Last month Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) joined others in expressing concern about the creation of a new Cross-Party Group on ‘Religious Freedom’ in The Scottish Parliament.
Last night HSS Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Gary McLelland, attended the Cross-Party Group, and raised the organisation’s concerns directly. He told the Group:
‘I must say that we were slightly concerned when this Cross-Party Group was established. By appointing Church in Need UK as the secretariat of the group, an organisation which lists as one of its mission statements the aim to ‘heal the wounds inflicted by atheism’, an impression has been given, rightly or wrongly, that this group exists to support the rights of religious individuals over and above the rights of atheists and humanists.
‘Under the Equality Act 2010, issues of religion and belief are to be given parity under the Law, and discrimination on these grounds is not allowed.
‘It seems to us, that either on purpose or not, an impression has been given that this Cross-Party Group exists to support, protect and defend the rights of religious people over and above the rights of non-religious people.’
Gary McLelland made three suggestions, which he said would address the issues he highlighted.
Firstly, he suggested the group should change it’s name to the ‘Cross-Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief’; secondly, that it should give a clear and unequivocal statement that it exists to safeguard the rights and freedoms of people of different religions and beliefs to exercise freedom of expression without fear of persecution; and, lastly, in light of a recent Scottish Household Survey showing that almost one-in-two Scots are non religious, that the group may wish to reflect on the decision to appoint a group whose mission is to ‘heal the wounds inflicted by atheism’ as the secretariat for the group.
These suggestions were rejected by the group, instead deciding to proceed with the status quo.
Responding to this decision, Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for HSS said:
“This is a very disappointing decision. Despite our initial concerns about this group, we tried to take a collaborative and collegiate approach by suggesting how the group could make a few changes to be inclusive of Humanists and atheists.”
“We are currently working with a range of international parters to support and protect our colleagues overseas, many of whom are at risk of persecution.
“It’s a very bizarre and disappointing decision, but we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and others to protect and defend the right to freedom or belief and expression by our colleagues.”
For further information contact: Gary McLelland, 07813060713 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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