Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist Newsletter July 2017

Kia ora: This month I am delighted to have our newsletter ‘opening blog’ written by Aaron Davies from Levin. I would like to invite newsletter readers to make their own ‘opening blog’ contribution. Please email your thoughts to [email protected]

“We live in an age where access to information is readily available and news headlines can propagate rapidly around the world. Because of this, it can be a challenge not to yield to despair when news of inhumanity and terror occupy the media. Given this, it is important to retain an accurate perspective on how the vast majority of people on earth behave and approach life. Today the human race fights against bigotry, hate and suffering on a scale never before seen in history. In my short lifetime I have seen things like homophobia, racism, and sexual discrimination become more and more unacceptable in most nations around the world. Acts of murder and terrorism done out of hate do still happen, but given that several billion people now occupy our beautiful planet they must be considered a rare occurrence. And when these things do tragically occur, we can strive not to fight back with more hate and morbid fear. We can use these cruel events as a catalyst to propagate strength through unity and allow compassion to be a key motive in our decision making.” Aaron Davies.      

Monthly meeting: Monday 3 July 6.30 pm

Building a Megachurch for New Zealand

An insight into one of the fastest growing churches in New Zealand

Josh Barley will speak to us about ARISE CHURCH which is a large modern evangelical church based in Wellington and also has six other campuses in cities around New Zealand. It is one of, if not the fastest growing church in New Zealand. In this talk, Josh discusses: his personal experience in the church, the church’s beliefs, their finances, their charity work in the community, their appeal, why are they attracting more people to attend services and become involved members? Josh will also address a number of concerns, specifically: the Church’s goal to create a Christian New Zealand (expounded with lots of “nation winning” rhetoric), the deliberate targeting of young people (children and teens), the propagation of anti-science beliefs, the infiltration of primary schools, the use of psychological coercion as a means for creating new converts.

After Josh’s talk and discussion there will be a short presentation of a NZ Humanist Manifesto being developed as a secular statement to present to politicians in the lead up to the General Election in September. This Manifesto is being written in conjunction with the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (NZARH). Modern communication technology has aided this cooperative venture as a recent Google Hangout held between the two groups was very useful and successful.  Our monthly meeting is an opportunity for consultation with others who have an interest in preparing this document.

June is also the month of Matariki, the Winter Solstice and World Humanist Day 21 June. Matariki begins 24 June and is a season to REMEMBER & RENEW & REJOICE. We remember our departed loved ones, we acknowledge and renew our present relationships with whanau, friends and our environment, and we have fun, share stories and enjoy kai. Come to this month’s meeting and celebrate this season with some complimentary nibbles, and buy a meal and your favourite tipple. We have also posted on our Facebook page an excellent article for World Humanist Day by Andrew Copson, the CEO of Humanists UK.

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

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

  •   Summary of June monthly meeting: (written by Aaron Davies). “At the last Humanist Society monthly meeting I was invited to give a presentation discussing my path out of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. The primary focus was the overwhelming scientific evidence for naturalistic evolution and how it allows for the development of beautiful and complex life. I also talked about hope and how it is important to be vigilant to not allow it to influence your perspective on reality. In all but the most absurd or farfetched of scenarios the best and most likely way to improve anything is to have a clear and factual understanding of your actual situation, fighting to cast any confirmation bias based on hope aside. I’d like to thank everyone that attended the presentation. The support and empathy I received from the people I met was unexpected and very comforting.”
  •      Religion in Schools Legal Challenge: Tanya Jacob & David Hines Human Rights Appeal: Tanya and David, from the Secular Education Network (SEN) are campaigning to end religious discrimination in schools. Schools are becoming unwelcoming with Christian-only Bible lessons. This campaign wants to change the law so these will stop and there will be no religious songs and prayers in assemblies, no peer pressure on children or their parents to go against their beliefs. This campaign asks that religion be fairly and sensitively taught in Social Studies and other parts of the NZ Curriculum, including non-religious beliefs such as atheism, humanism and rationalism. A claim has been lodged at the Human Rights Review Tribunal, and Tanya and David are waiting for a date for their case to be heard. There is a Give-a-Little page where people may make donations towards legal costs. https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/tanyajacob-davidhines.
  •      Match Our Donation!! Your dollar donation could be TWO! We’ve pledged to match every dollar given to the ‘Religion in Schools’ legal challenge. To have your donation matched, DONATE TODAY and let us know how much we need to match by emailing [email protected], or on our Facebook wall. We promise to match every dollar donated up to a total of $1,000! Donate today to DOUBLE your contribution.
  •   Third Global Atheist Convention, Reason to Hope. 9-11 February 2018 Melbourne Australia: Following The Rise of Atheism (2010) and A Celebration of Reason (2012), in 2018 the Atheist Foundation of Australia will host the third Global Atheist Convention. Tickets are now on sale, http://atheistconvention.org.au
  •   Prithu Sanyal, a Bangladeshi atheist blogger, who has found asylum in Germany has sent us his recent blog which has been edited by Fraser from the Humanist Society of Scotland and will also be published in their Journal.

