Following Humanists International‘s expression of deep concern regarding what it has called “the judicial harassment of poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai“, Humanist Ottawa has issued a letter to the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou.
In the letter, Humanist OttawaPresident Robert Hamilton expressed the organization’s “deep concern for the egregious actions taken by CERC Migration and Integration and Toronto Metropolitan University against filmmaker Leena Manimekalia and her short artistic film, “Kaali.“
Humanist Ottawa asserted that CERC “asserted a privileged position of your organization over a person of colour and a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community – in glaring opposition to your own stated values of diversity, equity and inclusion. As well, these action unequivocally contravened Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights supporting freedom of thought, conscience and religion.“
Manimekalai, who has previously identified as bi-sexual, had been selected to produce a creative piece on multiculturalism in Canada as part of the national level academic programme ‘Under the Tent’ organized by CERC Migration – Toronto Metropolitan University. The film, ‘Kaali’ was launched at the Aga Khan Museum on July 2, 2022.
The documentary film documents Manimekalai in the guise of the Hindu goddess Kali wandering the streets of Toronto at night during a pride festival. Manimekalai observes groups of people out on the town, riding the subway, stopping at a bar, taking selfies with members of the public, and sharing a cigarette with a man on a park bench.
Humanist Ottawa pointed out in their letter to Dr. Triandafyllidou that CERC’s actions “directly empowered others who have disseminated hate speech posters and other social media advocating violence and death against Leena Manimekalai. Your actions have cause the perpetration of flagrant injustice and have forced Leena to take steps to protect her safety.”
Maintaining an intent to promote diversity and inclusive values, Maimekalai was quoted in the New Indian Express as saying: “Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity. Trolls who are witch-hunting me are fueled by hate. They have nothing to do with faith. If they are patient enough to watch the film they might choose love. But that’s exactly why they want the film to be banned.”
Taking aim at CERC’s status as a federally-funded status, Robert Hamilton also wrote, “In addition, your acquiescent public apology to vague assertions of offence were not only short sighted, but were indeed corrosive to individual freedoms that Canadians cherish and have fought to preserve including the freedom to express artistic and religious idea.
Finally, you took quick actions against the filmmaker without due consideration to the foreseeably dangerous consequences that could ensue. This speaks to a failure in judgement and accountability unworthy of a federally-funded program and an institution of higher learning. Canadians deserve and expect better than this.“
On 4 July, the High Commission of India in Ottawa issued a statement calling on the Canadian authorities and event organizers to withdraw her film. Her film was subsequently withdrawn and her name removed from the ‘Under the Tent’ programme by Toronto Metropolitan University, while Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum host to a screening of her film apologized for any offence caused by the film.In India, a de facto ‘blasphemy’ provision , Section 295A of the IPC allows up to three years imprisonment for “whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class.”
To date, CERC does not appear to have provided any public statement of how it may plan to take accountability for its contributions to the risks faced by Manimekalai. Humanist Ottawa provided some expectations from the perspective of the organization’s inclusive humanist values:
Accordingly, we therefore urge you to:
Promptly express a public apology to the filmmaker, Leena Manimekalai
Publicly articulate support for the legal, free expression of thoughts and ideas
Financially compensate the filmmaker for the pain and suffering that she continues to endure
Financially underwrite all expenses needed to ensure the safety and security of the filmmaker
HumanistFreedoms.com encourages you to share your perspective on this situation with Dr. Triandafyllidou by writing a letter of your own – and by commenting in this post.
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following articles and studies were located on the Humanists International website and in several online publications.
Humanists International is deeply concerned to learn of the judicial harassment of poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who is currently facing accusations of “hurting religious sentiments” in connection with her latest documentary short ‘Kaali’.
Leena Manimekalai – a published poet and award-winning filmmaker, who is studying for an MFA in Canada – was selected to produce a creative piece on multiculturalism in Canada as part of the national level academic programme ‘Under the Tent’ organized by CERC Migration – Toronto Metropolitan University. Her project, ‘Kaali’ was launched at Aga Khan Museum on 2 July 2022.
The short film shows the Hindu goddess Kali wandering the streets of Toronto at night during a pride festival, observing groups of people out on the town, riding the subway, stopping at a bar, taking selfies with members of the public, and sharing a cigarette with a man on a park bench. The poster for the film shows Kaali – played by Manimekalai – smoking, holding an LGBTI+ flag.
She is quoted in the New Indian Express as saying: “Kaali, the film is all about choosing love and championing humanity. Trolls who are witch-hunting me are fueled by hate. They have nothing to do with faith. If they are patient enough to watch the film they might choose love. But that’s exactly why they want the film to be banned.”
Manimekalai announces the screening of her film ‘Kaali’ on social media
Since sharing the poster which went viral on social media, Manimekalai has faced a barrage of death threats, a campaign of harassment on social media – with the hashtag #arrestleenamanimekalai trending on Twitter India – and legal complaints filed against her by right-wing Hindu nationalists in India.
Speaking to The Hindu, Manimekalai stated, “My intention is not to provoke. […] By succumbing to fundamentalist elements, Toronto Metropolitan University and Aga Khan Museum have compromised on academic and artistic freedom.”
To date, Manimekalai is aware of at least nine First Information Reports (FIR) – an official legal complaint that initiates a police investigation – filed with local authorities in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh. The petitioners allege that Manimekalai has breached a range of laws, including Article 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.
A de facto ‘blasphemy’ provision, Section 295A of the IPC allows up to three years imprisonment for “whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class.”
In addition, a court in Delhi has reportedly issued a summons for Manimekalai and her company to appear in court on 6 August in connection with a civil complaint filed against her.
Humanists International fears that filmmaker Leena Manimekalai is being targeted for her peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of religion or belief and expression. The organization calls on the Indian authorities to drop all investigations relating to the film, and to repeal its ‘blasphemy’ laws.
In a communiqué entitled “Nonviolence, an urgent commitment”, the Humanist Movement of Cordoba welcomed the initiative of the League of Governors to “make visible the need to install Peace and Nonviolence as guiding principles of life in common in Argentinean society”.
The mention refers to the document signed by the governors of 15 Argentine provinces a few days afterwards the failed attack against Vice-President Cristina Fernández, which, among other issues, expresses the recommendation to President Alberto Fernández to create a “Commission for Peace and Non-Violence”. We want to reaffirm the need to contribute together to a climate of national pacification,” the governors said.
