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 NZ Newsletter –September 2020

Kia ora: There is a sombre mood with the sentencing of the individual who killed 51 people and injured 40 at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch. The grief the families feel for their lost loved ones is indescribable. Others suffer lasting injuries, and many lives have been disrupted with grief and injury. No individual has the right to unilaterally take another’s life. All lives are important and need to be respected. Our country is a secular nation which ensures that all people have the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to freedom of expression – but not the right to unilaterally take the lives of others, or cause harm to others.

·            Monthly meeting

Monthly meeting: Monday 7 September 6.30 pm until 9.00pm

Discussion on the Election Referendums

End of Life Choice & Cannabis Legalisation and Control

Sara Passmore, Humanist NZ council member, will lead a discussion on these two referendums. In the August 2020 newsletter there were FAQs around the “End of Life Choice referendum”. These FAQs are also posted on our Facebook page. We will also discuss the “Cannabis legalisation and control referendum”. This Bill sets out a way for the Government to control and regulate cannabis. The purpose is to reduce cannabis-related harm to individuals, families/whanau and communities. We value your contribution.

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

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington

            Code of Conduct. At our recent Humanist NZ committee meeting we discussed a Code of conduct for our monthly meetings:

We’re a pluralist organisation, and our members will often have disagreements and different points of view. We strive to have an environment where people can participate in healthy conversation without belittling, demeaning, aggressive or threatening behaviour. Our code of conduct aims to create this environment.

At our monthly meetings a Chair will be responsible for halting uncomfortable conversations and reminding people about the Code of Conduct, and redirecting the conversation. If any person is uncomfortable with the direction of a conversation, their concern may be raised after the meeting. Concerns can be mentioned to any committee member. Concerns or complaints will be registered in the Complaints Register. Concerns or complaints will be investigated by a nominated member of our committee. We will follow the principles of natural justice. After investigation, the committee will consider an appropriate response.

        From the AGM:

o President’s Report

The Humanist New Zealand committee has worked on a number of submissions in the past year. These submissions included:

Abortion Reform: Iain Middleton and Sara Passmore appeared before the select committee supporting the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act and the right of women to freedom of choice on this issue;

End of Life Choice: Sara Passmore and Iain Middleton appeared in support of this Bill in 2018. We have a Facebook campaign at present with Q&A for the Referendum associated with the elections in September this year;

Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill – Iain Middleton appeared in person and Gulalai Ismail of Humanists International appeared by video link before the select committee in support of an amendment to the bill to ensure that people will only be subjected to control orders if they are convicted of terrorism on charges that would lead to a conviction in a New Zealand court using the New Zealand definition of terrorism. Gulalai explained how she had been falsely accused of terrorism in Pakistan and how a conviction could lead to her being subjected to control orders in New Zealand. The bill was amended accordingly.

Female Genital Mutilation Bill: Peter Clemerson, Sara Passmore and Pamela Mace. We supported the revised definition of FGM and also asked for compulsory reporting of detected incidents of FGM for statistical purposes. Peter Clemerson did a lot of preparatory work to support mandatory reporting but while the committee appeared to be in agreement the change was considered outside the scope of the bill.

Education and Training Bill: Iain Middleton and Peter Clemerson appeared in support of the change from ‘opt out’ to ‘opt in’ for religious instruction in schools but opposed the retention of ‘opt out’ for religious observances in schools. They asked for a number of other changes including the requirement that all religious instruction be outside normal school hours.

We’ve written letters to support Humanists internationally who are at risk, and arrested under blasphemy laws. Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed from Somalia and Murabak Bala from Nigeria

The results of the census were released following our campaign. 49% of New Zealand stated they were non-religious. In the lead up to the Census we ran a poster and Facebook campaign. We’ve also started engaging with Probation Services and supporting prisoners with their reintegration into society. We also discussed the need for non-religious pastoral support in hospitals and prisons. We have continued our support for an atheist seeking asylum in New Zealand. Also ongoing is our support for the Secular Education Network and Teach Not Preach, who continue to advocate for secular education in state education.

o   Election of Office Holders:

President: Jolene Phipps; Vice President: Mark Honeychurch; Secretary: Gaylene Middleton; Treasurer: Sara Passmore

Executive Committee: Iain Middleton, Lachman Prasad, Peter Clemerson, Pamela Mace, Rana Amjad Sattar, Tim Wright.

With increasing work commitments Aaron Davies is stepping down from the committee. We thank Aaron for his contribution while with us. Tim Wright has joined the committee. Tim was involved with the 2009 “No God’ committee who fundraised $20,000 for the Bus advertising campaign ‘There’s probably No God now stop worrying and enjoy your life’, which was such a success in the UK.  NZ Bus would not run campaign so we changed to Bill Boards run in 2010.

