Religion news 27 August

Songs of Praise exec causes twitter storm over Rule Brittania

The executive producer of BBC Songs of Praise, Cat Lewis, has compared singing “Rule, Britannia!” at the Proms to Nazis shouting about gas chambers. She is the chief executive of Nine Lives Media which produces the programme, and posted on Twitter: “Do those Brits who believe it’s OK to sing an 18th century song about never being enslaved, written when the UK was enslaving and killing millions of innocents, also believe it’s appropriate for neo-Nazis to shout, ‘We will never be forced into a gas chamber.’” In a twitter thread, she said slavery was Britain’s holocaust and the nation should apologise.  She suggested a national competition should be launched to find new lyrics for Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, which “celebrate and unify the country”. The tweets provoked tens of thousands of anguished replies.

Undercurrent of hostility towards religion in the UK  

People of faith face hostility in public life as a result of religious ignorance, according to the former Labour cabinet minister Ruth Kelly. Speaking during a discussion for the Religion Media Centre, Ms Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, talked about the criticisms she faced in frontline politics for her own religious faith, in particular her membership of Opus Dei. “In the UK I think there’s an undercurrent of hostility. There is huge ignorance actually, which is even more the case than overt hostility, and people just don’t seem to get religion. They don’t seem to recognise that it has a proper role to play in the public sphere”. She revealed that she left the Labour party when Jeremy Corbyn became leader, but she “100%” has the values of social justice which led her to join the party in the first place. Full report of the zoom briefing here

Abbot of Ampleforth will not return

Fr Cuthbert Madden, the abbot of Ampleforth Abbey in North Yorkshire, has been told by the Vatican that he should not return to his community, four years after he stepped aside during an investigation into allegations against him.  The news was announced in a letter to the Ampleforth Society.  Fr Madden withdrew from his role in August 2016 after allegations of indecent assault. He strenuously denied the claims. North Yorkshire Police investigated and brought no charges. The Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service Review Panel did not find any sexual misconduct. Fr Madden was due to leave in January 2021 and this decision means he will live in another Benedictine community of his choice.  The election of a new abbot of Ampleforth will take place in 2021.

Mosque leaders say hate crime is rising in Oldham due to Covi-19 spike

The Manchester Evening News is reporting a rise in hate crime in Oldham as Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities have been scapegoated over the rise in Covid-19. Muslim leaders are concerned at the rise in reports of Islamophobia on the streets and social media, following an increase of infections. Helal Mahmood MBE, an officer from Oldham Mosque Council, told the MEN: “There’s been a huge spike in Islamophobic hate crime and racial tension within the community. We are encouraging people to report it to local mosques. I have heard that Muslims have been going into shops and people say ‘stay away from those people, they are the cause of coronavirus’. On social media there are constantly posts. Everyone is seeing them”.

Christian group calls for judicial review of ‘relationships education’

A conservative Christian campaign group ‘Let Kids Be Kids Coalition’, says ‘relationships education’, part of the school curriculum from September, risks sexualising children and should be challenged in a judicial review. The group says parents will have limited rights to withdraw their children from classes and this undermines their prerogative to direct their children’s upbringing in accordance with their religious and philosophical beliefs. It has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister, to start the process for a judicial review against the Department of Education.

Call to review legislation on assisted dying

Humanists UK is organising a campaign calling on the government to review legislation on assisted dying. It is behind an open letter from the families and claimants in assisted dying legal cases, to the Justice Secretary, urging him to instigate a review.  The letter was signed by Debbie Purdy’s widower and Jane Nicklinson, whose husband Tony died eight years ago after losing his fight for the right to die.  Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “After more than fifteen years since the last serious parliamentary scrutiny, and an overwhelming change in evidence in the interim, it is time for the voices of those facing a terminal illness or incurable suffering to be heard”.

Republicans court conservative Christian vote – again

Religious freedom, abortion and criminal justice reform were the top themes of the Republican Convention in Charlotte. It is widely regarded that Trump won the 2016 election with white evangelical and Catholic votes swinging behind him, yet polls show his popularity among them is waning. The Catholic News Agency reports that at the convention, one speaker described in graphic detail how she had witnessed a second trimester abortion at a clinic where she worked and as a result, left her job. Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of evangelist Billy Graham, said Trump was a fierce advocate for people of faith. Jon Ponder, a bank robber who set up a charity to help prisoners on release, spoke of second chances and at the end of his speech, President Trump pardoned him.

Pompeo’s Jerusalem “city of God” speech violates the law

A speech by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, which was recorded in Jerusalem, has provoked anger from Muslim, Jewish and civil rights groups. He was on government business in the city but stopped to make a speech delivered to the Republican convention in Charlotte.  He was filmed standing in front of a Jerusalem skyline at night and referring to it as the “city of God.”  The Religion News Service reports that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, Jewish Democrats and members of Congress are alleging that this violates a law that bars certain federal employees from engaging in political activities.

Giant Pride flag waved before the Pope in protest at repression in Poland

A Polish gay couple unfurled a giant Pride rainbow flag in front of Pope Francis at the Vatican, to highlight restrictions brought in by the government in Poland against gays. The president, Andrzej Duda, was elected after a campaign which said LGBT ideology was more dangerous than communism. In recent weeks, gay activists have been targeted by police using a blasphemy law, where people who offend the religious feelings of others can be jailed for up to two years. The protesters, Jakub and David, told Pink News: “Pope Francis says: ‘It doesn’t matter that you are gay, God loves you as you are. It is time for the Polish Church to teach the same”.