For their part, the militants of New Humanism pointed out how their movement has worked since its origins “to forge and expand a culture of non-violence, promoting numerous actions in all fields of social activity”.
It is important to remember, in the context of this statement, the hostile framework in which the movement emerged. Its first public event took place in 1969, in the midst of the Onganía dictatorship, in a mountainous area near the Andes, due to the military regime’s repeated prohibitions on making its message heard in urban centres. Proscription and persecution continued and forced many of its activists into exile.
Already in that first harangue, its founder, Silo, would expand the vulgar conception of the term “violence” by saying: “Violence in man, moved by desires, does not remain only as a disease in his consciousness, but acts in the world of other men, exercising itself with the rest of the people. Do not think that I speak of violence as referring only to the armed act of war, where men tear other men to pieces. That is a form of physical violence. There is economic violence: economic violence is violence that makes you exploit another; economic violence is when you steal from another, when you are no longer a brother to another, but a bird of prey for your brother. There is also racial violence: do you think you do not exercise violence when you persecute someone who is of a different race to you, do you think you do not exercise violence when you defame them because they are of a different race to you? There is religious violence: do you think that you do not exercise violence when you give us work, or close the doors, or fire someone, because he is not of your own religion? Do you think that it is not violence to encircle someone who does not agree with your principles by defamation; to encircle him in his family, to encircle him among his beloved people, because he does not agree with your religion?
In line with this message, the signatories of the communiqué affirm that non-violence should be the central axis of a state policy that aims to “transform the conditions that generate different forms of violence.
The statement released affirms that, in addition to overcoming unworthy social situations, it is necessary “a profound process of reflection so that the universal premise of relationship is to treat others the same way we want to be treated.”
Finally, it calls on each person to actively commit themselves to Nonviolence, from their place of influence, in order to “build the world that we want, need and deserve as human beings”.
The Humanist Movement of Cordoba welcomes the initiative of the League of Governors to make visible the need to install Peace and Nonviolence as guiding principles of life in common in Argentinean society.
Since its origins, New Humanism has worked tirelessly to forge and expand a culture of Nonviolence, promoting numerous actions in all fields of social activity.
We believe that Nonviolence must become the axis of State policies aimed at transforming the conditions that generate different forms of violence.
We also affirm that well-intentioned declarations and regulations will not be enough to achieve this goal if people do not intend to initiate a profound process of reflection so that the universal premise of relationships is to treat others in the same way we want to be treated.
We call on society as a whole to make an active commitment to Nonviolence in order to build the world we want, need and deserve as human beings.
HUMANIST MOVEMENT OF CORDOBA Cordoba, September 2022
World Without Wars and Without Violence Cordoba Centre for Humanist Studies of Cordoba Humanist Party Cordoba The Community for Human Development Cordoba Humanist Feminists Cassandra Base Team Humanist Party The Community for Human Development Salta Intentional Community Abriendo Futuro (Opening the Future) Social Humanism. Puerto General San Martín, Santa Fe Humanist Neighbourhood Movement Moreno THE COMMUNITY for Human Development (Aso.Civil) Humanist Feminists La Pampa. Humanist Feminists Cordoba Community of Silo’s Message, Cordoba Community of Silo’s Message Humanist Party of Entre Rios Humanist Feminists Alberti COPEHU- Cordoba. Universalist Humanist Pedagogical Current of Cordoba Convex Concave Community of Villa Crespo CABA Collective for nonviolence Mar del Plata
Pamela Facello, humanist from Entre Rios Diana Varela, retired. Alejandra Elena Vittar, Teacher Tala Gonzalez, Arturo Lorusso – retired Alberto José Castro, teacher Nélida Ester Rey, retired. Claudia Monica Varela, Kinesiologist Ana Tolcachier, Student Eloy de LLamas, visual arts Haro Paz Juanito, computer scientist Margarita Ponce de Leon, retired Conny Henrichmann, translator Andrea Franco, Humanist activist. Mum, trader. Noe Costas Silvia Tabarini – retired Ochoa Graciela, Humanist feminist. Sandra Lewy Smith Marello, Danilo. Teacher Guillermina Rodríguez, Peronist, Mataderos Ana Maria Ferreyra, Pensioner Hugo Alberto Cammarata Gerardo Spidalieri Omar Abraham, Trader Cynthia Fisdel, Humanist Javier Tolcachier, Communicator Bernardita Zalisñak Gabriela Inés Adorni, Psychologist. Susana Malvasio, Pensioner Paulina Peralta, student Valentina Cusmai, student Pamela Taverna – Psychologist Juan Armando Caro – Designer Pablo Sequeira, Salesman César Almada Carmela Acebedo, student Carlos Alberto Flores, Independent Juana Aurora Barragan, Socio Therapist Operator Agostina Beccaria, employee Sol Arrieta, work in an electronics repair shop Alejandro Tolcachier, Lic. in Mathematics, Doctoral Student Hugo Omar Moyano, Humanist T. Miriam Moyano, retired teacher
Toyin Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, and has also held short-term teaching appointments at the University of Cambridge in England, York University in Canada, Smith College of Massachusetts in the United States, The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, Nigeria. Falola is author and editor of more than one hundred books, and he is the general editor of the Cambria African Studies Series (Cambria Press).
Excerpt of the Convocation Lecture
2021 Nigerian Academy of Letters
Many would agree that when the core principles and values inherent in humanism–rationality, reason, compassion, human dignity, fellow-feeling, freedom, love, and kindness–are in deficit in society, a vacuum is created and all manner of dogmas, doctrines, superstitions, theories, and abstractions hold sway. Human values are required to be reassembled and restored as a result of these failings and pitfalls– which include war mongering, stoked by the availability of superior and sophisticated weaponry, moral bankruptcy such as corruption and the corruptibility of power, pride, greed, rapacious avarice, religious fanaticism, ethnic irredentism. They defray from humanism and all need to be eliminated for the re-affirmation of humanity. Among these pitfalls, also is the “robotization” and “thingification” of humanity, resulting from advanced technological innovation and artificial intelligence.
