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Opportunist Christians capitalise on grief, by Stuart Hartill

ALL of us will have seen TV news stories logging the massive national demonstrations of support for the victims of the Orlando shootings. But how many of us were checking to see how more local vigils were organised, by whom, and how appropriate they were? Or, as in the example I outline below, how inappropriate, opportunistic and dominated by those whose views lead to such events in the first place?

A few days after the Orlando shootings, the local gay group sent supporters a picture of a rainbow flag at half-mast in the cathedral gardens, along with an invitation to a Saturday night Orlando vigil at the cathedral.
How nice to see professional Christians– for once – trying to do the right thing.

Or was it? And were they? I had my doubts, and forwarded the picture to my humanist group’s Facebook page with the quip “business as usual the other 364?”

Some discussion followed, in which the church worker who’d posted the original invitation (who turned out to be a pleasant, if naïve, bisexual activist) joined in, with some saying that we should give churches credit for doing something. I disagreed, passionately, citing the way the Anglicans, along with every other local religious organisation, had responded to a 2014 government consultation on equal marriage with bile that went way beyond the usual quoting of Leviticus and on to worries about spreading AIDS and paedophilia.

Incidentally, the following Monday, Robert Paterson, the bishop who presides over that cathedral, was at a General Synod held behind closed doors in York to sort out Anglican divisions over sexuality. It was held in such secrecy that only other participants know for sure what he said. But as one of three bishops appointed in 2011 to review the wording of the C of E “pastoral statement” on civil partnerships ( a little matter this usually voluble church leader completely forgot to share with his flock ), and a known opponent of same sex marriage, it is a safe bet that whatever he said would bring no comfort to the gay community. In addition, this was a clergyman who earlier in his career, according to a thread on the liberal Thinking Anglicans website, once sacked a celibate gay curate and was one of only two bishops in the C of E Synod to vote against extending pension rights of civil partnered clergy.

Knowing this, the sudden concern for the wholesale slaughter of gay people, while commendable, seemed a little dubious, and the knowledge that an openly gay person was now employed by an institution which had never been anything but homophobic was puzzling.

How could all this be?

Not being a “person of faith” I have not the foggiest how their funny little minds somehow reconcile the many outright contradictions of their church teachings. But if I worked for the organisation which campaigned for people of my sexual orientation in African countries to be executed (then condemned as “un-Christian” the presidents of those countries for blocking such legislation) I would think twice about organising an event to mourn the victims of some religious freelancer who couldn’t wait for a government to do the job.

But it has always been my contention that to understand any policy of any religious organisation then the last thing to do is trawl through their tortured, cod-philosophical public statements. All you have to do is follow the money and, as in this case, a more likely explanation reveals itself.

For a few years now the major Christian denominations have sought to deal with the loss of direct income from their dwindling customer base by jumping on the heritage bandwagon. They do have a lot of historically significant –possibly irreplaceable – buildings, which has allowed them to claim public funds to maintain them. A similar cash cow was the legal loophole which allowed churches to reclaim taxes on church repairs. But these funding sources can only be tapped once, and in addition there is growing public resentment at government money being used to prop up increasingly irrelevant, impractical and unused relics.

A newer solution has been to “re-invent” the church as a community hub. The official Anglican website even devotes considerable space to encouraging clergy and church parish councils to put in bids to run public or community amenities which are being privatised or closed. For example, there have been projects to run village post offices and shops – even pubs.

Governments have also positively encouraged religious groups to dominate the so-called “third sector” as social services facilities collapse. In my area the Methodist church now has a local government monopoly over support services for older people – with disastrous results. In effect, the only older people living at home with access to professional help are those referred by a fellow church-goer. Meanwhile, pensioners who do not go to church (ie the vast majority) have simply vanished from social service databases.

Similarly, having tapped every public fund going to be maintained as a “historic building”, the cathedral had the bright idea of simultaneously addressing cash flow problems and any public perception of it as the last bastion of social prejudice by rebranding itself as a 21st century local human rights education project. The plan was to create permanent and temporary exhibitions around themes like the Holocaust, which would become the focus of school trips.

Given the firm’s policies on human rights elsewhere, it seems to me the last place local kids might be bussed in for warnings about the dangers of genocide. Though unlike most locals, I actually research and worry about such things, so maybe I’m just biased.

For me, finally, this was opportunists treating a mass murder – inspired by their very belief system – as yet another chance to attract new members (and their wallets).

We are not monitoring the subtle ways in which churches slide their insidious views back onto the agenda under the pretence of “responding” to tragedies caused by prejudices rooted in their core beliefs and “helping communities to heal”. However hard professional Christians try to portray themselves as the “victims” of some wild-eyed international atheist conspiracy, however hard they try to misrepresent the term “secularism” as “anti-religious”, the fact remains that churches are still too close to governments, and use such contact to “suggest” new ways in which they can dominate (though they like to use the word “serve”) the communities who involuntarily fund them. This is a major problem.

We cannot wait for national campaigns to develop. We cannot even wait for national humanist groups to respond or give us a lead. We have to act ourselves, locally, continuously, here and now.

