Petition to free arrested Egyptian atheist Alber Saber

More information has come to light regarding the arrest of Alber Saber in Egypt, as reported by The Examiner on 16 September  2012, including reports of Saber being abused while in captivity by other prisoners who were incited against him, and also of his mother being further harassed by the mob, which threatened to burn her alive in her own home unless she leaves the neighbourhood. [1]

There is now a petition to free Alber Saber, which quotes a television interview with Saber’s mother, where she indicated that her son had been tortured for three days in custody, and that no lawyers are prepared to assist them, due to receiving death threats themselves.

Atheist Alliance International encourages all readers to show their support for Albert Saber, and for the freedom of expression, through signing the petition.

[1]   American Humanist Association statement.

Passion for Freedom Art Festival, London

One Law for All's 4th Passion for Freedom Art Festival will be held dring 3-10 November 2012 showcasing the work of 40 artists from 20 countries worldwide. The artists will be addressing crucial issues related to freedom and religious laws.

The viewing and festival will be held at UNIT 24 Gallery, 20 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 0FD (Closest Underground station: Southwark).

For more information click here.

Success in Brazil

   

Audience at the Congress      AAI President Carlos A. Diaz

Last month, with AAI Director Alexandre Shimono, I was very pleased to represent AAI at the First Secular Humanist Congress in Brazil.  This was an important event hosted by AAI's Affiliate, LiHS, as it was the first time a group of atheists, humanists and secularists had gathered for this kind of occasion in Brazil.  The IHEU and HIVOS supported the Congress and over 200 people attended, including 88 students sponsored by Atheist Alliance International.  Attendees enjoyed interesting speeches and were head to say "this is historical!' and 'this is amazing!'.  A report from LiHS is below.

I was very pleased to see that the Congress (and AAI's support for it) received coverage in Estado de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil's most important newspapers.   Congratulations LiHS on a successful event I hope the enthusiasm from the Congress assists your work in Brazil! 
_____

LiHS report: The 1st Secular Humanist Conference of Brazil was a remarkable success
More than 200 people from all over the country attended to the conference in Porto Alegre

"Getting together and showing to society that it is possible to live ethically and to find meaning in life, without God." This was only one of the objectives of CHS 2012 – a two day, tour de force towards a more rational, more humanist and more secular Brazil.

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Tribute to Sheila Solarin

This tribute to Sheila Solarin, matron of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, was published in The Nation, Nigeria.

On Sunday, October 21, the co-founder of Mayflower School, Sheila Solarin passed away. Sheila like the late husband, Tai Solarin, was an educationist. She devoted her entire life to working and campaigning to improve the quality of education in Nigeria. And through her Mayflower Schools, she provided that high quality education to Nigerian children. I encountered Sheila not so much in her capacity as an educationist but more in her role as the matron of the Nigerian Humanist Movement(NHM). Very few Nigerians know about Sheila’s humanist credentials especially that she continued the tradition left behind by Tai of supporting secular education and also promoting the humanist outlook.

Read the full tribute here.

Alex Aan update

Atheist Alliance International is pleased that a friend and supporter of Alex's was able to visit him in prison recently.  Thank you everyone who sent in messages of support for Alex - the second set has now been delivered.  Here is an update about Alex:

"Alex is in good spirits and is very much his old self. I had a nice long chat with him. His burning ambition remains to work to relieve poverty and injustice. He is very interested in the situation in Iran and wants to fight for the people there. He has heard of a journalist who has been imprisoned and is also deeply shocked by the executions there. He is horrified by the idea of stoning in particular. This was one of the things that made him question the morality of religion. “How can anyone,” he said, “pick up a stone without thinking about their mother or their sister?”.  I told him about the case of Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan and he was deeply moved. Once again, his main concern and the thing he wants to talk about most of all is the plight of others. 

"He told me again how much the support from around the world inspires him and keeps him going. He sends you all he love and thanks. The scholarship fund has been a strong motivator and he promised that he will always work for humanity and for science.

