew attention to the need to provide appropriate training, especially to non-science teachers, as it is within a religious rather than a scientific context that problems are likely to arise.

Answers in Genesis 23 Dec: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/12/23/scottish-government-rejects-creation-ban/. Ken Ham writes:

[T]eachers in Scotland still have the freedom to present the problems with evolution and millions of years as well as possibly present other alternatives, such as biblical creation, to their students. This is a victory for academic freedom in that country. Sadly, the secularists were trying to protect the teaching of their atheistic religion as the only worldview imposed on the current and future generations of kids.

Ham’s good friend, Dr Nagy Iskander of South Lanarkshire’s education Committee, is, we know, very keen on teaching alternatives:

Herald 21 Dec: Teaching with dinsoaurs http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teaching-with-dinosaurs.26133681

When it comes to Scotland’s culture wars, many would view this last week as a catastrophe for the Scottish Secular Society (SSS), and a success for the ­country’s religious fundamentalists

but facing it on the next page http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/call-for-debate-on-religious-privilege.26133800 has SNP Councillor Sandy Howat questioning, on behalf of many SNP members, creationist teaching, opt-out rather than opt-in Religious Observance, and the presence of unelected representatives of religion on Council Education Committees.

Herald, 16 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/schools-creationism-ban-rejected-by-scottish-government.114739893  The Government response to our petition, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_BB_Scottish_Government_15.12.14.pdf stated

…there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education authorities to prevent the presentation of Creationism, Intelligent Design or similar doctrines by teachers or school visitors. The evidence available suggests that guidance on these matters is unnecessary. However, Education Scotland will continue to monitor, through the school inspection process and by other means, any instances where schools are not ensuring the teaching of science is based on well-established science and scientific principles.

Spencer Fildes comments

The fear is that creationists will now use the government’s position to further validate the cause of creationism, young earth doctrines and the pseudo-science of intelligent design.

as happened very promptly; see notes on Dec 23, above, and I comment:

This [the Government’s] language blurs the crucial distinction, built into the wording of our own petition, between learning about creationist worldviews, and being taught that such worldviews are tenable. The SSS fear this will bring Scottish education into disrepute.

I note that the Government response was over the signature of a civil servant,not a Minister, and wonder if they are already aware that they may be asked to thinkagain. Of course, the Government’s view is not binding on the Committee, which can make, although it cannot enforce, its own recommendations.

Herald 1 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/adopt-the-american-model-for-our-schools.25879090 Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.

Herald 28 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/respect-of-parents-rights-in-respect-of-education.25989631  Letter, Hugh McLoughlin, says we don’t explain what we mean by creationism, invokes European Convention on Human Rights

Herald 27 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/should-creationism-and-evolution-be-taught-side-by-side-in-the-school-classroom.25979445 letters. Among other things, corrects Rev David Fraser, states “The EIS position is that teachers can be trusted to conduct themselves professionally without the need for legislation.”

Herald 26 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-only-want-to-keep-religious-teaching-in-churches.25966308 Letter attacking Dvd Fraser’s defence of creationist teaching.

Herald 25 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-need-science-lessons.25959745  Rev David Fraser

I think most of us have had enough of the aggressive and perverse campaign against free speech by the Scottish Secular Society … Our leaders need follow the robust example of the EIS and defend the rights of the majority for the expression of their faith across the spectrum of school subjects.

Herald 24 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teachers-reject-creationism-ban.25940642 Unnamed EIS spokesperson(s) condemn our petition. Herald reporter once again confuses the teaching of separate creation (the subject of our petition) with the idea of God as Creator, discussion of which we explicitly defend.

Herald 23 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scotlands-culture-war-secularists-and-church-head-to-head.25941169 Scotland’s culture war: secularists and church head-to-head. A wide-ranging review by Judith Duffy.

Herald 22 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/a-mccarthyite-campaign.25937147  : In response to Spencer’s remarks to the Herald on November 21, the Reverend David Robertson accuses us of a McCarthyite campaign and anti-religious paranoia

Record, 21 Nov: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alasdair-allan-says-complete-confidence-2826128 Alasdair Allan says he has complete confidence in Scottish teachers following creationism debate

21 Nov, The Centre for Intelligent Design warns those on its mailing list: Government to impose Scientism on our children http://www.c4id.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=262:government-to-impose-scientism-on-our-children&catid=52:frontpage&Itemid=1 So now you know. The Centre regards evolution science and the study of the age of the Earth as forms of Scientism, whatever that may be.

