Kia ora: We wish to thank the Victoria University Debating Society for their time and effort in working on this debate. It was invaluable to listen to both sides of the proposal that: ‘This house supports restrictions on free speech that restrict the criticism of religion.’ We all felt that free speech must not be restricted. As how else are we to be challenged to look beyond, what to us may be the norm? Slavery and the view of women as chattels were once unquestioned. Freedom of expression ensured that debate challenged these ideas and created a society with improved equality, fairness and justice. This must be an ongoing process, not to be hindered by the fear of upsetting the sensibilities of those not prepared to critically reflect on today’s issues.

Monthly meeting: Monday 2 November 6.30 pm

Islam & Exiting Islam Part II

Part I of this topic was held during our October meeting. In this discussion we had a most informative introduction to Islam with particular regard to the practical aspects of being a Muslim within a Western nation. Safwan Mason will continue with Part II and discuss the relatively recent growth in Apostasy from Islam and the situation of ex-Muslims around the world.

@ St Andrews on the Tce: Common Room on Level 2, in the meeting complex behind the Church

Please note CHANGE OF VENUE and TIME

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

2015 Happiness Photography competition:

Disappointingly there was little interest in this competition.

Can we help the Society of Humanism Nepal (SOCH Nepal)?

Funds are still required for earthquake recovery after the April 2015 earthquake as the SOCH School is still using tents for some classes. We are hoping that we can help SOCH Nepal with funds to build several single level prefabricated classrooms on their school site. Every donation helps, large or small. Please make your donation to a dedicated Nepal Account BNZ 02-0392-0094973-001 and email your payment details to [email protected]. Donations will receive a receipt for tax rebate purposes.

Appeal for Bangladeshi Blogger:

The Bangladeshi Bloggers, who supported secular government, reason and science are now the target of a fundamentalist religious group and in desperate need of your assistance. Funds are required to support those who are seeking asylum, having fled the country, and their families. Again, every donation, large or small, helps. Please make your donations to BNZ 02-0392-0094973-000 and email your payment details to[email protected]. Donations will receive a receipt for tax rebate purposes.

Gaylene Middleton


2015 AGM

2015/16 Humanist Society of NZ Office Holders

At the AGM the following people were elected:

  • President: Sara Passmore
  • Vice-President: Mark Honeychurch
  • Treasurer: Lachman Prasad
  • Secretary: Gaylene Middleton
  • Committee members: Rochelle Forrester, Pamela Mace, and Iain Middleton.

We welcome Sara and extend a vote of thanks to Iain as he has held the positions of President or Vice-President of HSNZ for 20 years.

Sara is the former Head of Education and Promotion at the British Humanist Association (BHA), where she was responsible for promoting understanding of Humanism, including through an educational setting, and for promoting the BHA to diverse audiences. Sara studied Education and English Literature at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She has represented the BHA on both the National Council of Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education and the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, and is the former Vice Chair of Southwark Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE). Sara is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and a Member of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Sara writes: I am committed to working on behalf of New Zealanders who are not religious and providing them with a crucial voice in public life. Non-religious people make a valuable contribution improving the quality of life for all New Zealanders and I want to ensure that non-religious people have a strong collective voice that can be heard on issues that are important to us.

In the last census, over 41% of New Zealanders said they did not have a religion. As New Zealand society becomes increasingly secular, it is more important than ever for non-religious people to be heard in public policy and debate.

My vision for New Zealand is for fair and equal treatment of everyone, regardless of religion or belief. On a very practical level, this means campaigning for the inclusion of non-religious beliefs and values to sit alongside religions when they are taught in schools, for high-quality education about sex and relationships for young people so they can make informed choices, for the repeal of blasphemy laws, for the end of special privileges for religions in public life and charity law, and for greater dialogue on public ethical issues such as assisted dying laws.

I recognise that many of these concerns are shared by people who have religious beliefs as well. In a civil society and a secular democracy it is our shared beliefs and values that are most important. That is why it is vital for organisations like ours, the Humanist Society of New Zealand, to represent and advocate on behalf of the 1.6 million New Zealanders who are living their lives by humanist beliefs and values.