Louis-Georges Tin is the newest patron of the Pink Triangle Trust

THE LGBT humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT), publishers of The Pink Humanist, has warmly welcomed the French gay activist Louis-Georges Tin as a patron.

Louis-Georges Tin is a professor of literature at the University of Orléans.

In 2005, he launched the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), now celebrated in more than 130 countries. To incorporate transgenders, IDAHO has since been renamed IDAHOT.

IDAHOT is supported by the humanist organisation Hivos.

In 2008, in conjunction with the French and the Dutch governments, he brought a resolution for a universal decriminalisation of homosexuality before the General Assembly of the United Nations.

In 2011, he became the President of the French National Black Coalition.

In 2016, he persuaded French President François Hollande to start a policy on slavery reparation. He also launched the European Reparation Commission.

Tin has published several books including the Dictionary of Homophobia. He has received a number of awards for achievements in the area of human rights.

Tin joins twelve other PTT patrons including Lord Cashman CBE and Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP.

Cashman is the UK Labour Party’s special envoy on LGBT issues worldwide and an Honorary Associate of the UK National Secular Society. Sophie in ‘t Veld is Vice-President of the

European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights and chairs the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics. She is also an Honorary Associate of the UK National Secular Society.

The PTT is a member of the International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU).

Homophobic Puerto Rican judge booted over gay marriage ruling

US District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez, who decided earlier this year that Puerto Rico should maintain it gay marriage ban, has been overruled by the federal appeals court which stated that the ban was “unconstitutional”.

“The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin,” the unsigned opinion from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stated in in a harsh criticism of Pérez-Giménez.judge

According to a Buzzfeed report, Pérez-Giménez had ruled in favour of the ban in October 2014, but the 1st Circuit sent the case back to the trial court after the Supreme Court’s

June 2015 ruling in Obergefell v Hodges striking down marriage bans nationwide.

The appeals court ordered Pérez-Giménez to “further consider” the matter “in light of Obergefell,” adding that the appeals court judges “agree with the parties … that the ban is unconstitutional.”

Nonetheless, in March, Pérez-Giménez upheld the ban for a second time, ruling that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not apply to a territory like Puerto Rico.

The appeals court disagreed strongly, stating, “In ruling that the ban is not unconstitutional because the applicable constitutional right does not apply in Puerto Rico, the district court both misconstrued that right and directly contradicted our mandate.”

The appeals court granted the request from the parties challenging the ban that the appeals court issue an order “requiring the district court to enter judgment in their favor striking down the ban as unconstitutional.” The appeals court also took the extraordinary step of kicking Pérez-Giménez off the case, ordering that the case “be assigned randomly by the clerk to a different judge to enter judgment in favor of the Petitioners promptly.”

The matter was before 1st Circuit Judges Juan Torruella, Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson, and William Joseph Kayatta Jr. The opinion, however, was issued per curiam, meaning, “by the court” – as in, it was not signed by any of the judges in particular.

Puerto Rico officials agreed with the parties challenging the ban that Puerto Rico’s ban is unconstitutional since the Obergefell decision.

On May 29, 2016, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed into law civil-rights measures that give LGBT people on the Caribbean island non-discrimination protections and also incorporate same-sex couples into its domestic-violence law.

Who is afraid of atheism on 21st-century Kenya

At the beginning of 2016, the Kenyan authorities took a bold step by registering the Atheists in Kenya Society as a legal entity. But in the face of religious opposition, within months they suspended the registration. In this article, LEO IGWE, prominent Nigerian sceptic and human rights campaigner, reports on this disgraceful development.

RECENT reports from both local and international media have highlighted strains between a small atheist group, Atheists in Kenya (AIK) and mainly Christian religious organisations in the country. These reports have focused mainly on the controversies surrounding the efforts of the group to gain local recognition and be registered under Kenyan law.

This move elicited opposition from religious organisations and state officials. In this piece, I argue that these controversies, though understandable, are completely unnecessary and unhelpful to the nation of Kenya. The hostile reactions that the registration of AIK has generated are clear indicators of intolerance, fear and fanaticism.

This is highly unexpected of a democratic Kenya that claims to uphold the rights and freedoms of its citizens. So what then could have been the reason behind the hateful and discriminatory attitudes against atheists in this country? There has been tension in the country after an unsuccessful attempt by the AIK to get the government to cancel a public holiday and a day of prayer which it declared during the papal visit to Kenya in November last year.

Harrison Nyende MumiaHarrison Mumia, left, the leader of the group, argued in court that to observe such a holiday was “unfair, contemptuous of the constitution and discriminatory” because it violated provisions in article 8, 9 and 32 of the Kenyan constitution.

Some segments of the Kenyan press described the demand as “ludicrous, disrespectful [of the Pope] narrow-minded and a publicity stunt”.

In a lawsuit, Mumia argued that not all Kenyans were Catholic and thus the entire population should not be compelled to observe a public holiday and a day of prayer in honour of the visit of the head of the Catholic Church.