Herald, 21  Nov, reports on submission made to the Petitions Committee by Ken Cunningham is Secretary of School Leaders Scotland: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/banning-creationism-lessons-is-dangerous-warn-headteachers.25925821 My comment:

Cartsbridge Evangelical ChurchNot Head Teachers; one ex-Head [in consultation, he later claimed, with the Association’s presidential team, whoever they may be] speaking for all his members with no further apparent mandate from his Association’s membership. And Cunningham and Noble [Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, whose plans to promulgate creationism are a major matter of concern to us] are not as reported both members of the Free Church of Scotland; they are Elders (Cunningham also Secretary) of the same small independent Church, Cartsbridge in Busby, with a total membership of around 250; a much closer association. As usual this reporter, Andrew Denholm, misdescribes what we plainly said we meant by creationism.

See also commentary “Creationist Manoeuvres in the Dark” http://secularspen.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/creationist-manoeuvres-in-the-dark/ by Spencer Fildes, who has done more than any one to unmask the concealed connections.

Premier News (a Creationist Christian radio channel), 20 Nov: http://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/Scotland-s-teachers-oppose-secularist-attempt-to-ban-creationism Again, the reference is to Ken Cunningham’s submission to the Public Petitions Committee, but here he is said to speak for “Scotland’s teachers”.

Scotsman 18 Nov: http://www.scotsman.com/news/beware-the-trojan-horses-of-intolerance-1-3609240 The Reverend David Andrew Robertson, at that time Moderator-Intellect of the Free Church of Scotland, says Scottish Secular Society wants legislation against “teachers who might actually believe that God the Creator might have had something to do with creation.”

Christian News 17 Nov objects to banning the teaching of biblical creationism as fact: http://christiannews.net/2014/11/17/secular-group-seeks-to-ban-biblical-creation-from-public-schools-in-scotland/ (I continue to be amazed at the arrogance of those, like the authors of this article, who claim a monopoly of Christianity on the basis of their boneheadedly ignorant interpretation of its foundational documents.)

Herald 14 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/a-danger-of-state-atheism.25869067 Correspondence arising from Andrew Denholm’s misrepresentation on 12 Nov.; see below

Times Educational Supplement Scotland 14 Nov: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6450346 Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists

12 Nov NCSE ([US] National Centre for Science Education] News Update from Scotland http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/update-from-scotland-0015982

Herald 12 Nov http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/religious-extremists-infiltrating-schools.25845620

‘Religious extremists infiltrating schools’ This otherwise excellent article includes the statement “Creationism is the belief that the universe and living beings originate from acts of divine creation.” Not in this context. Our petition specifically refers to separate creationism is opposed to the established science of evolution. Although our opponents pretend otherwise, it has nothing to do with religious or philosophical positions regarding creation as a whole.

Aberdeen Evening Express 11 Nov: http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/scotland/msps-warned-on-schools-creationism-1.677358

[Glasgow] Evening Times 11 Nov: http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/u/msps-warn-on-school-creationism.1415707018 [“warn” for “warned” is a typo]

STV News 11 Nov  http://m.stv.tv/news/scotland/299236-scottish-secular-societys-petition-discusses-creationism-teaching/ Teaching of creationism in schools ‘cannot be ignored’, MSPs told

Good Morning Scotland 11 Nov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyo89F5CGTQ Spencer Fildes interviewed

Sunday Times 9 Nov:  http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Education/article1481607.ece MSPs to rule on creationism row

Press and Journal 9 Nov:  https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/holyrood/395263/row-over-religious-education-in-schools/ echoing Scotsman of 7 Nov

STV News 8 Nov: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/298911-free-church-creationism-teaching-ban-is-bigoted-and-anti-religious/

Freethinker 8 Nov: http://freethinker.co.uk/2014/11/08/scottish-secularists-branded-as-bigots/ Reporting DAR

Scotsman 7 Nov: http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/bid-to-ban-creationism-is-militant-atheism-1-3597863 Campaigners bidding to ban schools from teaching creationism in science lessons are “militant atheists” who want to impose their own views on youngsters and discourage questioning, a church leader has claimed. Reverend David Robertson…

(Interestingly, when preaching to Ken Cunningham, mentioned above, and Alastair Noble at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, the Reverend shows full awareness that many of us are religious believers. Maybe he takes the Ninth Commandment more seriously when he is actually in church.)