By electing to deploy literature, music, and the media among the diverse tools and fields of the humanities, to mediate its ideology, humanism, the thought of the choice of three, just three, rests on the three witches at the opening of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There is tempo-spatiality (time and space–of when and where); There is so much metaphorical witchcraft in the arts–all of them, literature, theatre, film, music, and the media. When you fold or scaffold time and ages into a few hours, “hold eternity in the air,” take on persons and characters into oneself, remove costumes and make-ups, and wake up instantly from death to active life without the miracle of Christ, confer immediacy upon news and news paces, record events into soundtracks and sound bites, and make them live in the real world, you confront the witchcraft and the magic of the arts–the humanities. So, the idea of echoing the witches and their witchcraft is not too far-fetched; after all; it is not stretching the imagination too thin, as is done in our vocational engagement in the arts.
The Yoruba Nollywood talks of Idan, which is magic. Apidan, the magic-makers, the theatricians, the actors, the storytellers, and the whole process of their art of creation on stage, screen, studios, and so on. And timing (the duration) of the clap-trap of lightning–the age of cataclysm, violent eruptions in the streets, outright warfare, which is actually what the witches were referring to, plagues, epidemics and pandemics, tornadoes, massive flooding, ravaging fires, earthquakes; chaos, banditry, kidnapping, dystopia, and the likes. These do not make the echoes of witches, magic, and the cult of Iyas (mothers) too intriguing or too dissimilar to the world of the arts.
In all the ages, writers covet the news space for self-expression to say the things that must be said urgently and to test the waters of their creation as they form words from their thoughts–poetry, prose, drama sketches. In that sense, there is an intriguing love relationship between the media and literature. Throughout time, men of letters seek refuge in the media as they mold their blocks of expression that are later turned into books. The role of newspapers in the evolution of literature drew the writers into the waiting arms of the media, newspapers to be specific, in a relationship that has become permanent, as the newspapers, periodicals, and journals and their creators themselves became a new type of literature and literary artists. Therefore, from the 18th century on, the inventors of the periodical essays extended the tactic of the fictitious self into the new territory and became writers.
All over the world, including in Nigeria, overt and subtle control proved incapable of stemming the growth of the media industry. The creeping in of censorship to control the opinions and feelings expressed in rapidly popularizing media had begun to accommodate issues and topics on politics, the lives of public individuals and businesses. Its popularity generated the desire of governments to control what would come out in the newspaper the following morning. Patricians and politicians tried hard to control the press, to dictate its views, and to contain its criticisms, but in Britain (and I daresay everywhere, including in Nigeria), the media and literary realms and phenomena proved too large for such ‘arrant limitations.’
Getting too hot and pinching the skin and the nerves, the government created “licensers of the press” to hunt down heretical and seditious publications and through strict licensing laws to limit the flow and narrow the range of newsprint, but whenever these laws lapsed, innovations in newspapers abounded before new forbidding laws are created. The bid to kill freedom of speech, arising from the gradual dehumanizing capacity and strategies of the powerful, had been there and it remains with us today. We must reach out to our society where the contribution of the media in those early days of independence struggle was valiantly resisted by the colonial authority. The politicians (civilian and military) inherited that strategy to control and censor the media. The draconic decrees to muzzle and snuff out freedom of the press and literature are evidence of the descent from humanism, derived from debased and depraved corruption of power in our country and continent.
Literature stands as a bridge-head between music and the media. Just as the media and literature are inextricably linked in a Siamese-twins relationship, so do literature and music bond in close affinity such that, many times, it became difficult to draw distinct lines between the two. Poets were considered as failed musicians and musicians as failed poets, and when those whom the world considers pop culture musicians began to win the Nobel Prize for literature (Bob Dylan, for instance), the separation line between the two blurs and melts into oblivion. Music became a friend of the media as literature, a friend of music, is the original friend of the media. So much for the justification of the meeting of three subfields of the humanities for mediating humanism!
As succinctly captured above, humanism, which I consider the ideological plank of humanity, reclines on the principles of reason and rationality. To attain a better society where love, humane value, and freedom reign, away from excessive religiosity (not religion), the human agency places the power for individual action in some other forces outside of the self and has brought so much human destruction since many centuries ago. There abound myriad theories of humanism since the age of the Renaissance. For instance, humanistic psychology emerged in the mid-20th century as a rebuttal to the limiting cynicisms of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, and B. F. Skinner’s behaviourism provides “a perspective that emphasizes’’ and ‘stresses concepts such as free will and self-efficacy.” In line with my offering above, humanism has been rendered as a “philosophy that stresses the importance of human factors rather than looking at religious, divine, or spiritual matters.” It is perceived as being “rooted in the idea that people have an ethical responsibility to lead lives that are personally fulfilling while at the same breath, contributing to the greater good for all people.”
The essence of humanism is its advancement of the significance of human values and dignity. People possess the capacity to solve their problems through rational and scientific means to attain the fulfilment of individual and communal ideals and to transform the world into a better liveable place for all people. For many centuries, the tragic emotions and irrationality that dominate religious dogmas and fanaticism, leading to extreme violent movements on intra-religious bases, have had lethal and mortal outcomes on humanity. To the media, the question is, how much information have they rendered to us in recent times, and in our search for truth which ought to promote peace but have provoked wars and battlements?
I will like to write on the passionate assessment of the descent to the barbarism of the media–traditional and social–in Nigeria and elsewhere to get a perspective of the state of our and the world’s media. On February 21, a prominent Nigerian female journalist, Kadaria Ahmed, gave a very passionate, captivating, and no holds barred address titled “My Message to the Nigeria Media,” whose altruism has been challenged by other prominent journalists. Kadaria Ahmed’s address would have simply gone down as a classic on the need and essence of media practitioners to shun ethnic profiling and return to the traditional, noble profession of truth-telling and leading the nation aright in times of national crisis. Kadaria wrote thus:
It is with a heavy heart, worried of Nigeria and a sense of impending doom
That I am sending this to you, my colleagues,
Let me begin with a question;
What exactly will we gain if Nigeria descends into war?
How does it advance us if our fellow citizens turn on each other
And begin large-scale ethnic killings against each other…
How does enabling ethnic strife help to achieve this objective?
For some time now, a lot of us has thrown away the book on ethical reporting
Propelled by emotion, we have betrayed every moral consideration
That assigns our noble profession
But the critical probing to the other side of the coin happily carried out by Tayo Olu in The Whistler of February 15, 2021, titled “Attack on Nigerian Media,” has helped to put the “attack” by Kadaria in context without necessarily defraying from the value of her address.