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The role of religion in the US Presidential election

It should be no secret, even to those outside of the U.S., that the Republican Party is deeply entrenched in religious belief.  While its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has not been strident about his own religious beliefs, his speeches and voiced policies have consistently reflected an adherence to his party’s rather dogmatic Christian point of view.  His support of the Hyde Amendment, which would ban abortions funded by tax payers, his views opposing same-sex marriages as well as civil unions, and his support of displaying religious symbols in public areas by governmental agencies and schools are all obvious leanings toward his Christian supporters.

However, the Governor’s own religious view has been a topic that has been avoided by his campaign. Specifically, the differences between Christianity and the Governor’s own Church of Latter-day Saints have not been much of a talking point since his winning of the Republican nomination. Prior to the other Republicans dropping out of the race it was mentioned by a few news stations, but no in-depth details given. It would also seem that the Romney campaign itself wishes to turn a blind eye to these differences and allow their constituency to focus on their opponent’s imagined religious views, that he is a Muslim in disguise, God forbid. More on that later.

Do American Christians of the Republican party, who believe in a talking snake, a divine virgin birth, and body spontaneously turning into a pillar of salt, know that they are backing an individual whose faith believes in magical underwear and that their prophet translated sacred text while planting his face in a hat, but does not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?  No wonder the Grand Old Party does not wish anyone to delve too deeply into Mormonism, their beliefs are as crazy as….oh well, never mind.

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Broken Trust

Photo: http://www.stephenjones.org.au/opinion/a-royal-commission-into-child-abuse-and-systemic-cover-up/

On 12 November the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, announced that there would be a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, encompassing public and private organisations and institutions [1], including state care, residential homes, and religious organisations.

The news was met with elation and wary hope from victims, many of whom have waited for most of their lifetime to have their stories heard. Scouts Australia and Australia’s most senior Anglican Bishop released statements strongly supporting the Commission and condemning the abuse of children. [2] [3]

The organisation that was the major impetus for establishing the Commission was less welcoming about the announcement. Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, claimed the accusations against the Church were ‘exaggerated and historic’ [4] and part of a broader smear campaign.

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Dismissal of teacher who removed crucifix from classroom was unlawful

Valentin Abottspon, the Swiss teacher who was fired for removing a crucifix from his classroom in 2010, has won his appeal against his dismissal.  The cantonal court in Valais ruled that Valentin's dismissal was unlawful, although did not conclude whether or not it is legal to display a crucifix in a public school in Switzerland. [1]

I was fortunate to meet Valentin last year at the launch of the International Association of Freethought in Oslo and again at the 2012 European Atheist Convention in Cologne, Germany, earlier this year.  He comes across as a dedicated teacher who did not ask for this particular fight, but found himself in it because he took a principled stance and refused to back down.  

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The Profane in Pakistan

In Pakistan, two young women have recently become the target of violence and accusations of blasphemy, as retribution for speaking out about modernisation and education, or for simply belonging to a minority group, highlighting ongoing divisions in the country.

Malala Yousazai , a 15 year old girl, was attacked earlier this month for being an activist for the rights of children and education for girls. [1]  Malala was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban, for what a spokesman for the Taliban claimed as ‘obscenity’ and bringing secular and Western ideas to Pakistan. She has since been moved to a military hospital then to the UK, and while there are hopeful signs she remains in a critical condition. This incident has resulted in public outcry within and outside Pakistan, suggesting that violent and unjust acts may not be as acceptable as the perpetrators appear to believe.  Avaaz has started a petition to support Malala and the right of Pakistani girls to receive an education.

The attack on Malala follows the 16 August arrest in Mahrabad, Pakistan, of a 14-year-old girl on a charge of blasphemy.  Rimsha Masih spent two weeks in remand in an adult prison after her accuser said she had been carrying a bag of refuse which included burnt pages of the Koran. As blasphemy laws in Pakistan decree a life in prison for anyone who defiles the Koran, and require no evidence other than the word of the accuser, there is little hope for most who are accused. [2]

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First information stall on secularism, humanism and atheism in Dublin

Brendan Maher launched first ever information stall about secularism, humanism and atheism in Ireland on 6 October 2012 in Dublin's city centre.  Brendan says:

"The purpose of this initiative is to furnish information on secularism, humanism and atheism to the person in the street.