 

Bangladesh: Across the world the month of Ramadan is observed with respect.

In my home country of Bangladesh, most of the restaurants and tea stalls are closed to respect Ramadan and those fasting. Some maintain their business for those who are non-Muslims and are not fasting. As is normal practice here they are strictly maintaining their shops under curtain so foods and customers are not visible from the street or outside.

On 9th of June at Kalyanpur, a place in the Capital city Dhaka, some people claimed themselves as members of “Pobitrata Rokkha Committee” ( a committee to conserve the value of Ramadan) and vandalised those shops who served foods for the non-Muslims. They not only vandalised the shops, but also threw sand and urinated on the foods so these cannot be used later.

On 15th June three men vandalised the canteen of the court of Sylhet a divisional city of Bangladesh. They claimed the canteen keeper is violating the holy Ramadan, so it’s their duty to vandalise the shop. Seven were injured in the attack.

These are not isolated incidents, and now the administration government of the Chadpur district have set some rules for the restaurants of when they can open and close in the month of Ramadan. In addition there are more groups active across the country to ‘preserve value of Ramadan’ in the same way.

Such practices have developed in recent years after the rise of an Islamic extremist group called “Hefajat-e-Islam” (Conserve of Islam) and negotiations between them and the government. This extremist group have in the past called for hanging of secular and atheist bloggers. The group have also sought to change the text books in schools by removing secular views. Indeed the government relented to hardline demands and 17 poems deemed too “Atheist” were removed from school textbooks.

Recently, “Hefajot-e-Islam” sought to remove the sculpture of Lady Justice from the premises of Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Under these demands the government removed it (before later reinstalling it). The Prime Minister Shekh Hasina has not helped reduce anti-atheist feeling. She has in the past denounced those writing “filthy words” against Islam.

The government is not willing to establish the equal right of its citizen rather is happy to promote the demands of Islamists. They have sought to curb secular voices in the Information Communications Act which has set to protect Islamic fundamentalism. There are currently more than hundred cases before the courts following this law.

Though there is a state religion in the Constitution of Bangladesh which is Islam, it is also a secular state by its constitutional declaration. It is not certain, how the government is selling Bangladesh in the international community but, it seems to us that Bangladesh is starting on a path of observing Islamic extremist views.

 

Blasphemy law Repeal Update:

During the last month in Parliament, Chris Hipkins, Labour, attempted to move an amendment to the Statutes repeal Bill to include repeal of Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 which outlaws Blasphemous Libel. The vote was Ayes 59 for repeal, Noes 60. This is very encouraging for the first vote in parliament on this issue. Although the Prime Minister had earlier indicated that he thought the law should go, National and the Maori party voted together against repeal of section 123. A possible reason is that they did not want to Chris Hipkins win a vote this close to the elections and take all the kudos for getting rid of section 123.

The indications are that the Green Party, NZ First, United Future, Act, and Labour members all voted for repeal, but National used their whips to ensure that all their members voted against (immediate) repeal. Nevertheless, more than one National member has indicated their support for repeal but they probably voted along party lines.

Letters urging repeal were sent to many local MPs, and to all party leaders and some replied indicating their support. However, letters sent to Amy Adams, Minister of Justice, and to the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet before the vote in parliament were all referred to Amy Adams to reply. To date, no reply has been received, but the fact that they were all referred to her indicated that a party vote by National might be happening.

Repeal of section 123 should be free of partisan politics. Section 123 is a clear breach of International law and there are many reasons for repeal, including our obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that New Zealand signed on 12 November 1968 and ratified it on 28 December 1978. The covenant came into force on 28 March 1979 and is binding on signatory countries. The UN Human Rights Committee adopted General Comment 34[16] in July 2011 that stated in paragraph 48 that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant”. New Zealand also signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) on the 25 October 1966 and ratified it on 22 November 1972. This Convention includes an individual complaints mechanism, effectively making it enforceable against its parties, and is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Parties to ICERD undertake to guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law and equality in the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression.

New Zealand laws that prohibit “blasphemous libel” and “denigration of religion” contravene international law, are discriminatory, and contravene New Zealand’s obligations under both the ICCPR and ICERD. More reasons for repeal are given on the website: http://blasphemy.nz/ .

Prime Minister Bill English, who has indicated that he believes Section 123 should be repealed, has also indicated that he does not believe Parliaments time should be wasted on this issue. But voting against the amendment means that more of parliament’s time will be spent on this issue. With Labour taking up the cause to repeal section 123, National strategists may have felt they had to stop Chris Hipkins’ initiative. Often when this happens the governing party will then introduce an initiative of their own so that they can take credit for it, and, this may be the case here.

Paul Foster-Bell, National list MP based in Wellington Central, appears to have been the government spokesperson for National on this issue. He appears to be in support of repeal when he said during the parliamentary debates:

“I think this is something that should be dealt with in a way that is in line with the process that this House operates under, and I am very glad to understand that the Government will, in due course, be having a comprehensive look at tidying up the Crimes Act 1961.