Tayo Olu shed light on the reaction of Kadaria’s colleagues’ overt “scathing criticism of journalists’ reportage of the herdsmen crisis in the country” and for “fanning the flames of ethnic hate through their coverage of the crisis involving mainly the Fulani ethnic group.” Reactions came first from the Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) FCT Chapter, Emmanuel Ogbeche, Ibanga Isine of Next Edition, and Ekhator Ehi, among others. The rationale of these accusations and counter-accusations among media practitioners is the reality of crass partisanship in the media at a time when they should be the true watchdog of the common folks on whose behalf they ought to speak truth to power and denounce agents of violence and crime. At a time when our humanity is badly assailed on all fronts, the media should be a rallying point and not a house of raucous voices.
Social media, on its part, has nearly swamped the traditional media in this digital age. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Linked In, and the likes have become dominant tools of engagement all over the world, and our country has embraced it irreversibly. Whereas it has increased the democratic space and has been deployed by both government and the citizens, it is radically redefining the nature of engagement (especially political) between the citizens and the state all over the world. It has also generated a lot of conflict and tension because of its massive usage and has brought the two into more direct interaction, and the government can no longer monopolize free speech. Its power (the power of technology that it uses) lies in its immediacy, speed, political reach, and its uncontrollability.
It is projected that in the next few years in Nigeria, the deployment of social media will increase “by more than 80 percent with more than 44 million people accessing online forms in a demography of about 200 million.” The state worries about the potential of social media abuses to undermine the state and ‘threaten the corporate existence of the nation. Yet, apart from its capacity to widen dialogue space, its economic development/utility reality, put at about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and used by nearly 25 million people, makes it unstoppable in Nigeria. There is the debate of the mutual advantage of communication technology (in which Twitter is critical) to both government and the citizens and, thus, the increasing local, national, and international criticism of Twitter’s censor as impeding the nation’s humanity and freedom of expression. As this debate rages, the state must tread softly in its drive to hammer social media, recognize its universal nature, its mutual advantage in a democracy, and its humanizing power.
And to music, I find the danger of the descent of humanism pointedly depicted in the music of I. K. Dairo, as far back as the early sixties, and which still rings screamingly prophetic today. His album Ise Ori Ran mi ni mo se (loosely translated as “I do the job assigned to me by destiny”) ramifies this message of the need to restore humanism in society. Every line of this album warns against the dehumanizing power of greed and self-debasement in the search for sudden and filthy wealth. The inordinate search for crass materialism demeans and dehumanizes the world and sets it on the path of descending humanism. Many of our musicians; Fela, Idreez, and so on, make this frantic call on all of us, especially the state, to pursue the path of humanizing society.
As we all know, literature is a reflection of society, in the manner of a mirror. Beyond mere reflection, it refracts society in the way that the soul breathes life into the body. Literature, therefore, as an arm of the creative industry, endows, ennobles, and enriches a nation’s humanity. It advertises and tells its story. Politics and matters of an imperatively political nature have, for instance, in the African experience, preoccupied the literary establishment. Since the colonial aegis, our writers have put their songs and stories in the service of humanizing our society, committed to the fact that “the poet speaks not for himself only but also for his fellowmen. His cry is their cry, which only he can utter.” All this is in the project of reconstructing society in the moment of declining, degenerating humanity, and the pursuit of viable nationhood and the world order.
Generally speaking, Nigeria’s literature predating the fratricidal war of 1967 to 1970 was essentially in search of a certain socio-spiritual and cultural stability. This is especially so during the cultural nationalism phase, which set the tone for political independence from the hegemonic clutch of colonialism and imperialism. But the war, with all its absurdity and catastrophic devastation of the individual writers, due to suffering and considerable loss of lives at very close and personal levels, compel the literary characterization of the decline or indeed descent of our nation’s humanism.
Even though I had described in a previous study on the Civil War, that the war wrought a serious body of national literature, its blight compelled a certain kind of dark pessimism and cynicism in the emerging visions. This may have been caused by the deep sense of loss, personal and collective, which the war generated. Okigbo died in the war, Soyinka suffered protracted solitary confinement, and Achebe and Clark, on different sides of the nation’s pole, carried huge emotional and psychological burdens. The sowing of regenerative seeds in the flesh of the country carried tragic overtones, as we found in some of the war and post-war writings. Additionally, the Nigerian Civil War is used as a background against which the human condition is examined in its perverseness. War is absurd and irrational. The regime of bestiality characterized by war–pogroms and genocides–which tend toward the deployment of technology and war weaponry can lead to ultimate human extinction. Through war, wanton killing of one’s kind is the expression of the philosophy of the absurd and the descent from humanism.
With the ravaging impact and the trauma inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts of creation and creativity, with a positive, cathartic sensibility, have moved on, as we find in Of Shadows and Rainbows: Musings in Times of Covid (2021), a COVID-19, PEN Nigerian publication of poems, short stories, playlets, and essays edited by Olu Obafemi and Folu Agoi. Leaping out of the pages of this publication are lines from the authors “gripped by emotions, paroxysms, compassion, searching for startling enlightenment, illumination and, in many cases, reconstructive tropes” as an affirmation of humanism. Other evolving creative works include the Platform, All Poets Network (APNET), created to promote poetry in English and native languages in this pestilent era and administered by Dzukogi, Khalid Imam, Ola Ifatimehin, and Ismael Baba to “give voice to young and established poets from all continents of the world,” and many more.
The Nigerian society is going through a transition of bleakness and blight, which has raged since the war and truly never ended, reaching very precipitous climaxes even under civil democracy. I have called it the descent from humanism which I have chosen to illustrate with music, the media, and literature. Unorthodox warfare through insurgency, insurrection, frightening banditry, armed herdsmen, lethal violence, dystopia, and wild social incoherence manifests our nation’s descent from humanism. The mediatory and recuperative essence and power have been explored here somewhat. Part of my recommendations is that the media, music, and literature should become more prophetic and politically more engaged in raising mass awareness to restore, rekindle, and promote humanism and humanity. Also, the essentialist principle of humanism, which deals with identity retrieval and identity marking, should be more robustly engaged by the media through investigative and development journalism in tracking the concrete character and identity of the bandits, herdsmen, and other agencies of insurrection and insurgency on our land.
