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Making the Case for Secularism

The British Humanist Association today published a new work on secularism — a hot topic which has been bitterly debated in recent months in many quarters. Intended as an intervention in an increasingly topical but polarised debate, "The Case for Secularism: a neutral state in an open society", argues for the secular approach in ways intended to appeal both to humanists and to religious believers. It is edited by Professor Richard Norman, emeritus professor of moral philosophy at the University of Kent. The pamphlet will be launched today with an event at the RSA in London (see notes below for details of the launch event).

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, explained, "We are publishing The Case for Secularism as an invitation to debate to all those who are concerned with the question of how our increasingly diverse society can live at ease with itself in a spirit of equality and justice — a question which calls us all to serious thought.

"We hope that the arguments presented for secularism will also dispel the damaging myth that secularists' secularism springs from anti-religious feeling or that it is only humanists who are in favour of secularism. We believe these two misconceptions have been damaging to the debate around the place of religion in the state and need to be addressed."

Polly Toynbee, President of the British Humanist Association, who is chairing the launch event today said, "The case for secularism is strong and it only grows stronger with the increasing diversity of society. If we are all to have full enjoyment of the benefits of human rights, democracy, and equality before the law, we must ensure that our religious and philosophical differences are never allowed to compromise our shared lives as citizens and neighbours. Humanists are convinced that only a secular state of the sort described by Professor Norman and his fellow humanist philosophers can provide the common framework required for public life in an open society."

Andrew Copson, responsible for education and public affairs at the BHA, commented, "We only really see public debates about the nature of secularism tangentially, in relation to flashpoint issues such as abortion laws, state-funded faith schools, or debates about the place of Bishops in the House of Lords. Often the terms of these public debates are confused because we do not have a real understanding of what secularism is, why it is of value in our 21 stcentury society and why it must be defended. We must have a proper public debate around these questions and the rational approach taken by the Humanist Philosophers' Group should help to encourage that discussion."

The Case for Secularism was edited by BHA Vice President Richard Norman (University of Kent ). Other Contributors to the pamphlet from the Humanist Philosophers' Group included: Julian Baggini (editor of The Philosophers Magazine), Simon Blackburn (University of Cambridge), Steve Burwood (University of Hull), Peter Cave (Open University; Chair of the Humanist Philosophers' Group), Michael Clark (University of Nottingham), Simon Glendinning (LSE), Alan Haworth (London Metropolitan University), Brendan Larvor (University of Hertfordshire), Peter Millican (Hertford College, Oxford), David Papineau (KCL), Ben Rogers, Peter Simons (University of Leeds), Nigel Warburton (Open University), John White (Institute of Education, London).

Notes to editors

The Case for Secularism can be ordered from the BHA by telephone on 020 7079 3580 at a cost of £5 inc UK postage.

The Case for Secularism will be launched at 1pm at the RSA, 8 John Adam Street , London WC2N with a panel chaired by Polly Toynbee and including humanist philosopher David Papineau and well-known Sikh commentator Indarjit Singh.

The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

The Humanist Philosophers' Group is sponsored by the BHA and exists to promote a critical and rational approach to public ethical issues.

For further comment from the BHA or from the Humanist Philosophers' group, contact Andrew Copson by email, or on 020 7079 3584 or 07855 380633.

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