2015 AGM President’s Report:

The Monday meetings have been moved to the first Monday of the month, and have continued to provide a range of interesting speakers. We have tried both the Southern Cross and Blondini’s as new venues and are currently searching for somewhere more suitable for our needs. Talks have covered a diverse range of topics such as Classical Greece, the British Humanist Association, Ebola, Islamic Apostasy, and the progress being made by the Secular Education Network. We celebrated the Winter Solstice with a fun quiz and sadly said goodbye to Cormac Maguire, our Treasurer

In February we had a joint conference with ourselves, NZARH and the NZ Skeptics. It was a small focussed group and hopes were expressed for our three organisations to work more closely together. Our Society sponsored Professor Guy Standing as a keynote speaker. A direct result of the Conference has been the formation of Basic Income NZ (BINZ) to pick up the threads of the Universal Basic Income movement which has been working under the radar in NZ since the 1960’s. Humanist Society members Karl Matthys, Lorraine Butler and Iain and Gaylene Middleton are involved with this imitative.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, humanists in countries that still have a blasphemy law rallied together to try to have these laws repealed. Iain Middleton was involved with a group that met online to talk about how best to tackle this issue. Iain followed this by doing some great work highlighting the reasons why New Zealand should repeal its Blasphemy Law. This information was turned into a website at blasphemy.nz. After we issued a press release suggesting the inclusion of religion in the new Harmful Digital Communications Act  was a de facto blasphemy law we received some welcome attention for the press and Sara Passmore represented us well on HuffPost Live- the Huffington Post’s online streaming TV network, though this was at 3am in the morning NZ time!

In technology news, we launched our new website at the beginning of the year. Although not all content has been migrated from the old site, the most important content has been moved across and the old site is still available for reference. We have moved to a new domain name, humanist.nz and have moved our mailing list to MailChimp-which allows our members to easily change their own subscription status and gives us some good statistics regarding the readership of our newsletter and other emails.  As a charity, we have been able to sign up for a free version of Google Apps, which has made management of a lot of our IT much easier. It has also given us $10,000 per month of free google AdWords which Sara has put to good use.

Sara has put together a short document outlining our bid to be the hosts for the 2018 IHEU General Assembly. If we are chosen to host this event it will give us more opportunity to work with NZARH. Sara is also in the early stages of trying to organise for Chris Johnson, who created the book ‘A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a world without God’ and has turned it into a film, to visit NZ as part of his screening tour.

It was disappointing to see the deaths of four secular bloggers in Bangladesh this year. We have been contacted by several people overseas asking for help, and for one Bangladeshi secular blogger in particular. Our Society has helped by putting him in contact with the local Humanist Society of the country to where he has had to flee.

Peter Harrison, the new NZARH President came to Wellington to talk with us a few weeks ago and he talked about how we could share some of our services and expertise. This has led to an idea of mutual affiliation as a way to work together more closely. This will be put forward as a formal proposal later in the AGM.

Mark Honeychurch

AGM Proposal: Mutual Affiliation with New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists

The AGM briefly discussed a working paper for this proposal. The working paper is outlined below. The AGM resolved to discuss this further. We invite your thoughts on this proposal. Please send your comments to [email protected]

  • Membership:
    • Affiliate members to have all the same rights as full members, with the exception of voting rights.
    • Affiliate membership is voluntary. Full members of each organisation become an affiliate member of the other at no additional cost, but have the option of opting out.
    • Becoming an affiliate member will share your membership details with the affiliate organisation.
    • Respective membership fees to be retained by their respective organisations.
  • Journal
    • Available to NZ Humanist members for same price as it is on offer to NZARH members (currently $35)
    • Humanists will collect money and pass on to NZARH
    • Electronic version distributed for free
  • E-mail lists
    • A process shall be established that allows each organisation to put forward notices that are to be emailed to the other organisation’s members.
    • Each organisation retains responsibility for its mailing list, and mailing out notices.
  • Events
    • Events shall continue to be organised and operated by each organisation.
    • Events may be promoted by affiliate organisations.
    • Affiliate Members may attend events.
  • Use of Resources and Services
    • Affiliate members have all the same rights to use resources and services as members. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Use of Rationalist House as a venue
    • Use of the Rationalist House Library
    • Use of Celebrant Services
  • Data Sharing
    • Minutes of Council Meetings.
    • Financial Reports

 

Other Reports from the AGM

Bangladeshi Bloggers

A group of individuals known as the Bangladeshi bloggers who have promoted secular government, reason, and science have in the last year been increasingly targeted by fundamentalist Islamists in Bangladesh resulting in the murder in the streets of a number of them. The target list used by the fundamentalists names upwards of 80 individuals.

During 2015 the Humanist Society of New Zealand was a signatory organisation to a letter prepared by the IHEU calling on the Government of Bangladesh to provide safety for the group of people known as the Bangladeshi bloggers. Despite this letter and other international condemnation the Bangladesh government has done little to provide protection and has suggested that the individuals were somehow responsible for their own deaths.