Taking due cognizance of the present realities in the country as imposed by the pandemic, we must wake to the need for science, technology, and the humanities to focus conversations on humanistic issues, and human and social welfare. We must also concentrate our efforts on the centrality of the human race rather than building knowledge that will lead to its destruction and extinction. Innovations should focus on the discovery of the human inner strength and capacities through critical and constructive reasoning to sustain humanity and the security of the coming generations. To conclude, in order to establish an inclusive democratic society for everyone, the nation, the states, in particular, should work in collaboration with agencies of humanism, as extolled in this essay, rather than foster mutual distrust and resentment.
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following articles and studies were located on The Maravi Post and in several online publications.
By Leo Igwe
The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) is organizing its first seminar on witch persecution and superstitions in Benue Central Nigeria. Benue is a hotbed of witchcraft imputation and witch hunting because belief in the occult force called Tsav among the Tivs is pervasive. To properly situate this historic event, a local advocate explains the significance of the meeting. He said: “This event is very important because it would allow us to understand the different perceptions of witchcraft and the various ways that alleged witches are persecuted in.“
Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW ) is a humanist organization that campaigns to end witch persecution in Africa by 2030. As the advocate noted, “Witchcraft belief is a big issue in Benue! Everyone believes in it, and anything can be linked to it. As kids, it was normal to tag along this path, imbibe these superstitions and live in deep fear of occult forces”.
Witchcraft is popular and entrenched because people are socialized to believe, and not question witchcraft claims from childhood. And as adults, they find it difficult to abandon the superstitious mindset. People pass on these irrational beliefs to their children, perpetuating the cycle of ignorance, unreason, and misconceptions. These misconceptions are not innocuous sentiments; they drive abusive treatment of suspected witches. Incidentally, it is not everyone that is a target witchcraft accusation and witch persecution. A local advocate further states, “The most vulnerable, the people most likely to be accused of witchcraft, are the elderly. Aged people, who are perceived to have lived long while losing family members, children or grand children; those considered different/unusual, like those with autism, including atheists and members of the LGBTQ community”.
In Benue, alleged witches are believed to cause illness, death, and accidents. They are subjected to horrific abuses. A local source told AfAW that the “accused are often treated as horribly as can be imagined, but this depends on the scale of social frailty and vulnerability. A person who has people who could stand up and defend them would be less at risk than those who seem to have none like widows or orphans. When accusations originate from within the family, the accused are worse off, the support base weakens and the protection cover quickly disappears. The stigma and name soiling do much damage. They make suspected witches lose their humanity”.
Witch hunting ended in Europe centuries ago but this wild and vicious phenomenon rages in Africa. An advocate in Benue explains why this is the case: “Witch persecution persists because religions, traditional, Christian and Islamic use witchcraft claims to manipulate people and attract followership and patronage. Knowing the cultural depths of this supposed evil, there are mass healing centers and crusades where people go. In these places, people want to hear that an uncle or mother-in-law or a husband’s girlfriend is the cause of the instability in their lives and that something can be done about it. Religion feeds that want”. Witchcraft belief is used to scapegoat individuals; incite persecution and violence against an innocent family or community member.
In a recent incident, some youths attacked an elderly woman after consulting a local diviner who confirmed that the woman bewitched a young man who had cancer. Angry youths attacked and destroyed the woman’s house. Family members were able to rescue the woman and took her to a safe location. In many cases, accused persons are not lucky. They are tortured to death or lynched by an angry mob. In some parts of Benue, witch hunters strangle or stone accused persons to death. They act with impunity. These atrocities continue because perpetrators are seldom punished. Victims of witch persecution and their families often reign to their fate because of the notion that justice would not be served or that efforts to ensure justice would lead to further victimization. The police expect victims and their relatives to come and lodge complaints before they could intervene in cases of witch persecution. Even when complaints have been lodged, the police often expect the complainants to bribe or mobilize them before they could arrest the suspects or investigate the incident. In situations where the cases are charged to court, the matter suffers so many adjournments. Victims or their families are forced to abandon their case.
On what could be done to end witchcraft accusations and witch persecution in Benue, a local source said: “Education could play a great part in changing the mindset of the people. Nowadays, any sickness is presumed to be inflicted through witchcraft. Maybe, people need to understand that there are other causes of diseases and misfortune that can be verifiable through scientific testing”.
Indeed, education could loosen the grip of witchcraft and other superstitions on the minds of people in Benue. But the tragedy is that educated Nigerians, nay Africans, are part of the problem. Many educated Africans are witchcraft apologists. They defend and justify witchcraft as a codification of African science, philosophy, and logic. Like western anthropologists, educated Africans espouse an exoticized notion of African witchcraft. They propagate the stereotypic idea that, unlike westerners, witchcraft is not a form of superstition; that witchcraft is a demonstration of black power. This mistaken, prejudicial misrepresentation of African witchcraft will be keenly challenged, interrogated, and examined at this event in Benue state.
The Banned Books Week Coalition is an international alliance of organizations joined in a commitment to increase awareness of the freedom to read. The coalition seeks to engage various communities and inspire participation in Banned Books Week through education, advocacy, and the creation of programming about the problem of book censorship.
Humanist Society of Scotland
Join Humanist Society of Scotland for an online evening of discussion to mark Banned Books Week 2022. In light of the recent horrific attack on Salman Rushdie and the increase in book banning in schools in the US driven by Christian fundamentalists, we wanted to create an event that highlights religious censorship of books. OMG, you can’t write that! Books, Censorship, and Religion
The panel discussion will be hosted by our CEO Fraser Sutherland and will include playwright and Lyceum artistic director David Greig, cartoonist and Executive Director of Cartoonists Rights Network International Terry Anderson, Emma Wadsworth-Jones of Humanists International and formerly of PEN International, and Professor Emerita of Royal Conservatoire Scotland, theatre director, and co-chair of Humanist Society Scotland Maggie Kinloch. The panel discussion will be followed by an audience Q&A.
The event is free to attend, with donations to the legal fund of former Scottish Award for Humanism winner Mubarak Bala welcomed. Bala is serving a 24 year sentence in Nigeria after being found guilty in 2022 of 18 counts of public disturbance in relation to a ‘blasphemous’ Facebook post that he wrote.