This idea began about two and a half years ago when I noticed that there were about two or three street preachers in the vicinity of the GPO.  Since then the number has grown to about nine.  There are a range of different Christian groups and a few Islamic and Hari Krishna people.  I felt that there had to be an alternative view given, a rational, ethical, scientific and realistic view of things.

Although we live in the era of the computer there are still many people who live their lives without reference to the computer.  A stall like this and the personal approach can be quite effective.  I do not see it as proselytising but as an information exercise to help raise awareness with regards to secularism, humanism and atheism.

Because of the success of this first event I plan to have the stall at the GPO on the first Saturday of each month from 12 to 2 pm.  Perhaps this could be done in other cities in the country.

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Vale Paul Kurtz

The influential thinker known as the "father of secular humanism", Paul Kurtz, died on 20 October 2012 at age 86.  His numerous book, articles and talks substantially contributed to the development of secular, humanist values as an alternative worldview to religion, and encouraged people to think critically about religion and its impact on society.  This valuable work will be continued by many organisations that Paul Kurtz helped develop, including the American Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Atheist Alliance International offers its condolences to Paul Kurtz' family, friends and colleagues.

AAI Position Statement: Government Support For Religion

Following consultation with members, AAI is pleased to announce that it has finalised its position statement on government support for religion.  This statement is intended to provide a concise reference and coherent argument that members and other atheists may use in situations in their own countries, and refute the common accusation that 'atheists stand for nothing'.  Thank you everyone who contributed their views!  

Secular World podcast #113 - no religious affiliation

“No religious affiliation” raises to over 1/5th of people in the USA; Free birth control cuts abortion rates by 62%; Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent; Proof of heaven; Catholic church to have tax exemptions removed in Italy; Listener mail, and; our interview with Jacques Rousseau, South African skeptic and atheist.  Enjoy it all here!

Zambia: The Christian Nation Debate

Zambia is currently in the process of developing a new constitution and one of the most controversial issues surrounding this process is whether the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble should be maintained. In 1991, President Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian nation and the current constitution was amended to reflect the declaration in 1996. This, by the way, is the same Chiluba who was convicted on corruption charges in a London court after stealing millions of dollars of public funds. [1]

Religion or non-religion should not be imposed on anyone but the Christian nation declaration does exactly this. The draft constitution acknowledges that Zambia is a multi-religious, multicultural and multi-racial society but then contradicts itself by only truly acknowledging the Christian majority. 

Another major problem with the Christian nation declaration is that it is not factual. Simply stating something does not make it true. The majority of Zambians are Christian but there are also minority religious groups such as Muslims and Hindus. Atheists and agnostics are virtually unheard of but we do exist. If you want to confuse a Zambian bring up atheism or agnosticism. The thought that there are people who do not believe in God or are unsure about the existence of a deity is difficult to comprehend even for the most liberal of Zambians. Zambia may generally be a tolerant nation but the deeply ingrained religious belief and the hostility towards non-religious people means that most of us are not open about our beliefs, or lack of beliefs. The preamble of the draft constitution states that “We, the people of Zambia, in exercise of our constituent power: Acknowledge the supremacy of God Almighty.” This is yet another lie. I am Zambian but I do not acknowledge the supremacy of God or any gods. Zambia needs a constitution that promotes the rights of women and other marginalised groups in society and one that promotes an equitable and just society. Declaring Zambia a Christian nation and declaring God supreme will not bring this about. These are just empty statements. 

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Catholic dogma kills Irish women

Shame on Ireland’s Catholic Bishops and our cowardly politicians. They could have protected the life of 31-year-old Savita Praveen Halappanavar, who tragically died last month in Galway after doctors denied her the right to abort an unviable foetus during a miscarriage.

Instead, while Savita was dying, the Catholic church was running an immoral propaganda campaign to mislead Irish people into believing that pregnant women will always get the medical care they need in Irish hospitals.

And Irish politicians were yet again refusing to legislate for abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. They have now repeatedly refused to do this for twenty years, since the Irish courts established this right in the X case.

It took a raped pregnant teenager to establish this right in 1992. It should not have taken the death of a pregnant woman, twenty years later, to remind Irish politicians of their duty to legislate for that right. 

Read the full article here.