Later in the year we received an email from one individual who had fled to a third country. While we have not been able to provide any material support as yet we have been able to provide some advice, alerting the IHEU to the situation and putting the individual in touch with the local Humanist group. We have also provided advice to other organisations in New Zealand and Australia.

We have also established that there are four Bangladeshi bloggers and two Pakistani people in a similar position and in the same location where there are only limited resources to support them.

Iain Middleton

New Zealand Coalition against Blasphemy Laws

Early in 2015 we were approached by the Centre for Inquiry Canada who were setting up an international coalition to repeal or abolish Blasphemy Laws world-wide. We joined this initiative and were also successful in bringing this initiative together with a similar initiative involving the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation (EHF). The coalition, known as the International Coalition against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL) now involves organisations in many countries. Of note are Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, Ireland, USA, and Greece.

Since the formation of the coalition, the IHEU led by Bob Churchill has established a website based on the work initially done for the annual IHEU Freedom of Thought Report. This has been followed with web pages in various countries and the establishment of a New Zealand Coalition against Blasphemy Laws (NZCABL). NZCABL have undertaken extensive research on the subject and initially prepared a briefing document advocating repeal of Blasphemy laws in New Zealand. This document was used to establish a website, blasphemy.nz , which has since been expanded as additional information has become available. In addition, a little work has been done to update Wikipedia pages, but there remains a lot of work to be done in this area.

Press releases have generated a largely positive response and resulted in an excellent interview on Huffington Post live. An early approach to the leader of a minor party was positively received but he asked for a ground swell of support. A response from the Minister of Justice was rather neutral saying that while it was a worthy initiative she had other priorities.

A setback occurred with the passing of the Harmful digital Communications Act 2015 when it was realised that this created a de facto Blasphemy law. This necessitated more research and additional publication on the web-site. A second setback occurred when the website failed requiring the repeat of some work.

On a positive note, a Bill was introduced into the Icelandic parliament early this year and the Icelandic Blasphemy law was successfully repealed. Sweden, the Netherlands, England and Wales, Norway, and Iceland have now all repealed their blasphemy laws.

Iain Middleton

Newsletter

9 newsletters were produced this year as a double-up occurred when we changed our monthly meeting from the 4th Monday to the 1st Monday. With Mark Honeychurch’s help we are now using the Mailchimp system to send out the email newsletter. Mailchimp is very easy to use and enables people to subscribe and unsubscribe for themselves. The newsletter is 3 A4 pages long. The first page contains national Humanist news and events and advertises the Wellington monthly meeting. The remaining 2 pages contain longer news or information items. I did reprint articles from other overseas Humanist and Rationalist magazines but for some reason we have not been receiving these magazines. We will need to investigate why we are no longer on mailing lists. The overseas magazines were invaluable. Mailchimp provides us with some helpful statistics. After sending our first Mailchimp newsletter we had 9 people unsubscribe. The reason, when given, was “no longer interested.” This left us with 181 subscribers. However on the plus we side we have received 19 new subscribers and now have 200 who receive the newsletter. 45 newsletters are sent out by post, giving a total of 245. We have yet to action the printing of labels to avoid handwriting them. A link to the newsletter on our website, is put on the Facebook page. I wish to thank Iain for helping me with editing and formatting the newsletter and Mark for updating our newsletter methods and helping in the emailing process. An interesting critique received from Brian Priestly, presenter of ‘The Fourth Estate’ a TV current affairs programme in the 1980’s damns us as ‘nothing more than genteel humanists.’ He does not like my style at all.

Gaylene Middleton

Facebook

As at 17 October 2015 we have 389 likes. In our 2014 AGM report we had 182 likes, an increase of 207 over the year. 41% are women and 56% men. Some numbers include: NZ (288), USA (18), Aus (13) UK (12).There are 37 countries from where people have liked our page, including 1 from Syria and 2 from Bangladesh. Facebook is a useful point of contact with occasional queries received. Some comment on posts is now occurring. Disappointingly we have had no response to appeals for funds to help the Society for Humansim Nepal (SOCH Nepal) with their school after earthquake damage. Neither did an appeal for funds to help the Bangladeshi blogger who after receiving death threats had to flee his country have any success. Perhaps when we have set up Paypal there will be some support when an appeal is made. Our Facebook page concentrates on posting issues of Humanist news and developments and avoids virulent anti-religious sentiment.

Gaylene Middleton