Humanist International defines itself as “the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diverse community of non-religious organizations and individuals. Inspired by humanist values, we are optimistic for a world where everyone can have a dignified and fulfilling life. We build, support and represent the global humanist movement and work to champion human rights and secularism.”
In other words, Humanist International strives to be the global voice for humanism. The organization held its annual General Assembly (i.e. governance and policy meetings) in Glasgow, Scotland (UK) from June 3-5 this year. The 2022 assembly represented a landmark as it marked the 70th anniversary of the first World Humanist Congress.
Back in 1952, the first World Humanist Congress launched The Amsterdam Declaration, a document which intended to articulate a set of agreed-upon fundamental principles of “modern humanism“.
Somewhat parenthetically, visitors to HumanistFreedoms.com may observe that we use the term “contemporary applied humanism” to describe our content rather than “modernapplied humanism”. This choice is a deliberate choice as there are philosophical and semantic implications of the term “modernism” which are, to say the least, problematic.
Qualms and quibbles over terminology, such as we’ve just touched-upon, can be a necessary thing. Which is, presumably, why Humanists International included in its celebration of 70 years of existence, an update and relaunch of the 1952 original (and its 2002 revision) which is currently being called The Amsterdam Declaration 2022. It seems a bit odd that the new document hasn’t been called The Glasgow Declaration or even The Glasgow Revision of the Noordwijkerhoutu Update of the Amsterdam Declaration – but such is the nature of geo-political sentimentalism, traditionalism and authorial pride. It weens its way into just about everything to the extent that a “global” declaration must necessarily be tied to a specific set of meetings and those who attended.
How about “Global Declaration of Humanism III” and let everyone own it in the time and place of their own? Just a thought.
Humanists International have published an educational video for those who may be interested in the history and details which includes recitations of the text.
On the Humanists International website, the organization explains that the original declaration was a “child of its time” . The implication is that the original needed revision to bring it into alignment with contemporary perspectives and issues – that is to say, the tastes and attitudes of organization-based humanists of 2022.
Here is what the organized and political Humanists have establishes as the fundamental principles of humanism in 2022:
“Humanist beliefs and values are as old as civilization and have a history in most societies around the world. Modern humanism is the culmination of these long traditions of reasoning about meaning and ethics, the source of inspiration for many of the world’s great thinkers, artists, and humanitarians, and is interwoven with the rise of modern science. As a global humanist movement, we seek to make all people aware of these essentials of the humanist worldview:“
1. Humanists strive to be ethical
We accept that morality is inherent to the human condition, grounded in the ability of living things to suffer and flourish, motivated by the benefits of helping and not harming, enabled by reason and compassion, and needing no source outside of humanity.
We affirm the worth and dignity of the individual and the right of every human to the greatest possible freedom and fullest possible development compatible with the rights of others. To these ends we support peace, democracy, the rule of law, and universal legal human rights.
We reject all forms of racism and prejudice and the injustices that arise from them. We seek instead to promote the flourishing and fellowship of humanity in all its diversity and individuality.
We hold that personal liberty must be combined with a responsibility to society. A free person has duties to others, and we feel a duty of care to all of humanity, including future generations, and beyond this to all sentient beings.
We recognise that we are part of nature and accept our responsibility for the impact we have on the rest of the natural world.
2. Humanists strive to be rational
We are convinced that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human reason, and action. We advocate the application of science and free inquiry to these problems, remembering that while science provides the means, human values must define the ends. We seek to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, and never callously or destructively.
3. Humanists strive for fulfillment in their lives
We value all sources of individual joy and fulfillment that harm no other, and we believe that personal development through the cultivation of creative and ethical living is a lifelong undertaking.
We therefore treasure artistic creativity and imagination and recognise the transforming power of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts. We cherish the beauty of the natural world and its potential to bring wonder, awe, and tranquility. We appreciate individual and communal exertion in physical activity, and the scope it offers for comradeship and achievement. We esteem the quest for knowledge, and the humility, wisdom, and insight it bestows.
4. Humanism meets the widespread demand for a source of meaning and purpose to stand as an alternative to dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism
Though we believe that a commitment to human well-being is ageless, our particular opinions are not based on revelations fixed for all time. Humanists recognise that no one is infallible or omniscient, and that knowledge of the world and of humankind can be won only through a continuing process of observation, learning, and rethinking.
For these reasons, we seek neither to avoid scrutiny nor to impose our view on all humanity. On the contrary, we are committed to the unfettered expression and exchange of ideas, and seek to cooperate with people of different beliefs who share our values, all in the cause of building a better world.
We are confident that humanity has the potential to solve the problems that confront us, through free inquiry, science, sympathy, and imagination in the furtherance of peace and human flourishing.
We call upon all who share these convictions to join us in this inspiring endeavor.
Is this a perfectly-achieved declaration? Certainly not. There are plenty of quibbles and nuances that probably need to be given some attention. But it may well be more adequate to serve most contemporary humanists needs and preferences when it comes to something like this than its 1952 and 2002 predecessors. Or maybe not.
Setting qualms and quibbles aside – it is a good thing that Humanists International and the growing number of national and local organizations continue to update and revise their public positions. Any organization which believes that it has nailed these things down once-and-for-all begins to dance the dance of dogma. We wouldn’t want that.
Nor would we want a Global Declaration of Fundamental Principles that we fully agree-with and are satisfied-by. A document like that seems like it would probably find itself out of relevance pretty damn quick. So let’s embrace those qualms and quibbles for what they are – indicators of the kind of progress we’d like to see within contemporary and future applied humanism.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
Citations, References And Other Reading
Featured Photo Courtesy of: Humanists International
Miriam Beerman: 1923–2022 NOTHING HAS CHANGED Opens Fall Season at Monmouth University
Exhibition shines a spotlight on the late Miriam Beerman, a New Jersey artist whose works are included in the permanent collections of over 60 museums worldwide and a female pioneer in the 20th-century art world
WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ—The Monmouth University Center for the Arts announces the launch of its fall 2022 season with Miriam Beerman: 1923–2022 NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
The exhibition showcases Beerman (1923–2022) as one of the 20th-century’s most provocative artists, whose humanist expressionist works highlight her talent as a colorist. A pioneer as one of the first female artists to be given a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Beerman is part of a canon of 20th-century women artists who were nearly lost to obscurity due to their gender in a male-dominated art world.
