Religion news 19 September 2023

Canada Flag. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Trudeau accuses India of being behind killing of Canadian Sikh activist

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has accused the Indian government of being behind the killing of a Canadian Sikh, shot dead outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, in June.  CBC reports that Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a supporter of an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. He had been branded by the Indian government as a terrorist and accused of leading a militant separatist group, which his supporters deny.  Trudeau told Parliament that he had discussed the case with Narendra Modi at the G20 summit, and told him that any Indian government involvement would be unacceptable. He said the national security apparatus had reason to believe that “agents of the Indian government” carried out the killing. Canada has expelled an Indian diplomat as the investigation continues.

Education Secretary warned about the crisis in RE

More than 30 MPs and peers have written to the Education Secretary warning of a “crisis in RE”, with pupils receiving “tokenistic religious education or none at all”. They say RE teacher recruitment targets have been missed in nine of the past 10 years, 51 per cent of RE lessons in secondary schools are taught by non-specialist teachers, and RE received no government funding for subject specific projects between 2016 and 2021, as opposed to music, maths and science.  The letter says RE is essential as it helps children take their place in society and supports them in the workplace and community. The letter follows a special session of the Commons Education Committee on teacher recruitment, training and retention, where Deborah Weston, Chair of the RE Policy Unit for NATRE, the RE Council and RE Today, put the case for bursaries and part time training to attract RE teachers into the profession.

1,000 people sign Catholic Union’s “scrap the cap” campaign letter

More than 1,000 people have signed the Catholic Union’s open letter to the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, calling on her to lift the cap on faith-based admissions to new free schools.  The cap means that where newly established academies with a religious character are oversubscribed, at least 50 per cent of their places must be open, allocated without reference to faith. The Catholic Union says the current policy has made it impossible for new Catholic free schools to open in England as it would lead to pupils being turned away on the basis of their Catholic faith.

National Secular society urges Labour to end support of faith schools

The National Secular Society is mounting a letter writing campaign telling the Labour Party to end support of faith schools. It refers to comments by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, that he “wouldn’t tinker” with how faith schools are run, and that Labour would be “even more supportive of faith schools” than the current government. The NSS says supporting faith schools serves religious interests, not those of children. They are inherently divisive, segregate children along religious and ethnic lines, disadvantage children from minority communities and lower income families, and undermine children’s human rights. It has produced a letter template so people can write to their MPs.

Leicester civil disorder review panellists named

The government has announced the names of three people appointed to sit on an independent review into the civil disorder in Leicester last year. Dozens of people were arrested after violence between sections of the Muslim and Hindu communities in the city a year ago. The chair, Lord Ian Austin, was appointed earlier this year. Yesterday the three new panellists were announced: Dr Samir Shah, former commissioner for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities; Professor Hilary Pilkington, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester; and Dr Shaaz Mahboob, head of digital development at NHS England.

Alternative Leicester review press conference launch

The appointment of the chair, former Labour MP now Lord Ian Austin, was badly received by Muslim groups in Leicester who said he had made comments that were divisive.  So yesterday a press conference was  held to launch an alternative review, the “Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Violence in Leicester during August and September 2022”, backed by SOAS.  Juan E Méndez, a human-rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, is the chair.  He told the launch that it would investigate the reasons for the violence and community disharmony in Leicester, the roles of civil society organisations, independent actors and social media in fostering disharmony or conversely in working towards peace.

One in seven councils adopts disputed definition of Islamophobia

One in seven councils have adopted a definition of Islamophobia which describes it as a form of racism.  An analysis conducted by the Civitas think tank found that 52 local authorities in England have passed a motion to adopt the definition, which came from the APPG on British Muslims and says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” The government and others object to it, arguing the definition limits free speech. The Telegraph reports that a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain accused the Civitas report of “wilfully misrepresenting” the APPG definition.

US Southern Baptists – yet another president

The US Southern Baptists are about to engage yet another president – the sixth in five years, who was in place for just one month. The Baptist Press reports that recently retired minister, Rev Dan Summerlin, will be nominated to serve as the SBC Executive Committee transitional interim president and CEO this week in Nashville. He will take over from Jonathan Howe, the current interim president, who was appointed at the end of August to take over from his predecessor who lied on his CV. Before that the presidency was in turmoil with stories of sex abuse and how cases were handled.

81 year old former pastor extradited to N Ireland facing sex abuse charges

James Henry Clarke, an 81-year-old former pastor, has been extradited from Canada to Northern Ireland to face sex abuse charges from more than 50 years ago. The Irish News reports that he appeared in a Belfast court last weekend Saturday charged with three counts of indecent assault of a male alleged to have been committed between 1 January, 1966 and 14 May 14 1974. He had been in custody in Canada for some time but was granted bail in Belfast and had to surrender his passport.

Vicar pulling pints in church outrages residents in Cornwall

The sight of a Church of England vicar pulling pints at a specially installed bar in his church has outraged residents in St Ives, Cornwall who say it is desecration. Cornwall Live explains that St Ia’s church, built 600 years ago and dedicated to a 5th century Irish saint who was martyred for her faith, is one of the main venues in the St Ives September festival. The Rev Nick Widdows said it had popular artists booked and a more fitting way of serving drinks was needed for large crowds, so two beer pumps were installed. But a parishioner said it “desecrates the memory of those who died for their faith” and protests that the bar is too near the high altar: “Additionally, for the current vicar to be photographed pulling pints wearing vestments usually worn when celebrating the Eucharist is simply intolerable”. Mr Widdows said it was only a temporary measure, but it was a way of welcoming new people and if they had a positive experience, they may return for something else.


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