        Secular Education Network Press Release

Bible in schools opt-in clause spells the end of schoolroom evangelism

This month’s introduction of an opt-in clause for religious instruction in state schools is a significant step forward, and will accelerate the decline of church-led evangelism in schools, says the Secular Education Network (SEN).

Spokesperson Mark Honeychurch says that SEN is relieved the government has finally ensured that parents and caregivers should be made aware of any church-led religious instruction their child is receiving – although whether this happens in practice is up to individual schools.

“The August 2020 update to the Education and Training Act requires schools to enforce an ‘opt-in’ process for religious instruction. For this reason, SEN member Tanya Jacob will not be proceeding with her planned High Court case against the Attorney General in October,” he says.

“The case was to argue that the Education Act be updated to be appropriate for today’s less religious, more diverse and multicultural New Zealand. The opt-in clause means that a significant amount of this change has now happened, although substantial religious influence remains. SEN will continue to lobby for religious instruction to be fully removed from state schools,” he says.

This court case, along with persistent media attention and Human Rights complaints, motivated a change to religious instruction in the August 2020 Education and Training Bill, and the new opt-in clause for religious instruction is now law.

Nearly 10,000 people have already signed the Secular Education Network’s petition calling on Education Minister Chris Hipkins to entirely remove religious instruction in State primary and intermediate schools.

“School time should be reserved for professionally taught education. We encourage the teaching offacts about all major religions, rather than the teaching of one religion as though it is fact. Our petition represents the views of New Zealanders advocating for this important change.”

“The content of the church-led religious instruction ‘classes’ is not curriculum based, but young children are incapable of recognising the difference. To children, what is taught at school is fact. It is up to us responsible adults in their lives to ensure that evangelism doesn’t take place in class time.”

Nearly 25% of New Zealand secular, state primary schools – schools that have no religious affiliation – still close for up to an hour a week, or 20 hours a year, so that church volunteers can preach non-syllabus, non-Ministry of Education approved Christianity classes to young children.

For more information, please contact Mark Honeychurch: 021 885 216

Petition: Say no to bible classes in school time

Website: Facebook page: TeachNotPreach NZ

·        Where is Murabak Bala?

31 August 2020 Day 124: Leo Igwe and his fellow Nigerian Humanists continue their vigil and repeated attempts to discover what has happened to Murabak Bala their Nigerian Humanist Association President who was arrested and imprisoned in April 2020. His wife and young son, only 6 weeks old when his father was arrested, need to know if Murabak is alive. Humanists in Nigeria have to contend with numerous insulting comments to their FB posts of concern for Murabak. The comments have an air of glee and are in complete agreement that a non-believer is being treated so harshly. Nigerian non-believers fear that there are more detentions coming. It is unbelievable to Humanists in New Zealand that a musician in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano has been sentenced to death by hanging for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad. An upper Sharia court says that Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, is guilty of committing blasphemy for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March this year. A Nigerian Humanist makes a despairing statement:

“The Islamic establishment leaves nonbelievers with only two options: Be quiet and remain alive or speak out and die. Blasphemy has made religious disbelievers to live falsely, pretending to believe to avoid being killed (suffer physical death) or being disappeared (suffer social death), as in the case of Mubarak Bala. For nonbelief to be visible and impactful, thoughts and ideas must be freely expressed; individuals must be able to communicate their beliefs without fear of being arrested.”

·        Humanists International 68th Birthday:

On 26 August 1952, in Amsterdam, a group of hundreds of passionate humanists from all around the world founded the International Humanist and Ethical Union, now Humanists International. Their mission was to coordinate the humanist movement globally and to build a world in which human rights are respected for everyone, everywhere. 68 years (and one rebrand) later, Humanists International is still pursuing the same mission.

In August 1952 Humanists International was founded, and the Amsterdam Declaration was signed. At that moment organized modern humanism already had a tradition of at least a hundred years, but it was with the foundation of Humanists International that the global humanist movement truly gained momentum.

Think about that. Today Humanists International has hundreds of Members, Associates and Individual Supporters all around the world. We even have a youth section. But back in 1952 the founders of the organization were just a handful.

The founding congress’ preparatory work was done by five humanist organizations: the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, the British Ethical Union (known as British Humanist Association since 1967 and as Humanists UK since 2017), the Vienna Ethical Society (who ceased to exist unfortunately), the Dutch Humanist League (Humanistisch Verbond) who also hosted the congress.