The show runs from September 6 to December 11 in the Rechnitz Hall DiMattio Gallery in the Monmouth University Center for the Arts. The opening reception is September 22 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Influenced by the social injustice seen around her, Beerman shines a spotlight on the horror and pathos of man’s inhumanity to man. The themes prove to be timeless, resonating today as much as when they were created in the 20th century. Her life and art were explored in the 2015 documentary Miriam Beerman: Expressing the Chaos.
Nearly 20 large-scale canvases by Beerman will be represented. The show is guest curated by gallerist James Yarosh and draws upon the recent exhibition Miriam Beerman – REDISCOVER, shown at James Yarosh & Associates Gallery in Holmdel, N.J., which opened in spring 2022. The exhibition, Miriam Beerman, 1923-2022 NOTHING HAS CHANGED marks the second guest curator role at the university for Yarosh who curated Sheba Sharrow: Balancing Act in 2017. A companion show of Beerman’s works on paper and collages is simultaneously on view at James Yarosh & Associates Gallery.
“Living with Miriam Beerman’s paintings at the gallery with the current exhibit REDISCOVER, one cannot help but be both moved and stirred to be in the presence of the colossal works, heavy with paint, laden with subject. When you see these humanist expressionist works existing silently, holding the weight of the world, you begin to understand the gallery’s presentation,” says Yarosh, a gallerist fueled by curatorial activism in recent years. “As I described Miriam’s art with clients, it occurred to me that those words also described the role of female artists of the 20th century whose voices were more stifled in favor of male artists—and of women’s roles in a patriarchal society.
“If our art history is male-dominant, and the artists before us our teachers, we are only getting half the lessons to be learned,” he continues. “We have an opportunity to do better. This presentation with Monmouth University allows the conversations to continue and include a younger generation.”
“NOTHING HAS CHANGED picks up the dialogue from the 2017 Sheba Sharrow: Balancing Act exhibition. Although their art is different, the mission is similar: A female artist who rails against social injustices in her art as a call to action to evoke change,” says Scott Knauer, Director of Galleries and Collections, Department of Art & Design, Monmouth University. “Much of the subject matter that Miriam Beerman delved into is still so relevant and threatened today: political, social, religious rights, women’s rights and threats against minorities.”
The show’s title piece, Beerman’s 1999 canvas Nothing Has Changed (shown above) is described by Yarosh as “a later work, a portrait of a monumental female face, whose eyes are closed in resignation of her role. She disappears behind the facade of joyous yellows and pink, and yet her hopes are painted on the right—an abstract dream vision of her imagined joy, to run away, to color outside the lines and create her own ideas of ‘happy ever after.’ The archetypal portrait is Beerman’s Mona Lisa, except here, the smile is upside-down.”
Gallerist Mitchell Algus and artist Heather L. Barone (a mentee and longtime assistant of Beerman) and Corey Dzenko and Theresa Grupico in the Monmouth University Department of Art & Design are contributing to the catalogue. A smartphone tour is also being planned with a potential online discussion with artist, author and former Asbury Park Press art columnist Tova Navarra. Other planned events include a series of salon evenings, a Q&A evening with the Expressing the Chaos filmmaker and an event closing show. For details on upcoming events, visit the “What’s New” page on the James Yarosh Associates Fine Art & Design Gallery website: jamesyarosh.com.
ABOUT MIRIAM BEERMAN: Miriam Beerman studied painting at the Rhode Island School for Design, where she earned a BFA. Afterward, she spent two years in France as a Fulbright Scholar, working in Atelier 17 and having her painting critiqued by Marcel Brion. In New York, she studied with Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League and Adja Yunkers at the New School for Social Research. She has had over 30 solo shows, including at the Brooklyn Museum, Graham Gallery, the New Jersey State Museum and the Everson Museum.
Beerman’s work is included in many major collections, including Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, LACMA, National Gallery of Art, Phillips Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum in England, the MEAM in Spain, the Israel Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., among others. Beerman’s painting “Scorpio” is also currently on display as part of The Vault Show exhibit at University of Arizona Museum of Art through fall 2022. She has won many awards, including awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, RSID and others.
ABOUT MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY: Monmouth University is the region’s premier private coastal university offering a comprehensive array of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs in a dynamic and personalized learning environment. Located in West Long Branch, New Jersey, Monmouth University’s magnificent coastal campus is approximately one hour from both New York City and Philadelphia. Innovative academic programs, individual faculty attention, and nationally ranked Division I athletics make this private university a great place to find your future.
ABOUT JAMES YAROSH: Established in 1996, the James Yarosh Associates Gallery in Holmdel, New Jersey, was founded upon and remains loyal to its vision: to represent fine art for art’s sake and to curate gallery collections and thoughtfully present art and interior design specification with an artist’s eye and understanding. Yarosh, an artist and well- published interior designer, offers a full-scale gallery and design center where clients can associate with other like-minded individuals located just one hour outside Manhattan.
Yarosh advocates for what greatness looks like in the arts, showcasing at his destination gallery the works of both new and established museum-recognized artists of merit in a space designed to replicate the intimacy of an artist’s home. Current exhibitions such as Miriam Beerman – REDISCOVER (2022), The Humanist Show (2021), Sheba Sharrow: History Repeats (2020) and the NYC art fair Art on Paper (2021) help foster the idea of art as intellectual engagements that sit above decoration in design hierarchy, adding exponentially to the experience of living with art.
Citations, References And Other Reading
Featured Photo Courtesy of :
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
In our search for interesting, challenging and critical perspectives on contemporary humanism, we occasionally find articles published via other venues that we think HumanistFreedoms.com readers may enjoy. The following articles and studies were located on the APA website and in several online publications.
Self-referencing affects perceptions of workplace discrimination against atheists.