Premier Christian Radio 7 Nov: http://www.premierchristianradio.com/News/UK/Scottish-church-leader-condemns-petition-to-axe-creationism-teaching

Herald 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/topic-of-the-week-intelligent-design.25812362  A selection of letters

Herald 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/faith-has-no-place-in-the-science-classroom.25739522

NCSE 4 Nov: http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/banning-creationism-scottish-schools-0015967

Herald 2 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300  Introduces the topic

Answers in Genesis Sept 12 2014: https://answersingenesis.org/theory-of-evolution/in-schools/academic-freedom-under-fire-scotland/

SecEd September 11 2014: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/news/nobel-winners-fight-the-teaching-of-creationism

Answers in Genesis Sept 7 2014:  https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/09/07/nobel-winning-scientists-push-for-ban-of-creation-in-scottish-schools/

My own most relevant blog posts

May 20 2015: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/creationism-in-scottish-schools-we-won/

GenieFbImageFebruary 18: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/darwin-vs-todays-creationists-eugenie-scott-in-glasgow/

February 12: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/holyrood-dinosaur-makes-international-business-times-headline/

Jan 31: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/18-msps-now-back-motion-to-rein-in-creationism-in-scottish-schools/

Jan 27: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/creationism-in-scotland-our-petition-makes-progress/ 

Jan 25: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/fight-against-creationism-in-scotland-gains-powerful-allies-imminent-developments/

Jan 22: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/reining-in-creationists-south-lanarkshire-repenting-past-mistakes-leads-the-way/

Jan 19: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/creationism-in-scottish-schools-final-submission-to-scottish-parliament/

Dec 28 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/scotland-refuses-to-ban-teaching-of-creationism/

Dec 27: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/answers-in-genesis-praises-scottish-governments-creationism-teaching-policy/

Dec 16: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/ok-to-teach-creationism-in-context-says-scottish-government/

Nov 10: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-battle-for-evolution-in-scottish-schools/ (reblogged from Jonny Scaramanga’s Leaving fundamentalism)

Nov 7: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/answers-in-genesis-attacks-our-petition-against-creationism-young-earthism/

Nov 5: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/scotlands-kitzmiller-we-need-your-help/

Nov 2: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/petition-against-evolution-denial-gets-full-page-coverage-in-glasgow-sunday-herald/

Oct 17: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/centre-for-intelligent-design-launches-naked-creationist-attack-on-secscot-petition/

Aug 29: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/historian-geologist-school-governor-priest-writes-supporting-petition-against-creationism-in-scots-schools/

Aug 26: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/3rd-nobel-prize-winner-backs-petition-keep-creationist-teaching-out-of-scots-schools/

Aug 23: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/23/scottish-schools-we-dont-invite-antivaxxers-so-we-shouldnt-invite-antievolutionists/

Aug 10: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/second-nobel-laureate-signs-petition-attached-to-keep-creationist-teaching-out-of-scottish-state-schools/

Aug 9: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/nobel-prize-winner-backs-will-you-back-petition-to-keep-creationism-out-of-scottish-schools/

July 26 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/against-creationism-in-scottish-schools-sign-support-share/

June 23: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/petition-to-scottish-parliament-no-state-funded-creationist-teaching-draft-text-comments-requested/

June 21 2014: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/england-bans-creationist-teaching-so-should-scotland-petition-in-preparation-more-on-monday/

[1] Most recent first. Links made explicit, for ease of reference and copying. We would welcome notification of any coverage we have missed. NB this post refers only to coverage directly relevant to our petition PE01530

Creationism in Scottish schools – we won!

Guidance provided by Education Scotland… does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons ….

I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian… . Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise [emphasis added].

Alasdair Allan, Minister for Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, to Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, April 22 2015, in response to Scottish Secular Society petition (full text of letter attached at end of this post).

A tipping point.

This in response to the events set in chain by the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

AlasdairAllanMSP20120530.jpg

Alasdair Allan, MSP, Minister for Learning, Science, and Scotland’s Languages. Constituency Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles), which is a stronghold of biblical literalism.

As recently as December 2014, the Scottish Government’s official position stopped short of giving any guidance at all about the teaching of Creationism in science classes, on the grounds that such things should be left to teachers, and to bodies such as Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, rather than being dealt with by the Government as such. Now we have, at last, a clear statement from the responsible minister that Creationism should not be taught as science. This U-turn is concealed by the use of the word “therefore”. The Minister has now given the guidance that we sought. How does he reconcile this with the principle of governmental non-intervention in the curriculum? By implying that he is not stating a new position, but one that had been implicit in Education Scotland’s guidance all along.