“… personally, I do think it is time for New Zealand to have a good, careful look at section 123 of the Crimes Act, and I am personally of the view that it is no longer necessary in a country like New Zealand to criminalise thought or speech associated with blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy; any of those concepts.

“However, I think it is important that the Government approach this matter in an organised and sensible fashion, and I would note that it is the Government’s intention, under our very good justice Minister, the Hon Amy Adams, to review the Crimes Act and to look at tidying up some of these elements of the Crimes Act in a crimes amendment bill later this year.

So it looks like National is not against repeal and the matter may be before parliament again before the end of the year. There might, however, be some members of the National caucus who are individually against repeal.

For the full details of Paul Foster-Bell’s speeches on the subject see:

23 May https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20170523_063450000/foster-bell-paul

30 May https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/document/HansS_20170530_070200000/foster-bell-paul.

We have no idea when the government intends to amend the Crimes Act 1961. They may well put it off until after the election. NZ governments tend to regard anything to do with religion as sensitive and not to be broached before an election and Amy Adams has yet to indicate when she might take action, if ever.

If the issue is referred to the NZ Law Commission, will they come to the right answer? With the amount of international information that is now available there should be no reason for them to get it wrong, but the retention and passage of laws that continue to discriminate against the non-religious by the New Zealand parliament remains a matter of concern and reinforces the need for vigilance.

With the National party having delayed the decision on repeal of the blasphemy laws it gives those who might be opposed time to muster their forces against repeal, and they might be able to swing some against it. We know that there are some who feel that religious leaders must be appeased and not offended, sometimes because of the need to work with them, but international legal and religious experts have looked at this on more than one occasion and each time decided that blasphemy laws should be repealed. See http://blasphemy.nz/

Most countries do not have blasphemy laws, and do not feel that they need them, disproving the argument that they might be needed. A growing number of countries have moved to repeal or abolish their blasphemy laws. UNESCO, in World trends in freedom of expression and media development, 2014, reported that “In law reform, there has been a trend towards repeal of blasphemy and religious offence laws.” France abolished its blasphemy laws in 1881, except for the Alsace-Moselle region which was part of Germany at the time, and Sweden in 1970.  In 1995, Australia abolished and repealed all blasphemy laws at the Federal Level. In 2008, the United Kingdom abolished its laws, Norway did so with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, Iceland in 2015, Malta, and France (remaining laws in the Alsace-Moselle region) in 2016, and Denmark in 2017 and Canada has introduced a Bill to repeal their law.

From 1999 to 2010, there was a push by Islamists and their apologists to extend blasphemy laws, under the guise of “defamation of religions”, another name for a blasphemy law, to cover all religions. This push was promoted at the United Nations by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OICD) led by Pakistan. However, law commissions, international jurists, United Nations agencies, many individual countries, and NGOs promoting freedom of expression and freedom of religion all rejected this proposal as unrealistic and impracticable on the one hand and against freedom of religion and expression on the other. The OIC abandoned the defamation of religions approach in 2011 when it joined with other countries in promoting freedom of speech with restrictions on hate speech promoting the imminent incitement of hatred and violence against individuals or groups. However, there are some countries that still have laws that seek to protect all religions, but these laws are no better than laws that seek to protect just one religion, and such countries tend to have more problems with these laws than countries that have no blasphemy laws at all.

Since the NZ parliament voted against immediate repeal there have been two significant developments. Denmark repealed their Blasphemy law on the 2nd June 2017 with government support. Denmark, the only Scandinavian country to not have repealed their blasphemy law, had until this year been known as a significant hold out country against repeal, arguing that the law might be needed one day to prevent public disorder. In reality, it is known that the opposite occurs; the existence of blasphemy laws are used by religious agitators to promote disorder. The blasphemy laws came to public attention early this year when a man was charged with blasphemy with the approval of an attorney general for burning a Koran and posting a video of it on Facebook. It seems that earlier someone had burnt a bible and not been charged. The public reaction to this unequal treatment helped make the government change their mind.

Canada has a blasphemy law that is almost the same as ours. Wikipedia reports:

Over the summer of 2016, a petition to parliament asking that the blasphemous libel law be repealed was circulated by several Canadian humanist groups. The petition was presented to the Government in December 2016. It responded in January 2017, stating that “blasphemous libel, along with numerous other provisions of the Criminal Code, are presently under review by the Minister [of Justice] and her officials”. On June 6, 2017 Bill C-51, an Act to Amend the Criminal Code was introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. The act would repeal section 296 of the Criminal Code relating to blasphemous libel, as well as various other provisions of the Criminal Code which have been ruled or may be unconstitutional.

As this is a Canadian government sponsored Bill there is a good chance that it will succeed.

In New Zealand, we need to remain vigilant. If you have not yet done so, write to or ask your Member of Parliament, or parliamentary candidates in the upcoming election and point out that you consider this to be an important issue. Ask them to support the repeal of section 123 and to state their position on this issue.

While we are working on a number of other initiatives to promote repeal of this law you may have other useful ideas that we have not thought of. Please let us know your ideas. We would also like to hear which members of parliament are in favour of repeal and which are against it.