Religion news 11 July 2023

Number 10 Downing Street. Image credit: Av Tom Robinson RLC. Open Government licence

Faith in the workplace summit at Number Ten today

A summit on faith in the workplace is due to be held at Number 10 today (Tuesday), where  employers will talk to the Prime Minister’s advisers about encouraging faith friendly policies. Many of these business leaders were present at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief meeting in parliament last night, which heard that growing numbers of businesses are embracing faith in the workplace, seeing a person’s religious beliefs as an asset rather than a problem. Employers ranging from Google to Aviva and the NHS told the meeting that faith was now being seen as much a part of diversity as race and gender, and that people’s beliefs were not only more respected but also seen as helpful in the workplace. Geoff Sweeney, of the University of Derby’s Multifaith Centre, said that businesses are now encouraged to embrace faith, and that this led to a happier and therefore more productive workforce. Brian Grim, an American Catholic campaigner who is president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, has been engaged in both events.

Lords amendments on the Illegal Migration Bill go before MPs

MPs will discuss the Lords amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill in the Commons today, with several changes having been pioneered by the bishops’ bench. The Archbishop of Canterbury won support for his amendment that the government should embark on a 10 year review of the migration issue, with millions of displaced people on the move. And the Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, pushed for an acknowledgement that the detention of children without any limit is morally unjustified. The expectation is that the Lords amendments will be overturned. The next stage for the bill after this is royal assent. The bill aims to stop the flow of people entering the UK on small boats over the English Channel. This year alone, 12,503 people made the journey on 277 boats

Church of England’s finances still not recovered post Covid

The Church of England faces cuts in the next four years as income from people in the pew is falling due to the pandemic and cost of living crisis. John Spence, chair of the Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee addressing his last synod before retirement, warned that income declined by 14 per cent in the pandemic and the situation had still not recovered.  He said around half of local parishes are running with a deficit and dioceses will have a total of £200 million debt in the next four years, facing the prospect of a cutting the budget for clergy pay to balance the books. Yet there is £400 million in grants for special projects waiting to be given over the next nine years. The financial situation has affected recruitment, he said. Five years ago, there were 1300 new vicars being trained per year. Now the figure is 1,000 and part of the reason for decline is lack of confidence that jobs are secure.

General Synod safeguarding campaigner Gavin Drake, resigns

Gavin Drake, a member of the Church of England General Synod who has led campaigns to improve safeguarding, has resigned, accusing the Archbishops’ Council and the Business Committee of blocking proper debate. In a resignation blog, he describes “procedural shenanigans” preventing a discussion on proposals for an independent inquiry into church safeguarding. He believes that church authorities don’t want an independent safeguarding system, despite saying that they welcome it.  “I joined the Synod to make the Church of England a safer place. I have failed, because the central machinery of the Church of England will use all its power to block the Synod from doing what it exists to do. I will not waste any more of my time in it”.  Mr Drake is Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion, whose “focus of unity” is the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

German legal action gets Twitter to respond to antisemitic tweets

Legal action in Germany against Twitter for failing to take down antisemitic tweets, has resulted in them blocking some of the tweets. Legal documents state that HateAid, a German organisation that campaigns for human rights in the digital space, and the European Union of Jewish Students took the case to court after Twitter resisted action, ruling that three of the offending tweets had not violated its guidelines and failing to respond to the other three.  Avital Grinberg of the EUJS told the Guardian that legal action as necessary because Twitter has become a space where antisemitism and Holocaust denial is growing. Twitter’s reaction is suggested to be a turning point in establishing new standards of scrutiny of online antisemitism. Full story here

More than 60 female students in Iran banned from university for not wearing the hijab

At least 60 female students in Iran have been barred from university for flouting the country’s mandatory hijab law. The Guardian reports that it has spoken to nine women suspended and  banned from campus. Professors who supported them were attacked and also banned form campus. Videos shared on social media show young women without headscarves being harassed by disciplinary committees and pro-regime civilians. The report quotes the NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran saying that at least 64 students have been suspended and three expelled. 

Rock singer composes song in tribute to his Jewish relative killed by Nazis

Felix Bechtolsheimer, lead singer of the British rock band Curse of Lono, has written a song in tribute to a relative from the second world war, who was one of the first Jews to be sent to a concentration camp.  The Times says the story is based on Heinrich Schwarz, a hero in the first world war, who was executed aged 57 in 1940.  He was picked out for being belligerent against antisemitic taunts in the bars of Alzey. The stories of defiance fascinated Bechtolsheimer, his great-great-nephew, and were the inspiration for his song  “Krieger” .


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