I think supporters of science over superstition should be willing to accept this polite fiction. The Scottish parliamentary petition process, far superior to that at Westminster, has worked exactly as it should. A handful of individuals, with no external resources, have been able to force discussion of a politically uncomfortable topic at ministerial level. The Minister, doggedly defending the status quo, has tacitly recognise that all was not well, and, while explicitly refraining from issuing new guidance, has issued new guidance. The necessary commitment to teachers’ independence (see full text of letter below) has been displayed, in the very act of instructing them how to use it. All parties can claim victory, and I for one am left with an enhanced respect to that most maligned of professions, the politician.

In addition, the Government’s December 2014 position was that no cause for concern had been shown. Now, however, the Minister shows awareness of concerns involving’s three separate Education Authorities (there are more). In this new context, the reference to monitoring through inspection moves from poorly concealed denialism to active commitment.

Our Petition, having made its way through the Public Petitions Committee and been twice considered by the Education and Culture Committee, has now been formally closed. In the words of the Convener of the latter committee as stated in the official record,

One of the concerns that I raised was not about the banning of discussions of such philosophies and ideas in schools but about the possible intrusion of creationism into science classes. In the minister’s letter—which I will quote to ensure that it is in the Official Report—he has helpfully pointed out:

“Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the ‘Principles and Practice’ papers and the ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.”

The Government could not have made that any clearer, and I am therefore in accord with other members that, in light of the Government’s letter, we should close the petition.

So what have we achieved? Far more than I would have imagined possible.

  • Over 600 signatures, including three Nobel prize winners.
  • Strong letters of support from many bodies, including the Society for Biology, and the British Centre for Science Education, and from a wide range of highly qualified individuals, including professors, schoolteachers, and clergymen.
  • Widespread public discussion of what had been until then almost a non-issue, with a total of more than 60 reports in every major newspaper in Scotland and many far beyond.
  • An amazing piece of self-exposure from Glasgow’s Centre for Intelligent Design, rapidly identified by the British Centre for Science Education as Creationist in its claims that macroevolution is contentious, and that the accepted science of evolution does not account for the origin of novelty
  • Greatly heighten public awareness, and an end to the pretence that such outrageous incidents as that at Kirktonholme were rarer and isolated events. (Regular readers will know that at Kirktonholme, books handed out in school assembly showed dinosaurs being used as farm animals, and said that the reason for belief in evolution was the wish to justify personal wickedness.)
  • A motion in the Scottish Parliament, signed by 22 Members (out of a total of around 100 eligible to sign), saying

That the Parliament congratulates South Lanarkshire Council on taking decisive action to prevent the teaching of creationism in schools by introducing new guidance; condemns any promotion of creationism in publicly funded schools, including the reported distribution of creationist books at Kirktonholme Primary School; believes that creationism should not be presented as a scientific theory and viable alternative to the established theory of evolution, and supports the Society of Biology and the Scottish Secular Society position in opposing the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

(Happily, the time when South Lanarkshire was struggling with its response, concerning which more here, to the Kirktonholme scandal corresponded to the time when our petition was attracting maximum publicity.)

  • And finally, this critical shift from merely saying that Creationism is not in the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught as part of science lessons.

There remains much cause for concern about how Creationism is presented in Religions, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS) classes in Scotland. It is the laudable goal of RMPS to encourage pupils to make up their own minds between competing positions, but what if one of the positions, with many adherents in some parts of Scotland, is flat out wrong? It is difficult to maintain that an error-laden account of who we are and where we came from can be acceptable in RMPS, when it has been specifically excluded from the science classroom. The Creationist position cannot be discussed without presenting it, but how should we respond to a current textbook that states as a strength of Intelligent Design “Strong scientific arguments for the arguments properly researched according to scientific method,” none of which is true (in the context of the petition, see here and here; for more criticism see here)? Alasdair Allan has said in Parliament that Creationism should be discussed but not promoted, but where is the boundary between discussion and promotion? More on this in due course.

Text of Ministerial letter:

Mr Stewart Maxwell MSP

Convener

Education and Culture Committee
The Scottish Parliament
EDINBURGH
22 April 2015

Thank you for your letter of 18 March 2015 about the Education and Culture Committee’s consideration of Petition PE1530 from the Scottish Secular Society. I will reply to the points you have raised in turn:

Scottish Government position on Petition PE1530

Thank you for the opportunity to summarise the Scottish Government’s position on Petition PE1530, as was set out in the Learning Directorate’s letter of 15 December 2014 to the Public Petitions Committee.

