- June 2016 : Asylum decisions made on the basis of Bible quiz
A recent report has revealed the unfair treatment of asylum claims made on religious grounds in Britain. The Home Office, which runs the asylum system, tries to determine the authenticity of the conversions to Christianity by asking such applicants questions concerning the Bible or the Church. The all-party parliamentary group on international religious freedom, who are behind the report, argue that asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity are not given a real opportunity to communicate their faith. Instead, they are asked factual questions about the Bible and the Christian calendar, which may or may not reflect their genuine beliefs. This report has sparked some debate about whether and how religious faith can be measured. On the one hand, the questions could be seen as "too easy", as some applicants could simply study for the test without having made a true conversions. On the other hand, converts who are at risk of persecution for their religious identity may not be granted asylum, because they have not memorised the ten commandments. The report also said that the caseworkers making the asylum decisions were not adequately trained in dealing with religious conversions and the difficult task of determining their authenticity.
Read more about this story at the BBC.
- 15 March 2016 : Independent inquiry into child abuse urges change of practice in the Church of England
An independent enquiry into the Church of England’s handling of a child sexual abuse case from 1976, reveals systematic silencing, cover-up and failure to act.
The anonymous survivor, who was 16 when he was groomed and raped by an Anglican vicar, Rev Garth Moore, told several members of the church over a period of 40 years what had happened to him, but received no support or meaningful response to his revelation. He opened up to senior figures in the church, who later claimed to have no recollection of these conversations. He also wrote 18 letters to the archbishop of Canterbury. When the survivor formally reported the abuse and lodged a claim for compensation in 2014, the church cut off contact completely because the insurers wanted to avoid liability.
The church has responded to the inquiry’s report with a promise to change their practices. In the future, members of the clergy will be required to record any disclosures of abuse. They are also required to take action, and to prioritise pastoral care of survivors over concerns about reputational or financial consequences.
The report is part of a large scale independent review into institutional child abuse, and comes in the wake of a number of child sexual abuse cases featuring politicians and senior figures in the Church of England, among them George Bell and Peter Ball, former bishops in the Church of England.
Read more about the case in the Guardian.
- 26 January 2016 : Plans to stop secular campaigners complaints against faith schools announced
The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has announced plans to stop complaints against faith schools from secularist campaign groups.
In England, faith schools make up around a third of all state funded schools, and 99% of these are Christian. Faith schools are legally entitled to give priority to children from particular religious backgrounds, as long as they have more applications than available places.
The British Humanist Association (BHA)’s report “An Unholy Mess” published in October 2015, uncovered widespread violation of the school admissions regulations by religiously selective secondary schools, and claim such schools illegally deny places to significant numbers of children.
The government will carry out a public consultation on the proposed changes. If they go through, only complaints from local councils and parents living in the local area will be considered in future. According to the education secretary, the purpose of the new rules are to limit time-consuming bureaucracy, and ensure that parents and local communities had more influence on the admissions process.
The BHA chief executive, Andrew Copson, called the plans “an affront to both democracy and the rule of law.”
You can read more about this debate in the Guardian.
- 18 January 2016 : Prime Minister argues Muslim women should learn English
In a controversial radio interview, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged an increased funding for English language classes of £20 million to combat isolation and prevent radicalisation in Muslim communities. He argued that Muslim women who do not know English, may be less aware of what influences their children. He also said they may feel confused about their identity and be more vulnerable to persuasion by ISIS and other Islamic extremists. Under a new policy, migrants on a five year spousal visa may be deported after two and a half years if they fail an English test.
While many welcome the £20 million funding for more English as a foreign language classes, the opposition highlights that it would not make up for the £45 million budget cut to English classes only six months earlier. Further, many are asking why opportunities to learn English should be specifically targeted to Muslim women.
The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for making a tenous link between language ability, and political and religious extremism. Critics argue that stigmatising an already vulnerable group of people is counterproductive to preventing radicalisation.