What is wrong in filing such an action? Is this not an issue that the Kenyan court and the public should have critically considered without casting aspersions on the atheist group?

Considering that the Kenyan constitution guarantees equality of all Kenyans before the law, and the fact that no Kenyans should be discriminated against on grounds of religion or belief, this could be interpreted to mean that Kenya should observe a public holiday when all heads of theistic or non-theistic groups are visiting or observe no such public holidays at all.

If the government of Kenya does not observe a national holiday and a day of prayer in honour of such visits, does that not amount to discrimination? What is wrong in opposing the observance of such a holiday on grounds of discrimination against atheists and other faith/belief minorities? Does opposing the observance of a public holiday in honour of the Pope’s visit discriminate only against atheists? Is it not an endorsement of religious privilege? Is privileging a religion not against the nation’s secular constitution? What is wrong in seeking to address this conflict in the court of law?

Well the Pope visited and the public holiday was observed. However, the move that the atheist group made left a bitter taste in the mouths of many “faithful” Kenyans.

Similar hostile reactions were accorded the atheist group when they demanded that the teaching of Christian and Islamic religious education in schools be scrapped. To put it in proper perspective, the group is actually demanding for an end to religious indoctrination in schools because that is what these subjects, as currently taught in schools across Kenya, are about.

AIK is not opposed to informing pupils about religion, about the social and historical facts, but they are against coercing children to accept religious myths and dogmas as facts under the guise of Christian or Islamic religious education. The nation of Kenya is today suffering as a result of religious indoctrination of youths.

Jihadist members of al Shabaab are products of Islamic indoctrination. They pose serious danger to peace, security and development in Kenya. Al Shabaab militants have attacked the country several times and killed many of its citizens. If there is one country in Africa that should seriously consider this proposal to revise religious education in schools, it is Kenya. Thus this proposal is not merely for the good of atheism. It is for the benefit of all Kenyans.

The atheist group has also questioned the practice of praying for patients at state hospitals. Let’s face it. Prayer has been proven to have no medical value and given the assumed mechanics of prayers, people who conduct them do not really need to be physically present at the premises of state hospitals to let people know that they are really doing something that could enhance the recovery of patients.

AIK is demanding that education and religious indoctrination, prayers and evidence-based medicine be kept separate.
Are these not legitimate demands?

Unfortunately, certain groups of people in Kenya have observed that by making these demands, AIK was overstepping its constitutional boundaries.

However, Kenya is a free and democratic society, isn’t it? The constitution guarantees freedom of thought and expression of its citizens. Thus the AIK has not violated the provisions of the constitutions in any way. In fact by making these thoughtful demands, the members of this group are actually exercising their constitutional rights.

Furthermore, the atheist group’s effort to register the body attracted heated debates. To operate as a legal entity, AIK had to register with the relevant authorities.
However, this did not augur well with the authorities, at first. They refused the application on the ground that incorporating the group would undermine “peace” and “good order” in the society. AIK protested the decision and the authorities eventually issued AIK a certificate of incorporation.

However, many Christian evangelical groups and religious believers in the country received news of the registration with mixed reactions. There have been several calls for de-registration of the AIK. One of the Christian clerics, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru described the registration as unconstitutional. She based her opposition on the notion that the constitution of Kenya acknowledged the existence of “the sovereign God” and the atheists did not.

In the same vein, the Vice Chair of the Kenyan National Congress of Pentecostal Ministries, Stephen Ndichu, described the registration of AIK as “abominable”. He stated that it was foolhardy to act as if there was no God and worse still to try to “validate that theory by registering an association”.

Also, some Kenyans have equated the registration of the AIK to licensing devil worship. Many religious believers in the country entertain this absurd notion that atheists are Satanists and devil worshippers. They have forgotten that atheists do not see any evidence for the existence of a god or the existence of the devil. For atheists, both God and Satan are figments of human imagination. Put simply, there is no devil for atheists to worship. Thus it is evident that the opposition to the registration of the AIK was baseless and misinformed.

Hence, it was surprising to read that, following the complaints from the religious and theistic public in Kenya, the authorities have suspended the registration of the AIK. The attorney general said that the nation’s Supreme Court would determine the legality of the registration of AIK.

As a religiously plural society it is imperative that the state of Kenya remains secular and not biased for or against those who believe in god and those who do not. The state of Kenya exists for all citizens and should treat all citizens equally and fairly whether they are theists or atheists.

Atheists are human beings and the rights of atheists are human rights. One of the hallmarks of a state that is committed to secularism is the recognition and respect of the full human rights of atheists and non-believers and that includes protecting their rights to association, conscience and expression.

I therefore urge the government of Kenya not to bow to this campaign of blackmail and pressure from those who endorse the discrimination against atheists because their holy scriptures and traditions say so. Opposition to the registration of AIK is informed by creedal insecurity and fanaticism of those who, for no just cause or reason, are afraid of atheists and atheism.

The government should not allow itself to be used to legitimise religious intolerance, fear and hatred of atheists in Kenya.