While teachers will undoubtedly hold a wide range of views and opinions on religious, ethical and other matters, there are a number of safeguards already in place that are designed to ensure young people receive a balanced education. These include; a robust and independent school inspection regime, the positive influence on school life of Parent Councils, education authority and school management team oversight of what is being taught and presented within the school as a whole, a robust complaints process that is set out in statute, and an independent body established to set the professional standards expected of all teachers — the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

Guidance provided by Education Scotland, set out in the “Principles and Practice” papers and the “Experiences and Outcomes” documentation for each of the 8 curriculum areas does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. It should therefore not be taught as part of science lessons.

As you know the non-statutory curriculum is a long-standing feature of Scottish education. The difficulty of putting in place a ban for a specific issue, like Creationism in science, is that there will inevitably be calls for bans on other issues and the curriculum would risk becoming mired in legal arrangements. It is preferable to leave the curriculum to teachers and enable them to exercise their professional judgement on what is taught, rather than legislate to ban issues like Creationism in specific areas.

Prevalence of Creationism Teaching

Education Scotland’s science and Religious and Moral Education (RME) teams, along with HMI Subject Specialists, have engaged extensively with schools over the last two years. This includes visits to over 40 establishments as evidence gathering for the Sciences 3-18 Curriculum Impact Report; five sciences “conversation days” involving more than 250 stakeholders and Education Scotland engagement with many hundreds of teachers through events designed to support primary science and the new SQA sciences National Qualifications.

I am aware of concerns you have previously expressed about Creationism being taught in 3 schools in Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire and Midlothian. I can confirm that since these incidents were highlighted no concerns have been expressed to Education Scotland staff, either in the RME or Science teams, about the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines in Scottish schools and no school or teacher has sought guidance on this matter from Education Scotland. Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through the independent inspection process, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including with science teachers, and address any issues that arise.

Approaches to this issue in other parts of the United Kingdom

You will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to offer a view on how this issue is approached in other parts of the United Kingdom as this is a matter for the other UK administrations. My officials have sought information from their counterparts in the other UK administrations and there are aspects of their approaches that are similar to our own.

I remain confident that checks and balances are in place to ensure that the teaching of Creationism or similar doctrines does not happen in school science classrooms in Scotland.

I hope the Committee finds this information of use.

ALASDAIR ALLAN

Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages

Creationism in Scotland’s schools; our petition makes progress

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepageThis morning, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament held its third and final hearing on the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition PE01530. The meeting is archived here, and a transcript will be available in about a week here.

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

I quote this again, since the Petition’s opponents, with scant regard for the Commandment against bearing false witness, repeatedly claim that we want to shut down all discussion of religion, or of the Biblical account of creation, or whatever. Indeed, such claims were actually quoted at the Committee meeting, by members concerned to show suitable sensitivity towards the tender feelings of their own creationist constituents.

However, the issue was never really in doubt, given the support that our petition has received among Members of the Scottish Parliament; see here.

The Convener was admirably blunt in describing creationism as “bilge”, and while no one dissented from this, there was still some discussion as to whether it presented a real problem. Eventually, however, and without a division, the Petitions Committee agreed to our request to forward the Petition to the Education and Culture Committee for further consideration. We could not have hoped for a better outome.

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the discussion stirred up by our Petition, individually or as members of organisations. By moving the issue into the limelight, instead of leaving it in the decent obscurity that many would prefer, you have stimulated an unprecedented level of debate, not only on this specific subject, but on the entire question of the appropriate role of religion in Scotland’s publicly funded schools.This is far more than I would have imagined possible at the outset, or even as recently as a week ago.

This is an issue that, in Scotland, cuts across party lines, and indeed the bulk of our recorded parliamentary support comes from members of the governing Scottish National Party, although the Government itself is still pretending that there is no creationism problem here.

For the record, I attach the Scottish Secular Society’s press release of this morning, and its list of links and sources. my own blog posts on the subject are all on this site, collected here. My posts on the interwoven topic of the Kirktonholme Creationist textbook scandal, and subsequent developments including the admirable new South Lanarkshire guidelines, are here. I will keep you informed of new developments, and, once more, I thank you.

SCOTTISH SECULAR SOCIETY SATISFIED ‘CREATIONISM’ PETITION TO GO BEFORE EDUCATION AND CULTURE COMMITTEE

 ·        SSS seek guidance on how creationism is presented in schools

·        PPC refer matter to E&CC

 The Parliament Petitions Committee (PPC) has today advised the Education and Culture committee to look at the Scottish Secular Society’s petition on the teaching of creationism in schools. The SSS are very satisfied with this outcome, that Education and Culture committee are the people best placed to consider the matter and understand the importance of good science education to Scotland.

