Kia ora:

The Napier Conference ‘Future Directions of Rationalism and Humanism’ is fast approaching. This is an opportunity, not often available, to meet up with fellow Humanist, Rationalist and Skeptics from around NZ. An observation often heard at both the Australian Atheist conventions in 2010 & 2012 and again at the World Humanist Congress 2014 in Oxford was how good it felt to be among people of a similar persuasion. This is our opportunity, here in New Zealand! An outline of the Conference is below and there is a website where registration can be done on-line:

Monthly Meeting: Monday 23 February 2015

This month’s meeting will be at the Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, off Elizabeth St, off Kent Tce

“Blasphemy Law in NZ and Internationally

After the shocking attack by Al-Qaeda terrorists on the 7th January, on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the deaths of eleven journalists, including the Editor, there have been statements issued by Humanist groups around the world calling for the repeal of remaining Blasphemy Laws by Governments. The Humanist Society of NZ collaborated with the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists and released a joint Press Statement asking our government to abolish New Zealand’s Blasphemy Law. We are now working with Free Inquiry, Canada and other Humanist Groups on an International Statement. There will be a discussion on these developments, and a ‘news slot’ to hear about activities of Humanist groups in other countries.

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

We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm

Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff Street, Wellington.

Moncrieff Street is off Elizabeth Street, which is off Kent Terrace, Wellington – a short distance from Courtney Place on bus routes 1 &3.

Regular 2015 monthly meetings are on the 4th Monday of the month at the Tararua Tramping Club rooms, 4 Moncrieff Street.

Press Release Monday 12th January: Humanists call for strengthening of free speech

The Humanist Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists are calling on politicians to repeal New Zealand’s Blasphemy Law. The terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices have highlighted the need to overtly emphasise the value that New Zealanders have for free thought and speech.

New Zealand’s anachronistic Blasphemy Law was adapted from the common law of the United Kingdom where it has since been abolished. This law has never resulted in a successful prosecution in New Zealand and the only attempt to use the law back in 1922 was unsuccessful. This law is a black mark against New Zealand in the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) annual report – Freedom of Thought: A Global Report on the Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious, qualifying New Zealand for the category of ‘Severe Discrimination’.

The violent response in Paris to the non-violent ideas expressed by the Charlie Hebdo magazine underscores that freedom of expression is a core ingredient of a democratic society.

Mark Honeychurch, President of the Humanist Society of New Zealand, considers that repealing Section 123 of the Crimes Act would be “a symbolic gesture that sends a clear message that New Zealand values free speech. Given New Zealand now has a seat on the United Nations Security Council, repealing this relic of a law would give New Zealand the ability to criticise blasphemy laws in other countries without being seen as hypocritical.”

John Murphy, President of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, is critical of the special privilege that the law gives to religious ideas: “In an open and tolerant society, all ideas need to be able to be criticised and satirised. The law currently provides special protection for religious ideas and leaves the prosecution of such cases at the whim of the Attorney General of the day. We must not assume that future Attorneys General cannot be pressured into allowing prosecutions to proceed.”

Murphy states: “Given the recent acts of terrorism that are partly justified on the basis of blasphemy, it is time to remove this law from our statutes. Our human rights legislation already balances the right to free speech, against the need for freedom from discrimination and hate speech, and does so across all forms of belief, thus rendering the Blasphemy Law redundant.”

Murphy says: “As with other anachronistic sections of the 1961 Crimes Act, such as the sections (now repealed) that criminalized homosexual acts, the Blasphemy Law reflects prejudices and stigma that are largely consigned to a previous era and are now objectionable to the vast majority of New Zealanders.”

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc) is an organisation that promotes humanist philosophy and ideals. It meets in Wellington with members throughout New Zealand, and is affiliated internationally to the IHEU and the United Nations Association of NZ.

The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (Inc) is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to serve the interests of the non-religious: those who do not have a belief in gods or the supernatural.

2015 NZARH Hawke Bay conference with the Humanist Society of NZ and the NZ Skeptics Society 13 – 15 February 2015

Future Directions of Rationalism and Humanism

Duart House, 51 Duart Road, Havelock North

The Humanist Society wishes to thank the NZ Humanist Charitable Trust for contributing the cost of Professor Guy Standing’s return travel from the UK, and contributing to conference costs. The conference has an innovative idea for the speaker sessions. Instead of sitting in lecture theatre style rows one behind the other, the conference venue has round tables – remember King Arthur. It is planned that the speakers will speak for 45 minutes, to be followed by 20 minutes of ‘around the table’ discussion and then a 30 minute question and answer session with the speaker. The questions will come from the ‘around the table’ discussion. To further encourage conviviality and friendship the conference will include a breakfast together at Duart House before the first session of the day.

See Registration Form

Speakers include:

Professor Martin Manning, Victoria University, who represented New Zealand on the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Professor Guy Standing, Professor of Developmental Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network. Professor Standing will speak on Saturday and Sunday so we will have ample opportunity to absorb and consider the breadth of his analysis of our present day economic environment and the possibility for change. Michael Burawoy from the University of California, USA writes ‘Guy Standing has elaborated a brave and imaginative programme that could bring protection to the denizens of the world and save us all from the destructiveness of neoliberal capitalism.’ (Note: denizens are citizens whose rights are being whittled away.) Professor Standing will talk to us about the precariat class and the need to move towards an unconditional basic income and deliberative democracy. (Note: the precariat is an emerging class characterised by chronic insecurity, detached from the old norms of labour and the working class.)

