Religion news 16 February 2024

West Midlands Youth Interfaith Hub in 2021. Image credit: Inter Faith Network

The “devastating, outrageous” impending closure of the Inter Faith Network

Representatives of faith communities in the UK have criticised Government plans to stop funding for the Interfaith Network, in an escalating row over a trustee who is associated with the Muslim Council of Britain. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, indicated in a letter to the IFN in January that he was “minded” not to renew funding because the trustee was a member of the Muslim Council of Britain and this posed a “reputational risk”. The Government has a policy of non-engagement with the MCB after a deputy secretary general endorsed a 2009 declaration against a blockade of Gaza, explaining he signed in a personal capacity. The IFN, a charity founded in 1987, works to promote understanding and co-operation between organizations and people of faith. The organisation has heavily relied on taxpayer support, receiving £3.8 million from the government since 2010, according to Premier Christian News. During an online media briefing organised by the Religion Media Centre, several prominent faith representatives criticised the proposal saying it would adversely affect social cohesion among communities. Dr Ed Kessler, founder director of the Woolf Institute said it was an outrageous decision and people working in inteerfaith were devastated at “the void, the gap it will leave”. Dr Madeline Pennington from the religion think tank Theos, said “social cohesion matters to everybody whether they are religious or not” and urged the Government to engage “in line with their (own) cohesion policy”. Rabbi Warren Elf from Manchester praised the work of the IFN in the city saying it “has been invaluable for more than 20 years.” Jeremy Rodell from Humanists UK (not an IFN member) said “we need more efforts at cohesion, not less” and called it a “really poor” decision. The IFN’s Harriet Crabtree confirmed that a final decision by the board on the organization’s future would be made by next Thursday 22 February, and that even at this late stage they “stand ready to have a conversation with the Government” over future funding. View the briefing on our YouTube channel here. Report here

Antisemitic incidents in the UK at an all time high in 2023

The Jewish charity The Community Security Trust says antisemitic incidents in the UK were at an all-time high in the UK during 2023. The report says that the rise to more than 4,000 incidents follows the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on 7 October last year. The CST monitors antisemitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain. The report says there were a total of 4,103 antisemitic incidents in the UK in 2023, nearly double the previous record of 2,261 incidents in 2021. ITV news cites a number of incidents including the daubing of swastikas on a poster depicting a baby kidnapped by Hamas and pro-Palestine graffiti being sprayed on a bridge in Golders Green in London. The report says there was at least one anti-semitic incident reported in every police region of the UK for the first time ever, with huge rises in London and Manchester, where ITV X report on the case of a five year old Jewish boy who is being “taught how to hide in the toilets” of his school in case there is an attack.

YouGov poll shows Labour has more work to do on antisemitism

A poll conducted by The Times and You Gov indicates that only three per cent of voters believe Sir Keir Starmer has successfully tackled antisemitism within Labour. The survey of more than 2,000 British adults indicates 23 per cent think Starmer has “failed to tackle” antisemitism in the Labour Party after being forced to suspend two candidates over the issue this week. 26 per cent of those questioned said he had made “progress” although there was still work to do.

BBC axes Apprentice contestant from spin off “You’re Fired” over antisemitic comments

The BBC has axed a contestant from The Apprentice spin-off show, You’re Fired, after he was accused of making anti-semitic comments on social media. Dr Asif Munaf has previously apologised “for any offence caused by” his posts about Israel, and denied anti-semitism. The Board of Deputies of British Jews complained to the BBC on Wednesday about his “despicable antisemitism”. A letter from the BBC to the Board of Deputies, seen by Jewish News reads: “The Apprentice was filmed last year and Dr Munaf’s social media posts were made after filming had taken place. They are clearly very offensive and as soon as they came to light the production team took immediate action, speaking to him in detail and requiring that he undertook diversity training…….the team has now made the decision that Dr Munaf will not feature as a guest on any additional BBC content relating to The Apprentice. Specifically this means that he will not be appearing on the relevant episode of the show You’re Fired.” Dr Munaf was still seen on the main programme.

Greece becomes first Christian Orthodox majority country to legalise same-sex marriage

Greece’s parliament has voted to legalise same-sex civil marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian country and despite opposition from the influential Greek Church. Opinion polls suggest that most Greeks support the reform by a narrow margin. The issue has failed to trigger deep divisions in a country more worried about the high cost of living, according to APnews. The head of the Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, said the measure would “corrupt the homeland’s social cohesion”.

Maundy Thursday may give us a clue about Prince William’s beliefs

With the King undergoing treatment for cancer and his decision to cut public duties while it continues, it is unlikely that he will be able to take part in the Maundy Thursday service, when the monarch distributes gifts to people who have done great work in their communities. The most likely person to stand in for him is Prince Williams, following the example of hiis father who stood in for the Queen in 2022. If so, this will one of the first public duties of William as a Christian leader and the questions will flow as to his attitude towards faith and whether he shares his father’s lifelong curiosity and intellectual quest. Catherine Pepinster writes about this on our website here.

Porn images may be sent to the Vatican in case against former bishop of Bruges

The Catholic weekly magazine The Tablet reports on why a Belgian minister is prepared to send the Vatican pornographic images found on a computer belonging to the former Bishop of Bruges to persuade Rome to laicise him. Roger Vangheluwe stepped down in 2010 after admitting that he had molested one of his nephews and abused another. Belgium’s justice minister Paul Van Togchelt said Brussels was ready to send the Vatican pornographic images investigators had found on Vangheluwe’s computer to add to the case. The Tablet says that Pope Francis is due to travel to Belgium to attend the six-hundredth anniversary of the Catholic University of Leuven. Vangheluwe now lives in France.


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