 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance

 Spencer Fildes, Chair of the SSS said: “We are delighted that the Public Petitions Committee (P.P.C.) have agreed to refer our petition to the E&CC. Interestingly, the PPC specifically acknowledge the more stringent guidelines now in place across England and Wales regarding the teaching of creationism, they also noted although the E.I.S. and other professional bodies state there are safeguards in place for teaching staff, there were concerns within the PPC around the lack of safeguards regarding external third parties such as Chaplains and volunteers.

Unfortunately the obvious lack of safeguards allowed the teaching of creationism at Kirktonholme to flourish and go unnoticed for over 8 years. Encouragingly, South Lanarkshire have subsequently undertaken a complete overhaul of the delivery and presentation of religion in their schools, making it fairer for those of belief and those of none, with all proper safeguards and checks in place. An excellent example of a secular democracy at work.

 They have actually implemented all the recommendations the Scottish Secular Society proposed in our last petition.”

 Former Chair of the SSS, Caroline Lynch, said: “We are very pleased that the integrity of Scottish science education is taken seriously by the PCC, and that the appropriate committee will now be looking at this issue. It is important that they understand we seek no new law or ban on Creationism, but guidance that ensures that discussions of the creation myths of any religions featured in schools are conveyed in the appropriate place, the RME classroom. Guidelines mirroring those already in place in England need not stifle discussion and debate, but simply ensure that ideas without evidence are not given the stature of accepted science.”

 Professor Paul Braterman, SSS board member and scientific advisor said: “I am very pleased that the committee showed awareness of dissatisfaction with the lack of guidelines within the teaching profession, although I regret that the Society of Biology was not mentioned, but I am pleased with this outcome and feel sure that the education and Culture Committee will take all this into account.”

END

 Notes to Editors: –

 Sir John Sulston, Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts.

 http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/banning-creationism-scottish-schools-0015967

Press release on Scottish Secular Society petition: –

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/scottish-secular-society-launch-petition-seeking-guidance-on-how-creationism-is-presented-in-schools/

Anger over move to teach intelligent design in school (The Herald):-

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300?utm_source=www.heraldscotland.comutm_medium%3DRSS+Feedutm_campaign%3DScottish+News+

 Faith has no place in the classroom (The Herald):-

http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/faith-has-no-place-in-the-science-classroom.25739522

 Creationists take fire for wanting ‘objective’ education in Scottish schools (USA):-

http://www.inquisitr.com/1581069/creationists-take-fire-for-wanting-objective-education-in-schools/?fb_action_ids=10205005310514045&fb_action_types=og.comments

 Michael Zimmerman – “Creationism at Its Most Extreme: Will the Scottish Parliament Respond?”:-

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zimmerman/creationism-at-its-most-e_b_5582955.html

 Dr Alasdair Allan MSP Minister for Learning says he has complete confidence in teachers: –

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alasdair-allan-says-complete-confidence-2826128

 Alastair Noble’s comments quoted in press release: –http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/would-you-adam-and-eve-it-top-scientists-tell-scottish-pupils-the-bible-is-true-1.1060545

 Open letter from SSS to Mike Russell MSP Secretary for Education on 1 October 2013 asking for ban on teaching of creationism: –

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/open-letter-to-mike-russell-msp-cabinet-secretary-for-education-and-lifelong-learning/

 Parliamentary TV footage of SSS petition and former Chair Caroline Lynch exposing Kirktonhome School scandal for first time at 11:00: –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXOAy3YPuSA

 

Fight against Creationism in Scotland gains powerful allies; imminent developments

Yesterday I posted about Motion S4M-12149, which a Dinosaur had posted to assert that 6-day creationism had not been scientifically disproved, and that Scottish schools should present it as a viable world-view.

Today I discovered that this was a reaction to the following:

Motion S4M-12148Stewart Maxwell, West Scotland, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/01/2015

Crackdown against Creationism

That the Parliament congratulates South Lanarkshire Council on taking decisive action to prevent the teaching of creationism in schools by introducing new guidance; condemns any promotion of creationism in publicly funded schools, including the reported distribution of creationist books at Kirktonholme Primary School; believes that creationism should not be presented as a scientific theory and viable alternative to the established theory of evolution, and supports the Society of Biology and the Scottish Secular Society position in opposing the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

Five MSPs from the governing Party, as well as the eloquent Patrick Harvie whose support will be no surprise to those who know the Scottish scene.

Whereas the Dinosaur’s motion has no signatures but his own. How embarrassing.