Cantone, J. A., Walls, V., & Rutter, T. (2022). Self-referencing affects perceptions of workplace discrimination against atheists. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000466
The number of self-identified atheists and nonreligious individuals is increasing, yet research examining discrimination toward atheists in the workplace remains rare. The present study expands prior work on religious hostile work environment complaints to one involving an atheist employee alleging discrimination. In the present study, 234 students and community members (gender: 133 women, 93 men, 6 nonbinary/transgender, 2 unreported; religious status: 126 religiously affiliated; 75 “none”; 10 atheist; 6 agnostic; 17 unreported) were recruited to complete an online legal decision-making study. Participants read the complaint of an atheist employee alleging that an Evangelical Christian supervisor’s proselytizing constituted discrimination. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions varying the complainant’s gender (male; female) and student status (student; worker) to examine the role of similarity. Participants completed legal measures from both the objective perspective required by the law and their own subjective perspective to examine the role of self-referencing. Participants’ subjective ratings of whether the conduct would constitute discrimination if it happened to them generally affected their objective ratings of whether the atheist employee had been discriminated against. Religious status similarity, as well as gender, affected participants’ legal ratings. In particular, nonreligious, atheist, and agnostic participants were more likely to see the conduct as discrimination, while Evangelical Christian participants were less likely. Results show that self-referencing and similarity affect how people perceive workplace discrimination faced by atheists. Recommendations for future research and workplace trainings are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
Being agnostic, not atheist: Personality, cognitive, and ideological differences.
Karim, M., & Saroglou, V. (2022). Being agnostic, not atheist: Personality, cognitive, and ideological differences. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000461
Why do several nonreligious people self-identify as agnostic and not as atheist? Beside epistemological differences regarding what is knowledgeable, we hypothesized that such a preference reflects (a) personality dispositions, that is, prosocial orientation, open-mindedness, but also neuroticism, (b) cognitive preferences, that is, lower analytic thinking, and (c) ideological inclinations, that is, openness to spirituality. In a secularized European country (Belgium), we surveyed participants who self-identified as Christian, agnostic, or atheist (total N = 551). Compared to atheists, agnostics were more neurotic, but also more prosocially oriented and spiritual, and less dogmatic.Strong self-identification as atheist, but not as agnostic, was positively related to analytic thinking and emotional stability but also dogmatism. Nevertheless, spiritual inclinations among both agnostics and atheists reflected low dogmatism and high prosocial orientation, and, additionally, among agnostics, social and cognitive curiosity. From a personality perspective, agnostics compose a distinct psychological category and are not just closet atheists. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)
Explaining anti-atheist discrimination in the workplace: The role of intergroup threat.
Rios, K., Halper, L. R., & Scheitle, C. P. (2021). Explaining anti-atheist discrimination in the workplace: The role of intergroup threat. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000326
Based on the common ingroup identity model and Intergroup Threat Theory, as well as the fact that atheists are among the most stigmatized groups in the U.S., the present experiments tested whether and why people would be less willing to accommodate atheist (relative to Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) employees’ religion-related requests in the workplace. In three studies, participants responded to vignettes depicting an employee who requested to express his/her religious beliefs (or lack thereof) at work—for example, by displaying a quote at his/her cubicle or wearing a pin with a religious (or non-religious) symbol. As predicted, participants were especially unlikely to honor the atheist employees’ requests; this effect was driven by participants’ perceptions that the atheist employees posed a symbolic threat (i.e., were trying to impose their beliefs onto others; Studies 2–3) and, to a lesser extent, a realistic threat (i.e., jeopardized the organization’s economic status and resources; Study 3) in the workplace. Though the effects of participant religiosity were inconsistent across studies, the tendency for reluctance to accommodate the atheist employees’ requests was slightly stronger among religious than non-religious participants. Implications for how anti-atheist bias at work arises and can be mitigated are discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)
Under legal pressure from a humanist parent, a school without a religious character in Worcestershire has radically altered its planned Key Stage 4 curriculum for 2022/23, in order to make sure that its religious education is fully inclusive of humanism.
Humanists UK, which supported the parent, said the decision marks a ‘significant win’ in making sure that schools do not force a narrow curriculum on children, and says the Department for Education and other schools must now make sure that such a broad curriculum is also offered everywhere else. In a timely coincidence an amendment to the Schools Bill, to replace RE with ‘religion and worldviews’ education in schools without a religious character, is due to be debated during Report Stage of the Bill on the afternoon of 12 July. The amendment is being proposed by crossbench peer Baroness Meacher.
Humanist parent James Hammond launched the case after learning that his child was being mandated to study an RE GCSE with a syllabus that was not inclusive of non-religious worldviews. No additional teaching was to be provided to make up for this exclusivity. All other schools in the academy trust apart from the one in question appeared to provide inclusive RE. Furthermore, since the school did not provide alternative GCSE options for those withdrawing from RE, if Mr Hammond withdrew his child, then they would have missed out on one GCSE qualification compared with their peers.
The academy has agreed to meet the parent’s request by providing, in addition to the GCSE course, two other units of RE, one for Year 10 and one for Year 11, focusing on non-religious worldviews and taught from a critical and objective perspective. Each unit will run for 6-7 weeks, and will meet the requirement to accord equal respect for non-religious worldviews in RE, as established in 2015 by the Fox case.
Parent James Hammond said:
‘I’m delighted that the school has conceded in this case, and by so doing accepted that its RE provision for years 10 and 11 was unlawful, due to not being inclusive of non-religious worldviews.
‘It was wholly wrong that a school of no religious character was imposing such a narrowly-focused RE curriculum on 15 and 16 years olds: at that age they are developing advanced powers of reason and thought, so to deny them the ability to learn about non-religious beliefs and values was both discriminatory and short-sighted, given the increasingly non-religious demographics in Britain.’
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:
‘This is a significant win. The Fox case in 2015, which was supported by Humanists UK, clearly set a legal precedent – this school should never have forced Mr Hammond into taking this action in the first place, and we are glad that it eventually conceded the case.
‘But the fact that the school was able to behave in this way in the first place was due to a failure of leadership by the UK Government. We’d much rather not be going through the courts – the Government must enable the Schools Bill to bring this case law onto the statute book, by accepting today’s amendment on religion and worldviews education.’
Dan Rosenberg of Simpson Millar said:
‘While my client is pleased that the case has been resolved in a way that enables his child to be taught RE in a more inclusive way, it should not have required the threat of legal action to resolve this. Mandating a GCSE course focused exclusively on religious worldviews for all pupils, at a school without a religious character, and as the entirety of their RE provision, was always going to run into legal trouble. The school has sensibly acknowledged the need for a significantly wider offering.
‘My client hopes that other schools will take a cooperative and responsible approach to providing non-discriminatory, inclusive education for all children, and no other parents will need to instruct solicitors to ensure that their concerns and beliefs are taken seriously.’