Russell Wills, New Zealand Children’s Commissioner who will discuss future issues of young people in New Zealand

Sara Passmore, who has recently left her position as Head of Education and Promotion with the British Humanist Association On her departure BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘In her time with us, Sara Passmore brought a new level of professionalism to all of our education programmes, from the training of volunteers to speak about Humanism in schools to the production of curriculum materials for teachers. She also developed new ways of communicating Humanism to the general public through innovative online campaigns. Her contribution will be viewed with gratitude by all our supporters.’

The conference will begin with short presentations from the three free-thought organisations: Rationalists, Humanists, and Skeptics. During the final afternoon there will be a panel discussion ‘A Vision for the Future’.

The Legacy of Neo–Liberalism: 5:30pm Wednesday 11 February at Connolly Hall, Guildford Terrace, Wellington.

Prior to Professor Guy Standing’s visit to talk at the Napier ‘Future Directions Conference’ Sir Edmund Thomas is to give this lecture for the Fabian Society where he will argue that the gross inequality in income and wealth which besets New Zealand is the outcome of the neo-liberal economic measures of the mid-1980s and early 1990s and the culture of liberal individualism and unfettered free market ideology which it spawned. A breakdown in social cohesion and a sense of community is the result. The first step towards achieving a more equal and just society, he contends, is to identify the enduring features of neo-liberalism which need to be arrested and reversed. But reforms to counter these features are confronted by a plethora of mantras and myths purveyed by the rich and powerful. The stimulus for change is deadened and the culture of the post-neoliberal free market ideology persists. Sir Edmund examines the ways in which a credible threat to the economic order could be mounted, such as to bring about the adjustment to capitalism necessary to achieve a more equal and just society.

Sir Edmund Thomas became a Queen’s Counsel in 1981. He was appointed to the High Court in 1990, to the Court of Appeal in 1995, and an Acting Judge of the Supreme Court after that Court had been established in 2004. He is a prolific author, having over 85 publications to his name, including the leading work on the judicial process: The Judicial Process: Realism, Pragmatism, Practical Reasoning and Principles (Cambridge University Press, 1985). He was awarded a Doctorate of Laws (LLD) in 2009 for his contribution to jurisprudence. He is presently a Distinguished Fellow at the Law School at the University of Auckland.

‘A Precariat Charter; from Denizens to Citizens’ 5:30pm Wednesday 19 February at Connolly Hall, Guildford Terrace, Wellington.

Following the Napier ‘Future Directions Conference’ Professor Guy Standing will discuss the ideas in his new book A Precariat Charter. From the back cover: “Throughout history, class-based revolt has led to the creation of charters of demands, from the Magna Carta to South Africa’s Freedom Charter. It is now time for a Precariat Charter.” This lecture will outline Professor Standing’s suggested solution to achieve a more equal and just society.

HSNZ statement on Charlie Hebdo attack

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is appalled and deeply concerned by the recent attack on the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France, on Wednesday 7 January that resulted in the deaths of twelve people and the wounding of eleven others, four of them seriously.

This attack must be of concern to us all for it was an attack on freedom of expression, a fundamental and much cherished component of modern society. There is no doubt that the perpetrators, who were reported to have shouted Allahu Akbar, “God is great”, during the attack, were Islamic Fundamentalists intent on silencing all criticism of Islam both directly through murder and indirectly by instilling fear of similar attacks in the future.

Freedom of belief and freedom of expression are values of the enlightenment developed over many centuries and enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”; and Article 19 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the laws of modern democracies. The New Zealand Bill of Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”.

Satire has long been recognised as a valuable and legitimate form of expression and we must abhor any attempt to suppress humour. In addition, we should all be prepared to have all our beliefs, whatever they are, questioned. We should seek sound justifications based on sound evidence to justify our beliefs and must always be prepared to undertake free and open debate to justify those beliefs. Humanists have long seen the lampooning of beliefs, including our own, as a legitimate and valuable form of debate. Using violence and murder to silence the questioning of a belief is generally evidence that that belief cannot be reasonably justified. Any form of censorship should always be limited, and where it exists should be sanctioned by law, should be aimed at protecting individuals from real harm rather than imagined harm or offence, should be open to questioning through the legal system and parliament, and should never be aimed at the questioning of religious beliefs. In addition, we decry attempts by some to argue this attack was somehow justified. There is no basic Human Right to not be offended and satire is never a justification for murder. It is pertinent to remember that while Islam presents itself as a religion of peace, the vast majority of violence against Muslims comes from other Muslims.

We call upon all people and countries to take action in support of freedom of expression and to remove any remaining vestiges of limitations on freedom of expression, such as the punitive blasphemy laws that still exist in some countries including New Zealand. We join with others in saying “Je Suis Charlie”.