The Motion refers to developments in South Lanarkshire, which I wrote about here. South Lanarkshire is the authority in charge of Kirktonholme Primary, scene of an outrageous episode in September 2013, when lunatic fringe 6-day creationist books, showing dinosaurs as farmyard animals and describing evolution as wicked, were handed out in Assembly. It has now introduced admirable guidelines regarding chaplains, making Head Teachers responsible for their actions, requiring a member of teaching staff to be present during all their formal in-school activity, and requiring them to respect the guidelines of the Curriculum for Excellence. Since the Curriculum for Excellence explicitly acknowledges evolution as a key concept, this effectively precludes the teaching of creationism as a viable alternative.

The Society of Biology position is spelt out in its submission to the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, in support of the Scottish Secular Society’s Petition

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

The Society of Biology submission says, among other things, that

We encourage the Scottish Government to follow the strategy taken in other nations of the United Kingdom to provide clear guidance to schools and the teaching community stating explicitly that creationism and intelligent design are not considered to be scientific theories based on tested hypotheses, and therefore should not be taught in science lessons. Furthermore we urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.

That last sentence is one that I wholeheartedly endorse, and that widens the debate on how to proceed. And in Scotland the question is not confined to science lessons, since concepts of creation are (and should be) discussed explicitly in RE, which is a compulsory component of the curriculum. [1] So for me, this sentence implies a two-way interaction. RE teachers and others concerned with discussing the history of ideas should be aware that separate creationism and what nowadays calls itself Intelligent Design have been utterly discredited scientifically, while science teachers should be able to explain that in every religion,with the possible exceptions of Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism/Jehovah’s Witness, the creationists’ claim to speak for all believers is bogus and may even be blasphemous.

The Petitions Committee, regular readers may recall, seriously considered killing our Petition when they took evidence on it in November, but decided on a vote that crossed party lines to collect further evidence. The Committee meets again on Tuesday, with 5 new members. It should be an interesting occasion. The meeting is open to the public, but if you want to attend you had better book your seat now. The hearing will also be webcast live here, with transcript posted abut a week later here.

I am of course enormously gratified to see the Scottish Secular Society, to which I am scientific adviser, singled out for mention, and language that I helped draft, finding its way into a Parliamentary Motion that may well signal a turning point in this discussion.

But I will, nonetheless, be relieved when all this is over and I can get back to writing about science.

1] Individual parents, and pupils over the age of 16, have the right to withdraw from RE. In principle, RE is meant to be informative rather than confessional, but this is not always the case in practice.

Saudi blogger awaiting first 50 of 1,000 lashes. Receives Aikenhead Award; wife’s statement

Press coverage: http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/home-news/saudi-dissident-wins-award-commemorating-last-scots-blasphemer-to-be-executed.115724170

“The Saudi Arabian embassy in London was asked to comment on the SSS award, but did not respond.”

This is an update to my earlier post concerning the Saudi blogger and Human Rights activist, Raif Badawi, who رائف بدويstands convicted of “setting up a website that undermines general security”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”, and “going beyond the realm of obedience”. His sentence is to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million riyal (currently £180,000), and a ten year ban on public activity after release. The lashings, according to unconfirmed reports, will be administered at a rate of 50 per week, starting on Friday January 9, in front of Aljefali Mosque in Jeddah, after prayers.

Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and has set up the International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna. Comment is superfluous.

Raif Badawi’s wife and children

Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, has accepted the Scottish Secular Society’s first annual Aikenhead award on his behalf. Haidar, herself an activist and human rights defender, fled first to Lebanon before seeking asylum in Canada which she now lives with their three children, two girls and a son.

Ensaf Haidar writes: –

“Ladies and Gentlemen, my husband Raif Badawi was imprisoned just because he expressed liberal opinions. This is a crime in Saudi Arabia, punishable with ten years imprisonment and 1000 barbaric lashes of a whip.

Palais Sturany Schottenring 21.JPG

King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Vienna

What my husband Raif was subjected to is an inquisition, done in the name of the Saudi interpretation of religion.

 Shamefully one should add, Saudi Arabia is spending hundreds of millions on the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, (KAICIID) in Austria – a public relations project to polish its image, which fails to hide the Kingdom’s persistent violations of human rights.

While promoting its so called ‘dialogue, openness and tolerance’ with the outside world, the Kingdom has been systematically silencing any expression or opinions or peaceful activism and sending those who dare to speak out behind bars.

My husband is one of them.

 This glaring discrepancy has led the Austrian Green Party to demand its closure in Vienna, asking that the Kingdom begins by promoting these values first in its own land.

Aikenhead award

The award, named in memory of Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in Edinburgh for blasphemy on 8 January 1697, shows human fingers making their way through granite

 My husband has been awarded several prizes, including the Humanitarian Award of the Canadian Organization PEN and the Netizen Prize from Reporters Without Borders, and now you, the Scottish Secular Society, have awarded Raif the AIKENHEAD AWARD, 2015. I am both honoured and grateful for this distinction.

 These awards send a clear message round the globe about the Saudi regime.

 The continuation of Raif’s imprisonment is shameful, especially as the Kingdom claims to be part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Saudi Arabia is no different from the Islamic State when both lash and kill in the name of religion.

 In the name of my husband Raif Badawi, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Scottish Secular Society and to your Vice Chair, dear Ramin Forghani, for his continuous support. 

 It is this great international solidarity that reaffirms our belief in humanity.”

Scottish Secular Society press release on Raif Badawi:- http://www.scottishsecularsociety.com/scottish-secular-society-presenting-raif-badawi-with-annual-aikenhead-award/

This Arabic language article states that the lashing will take place in front of Aljefali mosque on Friday, 9th January in Jeddah but doesn’t mention a source for this information:- http://sabq.org/eKugde

More on Saudi Arabia silencing people on line:- http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/7-ways-saudi-arabia-silencing-people-online-2014-12-06

Scottish Government letter to Scottish Secular Society ice Chair Ramin Forghani pressing UK government to act:-  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=296114740599128&set=a.296115337265735.1073741831.100006018131928&type=1

 

Saudi blogger facing 1,000 lashes; Amnesty appeal to King Abdullah [Petition closed. More info as available]

Petition now closed for timing reasons. I will share more information about the case as available.

Join Amnesty’s letter writing campaign (form letter provided; individual even better) to King Abdulaziz regarding Raif Badawi. Write, publicise, tweet. Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after starting a website for social and political debate. Reports suggest that administration of the punishment will begin this Friday, 9 January (after prayers) and continue at a rate of 50 lashings per Friday, for a further 19 Fridays if he survives so long, which is doubtful. Some reports (we are checking on the accuracy of these) say he is diabetic, which would make wound treatment more difficult, and it is unclear what quality medical attention he will be receiving.

File:Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.jpg

King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, official US Government image

King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz would wish to be known as a wise and just ruler. He is widely credited for the 2002 Arab-Israeli peace initiative, and has carried out various internal reforms, including the creation of what is now known as the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue. The terms of this dialogue, however, are strictly limited. The use of social media in Saudi Arabia is closely monitored, with harassment and severe punishments for those who criticise the authorities, while last October Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric last week described Twitter as “the source of all evil and devastation”. International protest at Badawi’s treatment will at worst show that such barbarism carries a cost, with implications for future decisions, and at best may strengthen the hands of those, even within the Saudi government itself, who might wish for reconsideration. Indeed, Amnesty campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience have in the past, on occasion, been surprisingly successful. A consortium of intellectuals with relevant connections has also been writing to influential Saudi princes (government in Saudi Arabia is verymuch a family affair) on Badawi’s behalf.

رائف بدوي

Raif Badawi, image from his Twitter page. I would welcome further information.

According to Wikipedia (see also here, herehere, and here for reports from the press, the BBC, Human Rights Watch and CNN respectively) Badawi was first detained on apostasy charges in 2008, but was released after a day of questioning (in Saudi Arabia, apostasy carries an automatic death sentence). The charges were revived, but not acted on, in 2012, the year in which he was arrested for allowing material criticising the authorities to appear on his website.In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”, and this was increased in May 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes. Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair has himself been jailed after setting up Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a human rights organization. Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Badawi was barred from leaving Saudi Arabia in 2009; his wife and three

Aikenhead award

Scottish Secular Society Aikenhead award, named after Thomas Aikenhead who at the urging of the Church of Scotland was hanged for blasphemy in Edinburgh on 8 January 1697. The design represents human fingers penetrating granite.

children now live in Canada, where they have obtained political asylum.He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the One Humanity Award from PEN Canada, the Nietzen Prize of Reporters Without Borders, and, very recently, the Thomas Aikenhead Award from the Scottish Secular Society (this last having been made after consultation with his wife, who advised that it would probably be more helpful than not). His official Facebook page* carries details of representations being made on his behalf, including one on 18 December 2014 expressing the concern of the Scottish government over his predicament, in response to a letter from my friend Ramin Forghani about the case. Other messages of support are noted on his Twitter page.*

Saudi Arabia is a major customer for the US and UK arms industries, and it was the Saudi army that, at the invitation of the Emir of Bahrain, entered Bahrain to suppress the popular uprising of 2011.

*Currently managed by his wife.

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