Various kindred organizations had been invited to attend the congress and two of them, the Belgian Humanist League and the Indian Radical Humanist Association, decided to become co-founders of the organization. From that point onwards, Humanists International has grown fast and has expanded everywhere in the world.

In two years, on 26 August 2022, we will turn 70 years old. We are already looking forward to this momentous occasion and preparations for a big global celebration are in progress.

Today, on our 68th birthday, we simply want to send a big “thank you” to all our Members, all our Associates and all our Individual Supporters around the world. Without the support of each and every one of you, we couldn’t keep carrying forward our work to promote humanism, to defend humanists at risk around the globe, and to make the world a better place for everyone, in the spirit of reason, cooperation and freedom.

Thank you – and happy birthday, Humanists International!

·        The Little Book of Humanism:

A timely new book by Humanists UK President Alice Roberts and Chief Executive Andrew Copson is to offer universal lessons on finding meaning, purpose, and joy in our ever more uncertain world.

The Little Book of Humanism, published on 27 August, shares over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of illustrations, stories, quotes, and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity. The book quotes everyone from ancient philosophers like Epicurus and Mencius, through to contemporary humanist sources of inspiration such as Frozen and The Good Place actor Kristen Bell, the novelists Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood, and the playwright and poet Wole Soyinka.

It examines how humanity came to be, our unique place in the world, and why humanists reject religious explanations, before offering reflections on how to be good, how to live well, and how to think clearly. It emphasises the need to celebrate diversity and promote equality and why we should rely on science for the answers to many of life’s most important questions. Finally, it offers some particularly timely reflections on death and dealing with loss. It does all of this whilst drawing upon a cornucopia of humanist thought from many of the world’s greatest thinkers, accompanied by beautiful original illustrations.

Welcoming the publication of their book, authors Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts commented: ‘In the past, people were more likely to turn to religion during times of crisis than look to other sources of guidance. But there has always been an alternative – the humanist approach – and in today’s UK, where most people are now not religious, that alternative is more relevant than ever.  We hope this book offers timely sources of guidance, comfort, and inspiration, in a way that has a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives.’

The book can be purchased from Waterstones, Amazon, Blackwell’s, and all good bookshops, with both hardback and eBook available at £7.99 RRP. It is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. Author royalties from the book go towards supporting the work of Humanists UK.

About the authors

Professor Alice Roberts is a writer, broadcaster, and President of Humanists UK. She is the bestselling author of eight popular science books including Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being and Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World. Making her television debut on Time Team in 2001, she has become one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters and has written and presented a huge range of television series for BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4, including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us and Ice Age Giants, and several Horizon programmes. Her humanist ‘mini-sermons’ on Twitter have been liked and shared many thousands of times.

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International. He has provided a humanist voice on many television and radio programmes and written on humanism for publications including The Economist, New Statesman, Guardian, Prospect, The Times and Buzzfeed. With AC Grayling, he edited the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism and his most recent book is Secularism: A Very Short Introduction. There are on-line options to obtain your copy, for example:

·        Some Background to the Present Blasphemy troubles in Pakistan.

Following this short introduction is an anonymous contribution to our newsletter about the climate of blasphemy accusations which are having a dreadful impact on Pakistan society and the impossibility of living a free life in Pakistan as a person of no belief.

In 1923, Mahashe Rajpal published an anonymous pamphlet titled Rangila Rasul, which contained a re-examination of hadiths from the Bukhari, of the Sunnai Islam faith. Rajpal’s thought was not popular. Some people of the Indian Muslim community started a movement demanding that the book be banned. In 1927, the administration of the British Raj enacted a law prohibiting insults aimed at founders and leaders of religious communities. Ilm Deen decided to kill the publisher. On April 6, 1929, he set out with a dagger with which he killed Rajpal. The police arrested Ilm Deen and took him to Lahori Gate Police Station. The murder of Rajpal caused considerable religious tension in the Punjab.

·        History of Assassination of Alleged Blasphemers

On 30th July 2020, Tahir Ahmad Nasim, 47, who was accused of blasphemy, was shot dead by a young man named Faisal in the Additional Sessions Judge’s Court. Police constables were present in the court room. After his arrest, when he appeared in court for remand, not only clerics and students of religious madrassas, but also lawyers warmly welcomed him and showered him with garlands and rose petals. Several lawyers announced they would fight the case for free.

This is not the first extrajudicial killing on blasphemy charges. In the past, several people, including the influential governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province Salman Taseer, have been killed merely for accusation of blasphemy. Salman Taseer was shot dead on 4th of January 2011, by his own body guard Mumtaz Qadri who was inducted into his security staff just for 24 hours. Except for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, no accused involved in such cases has been convicted. We have not seen accusers of blasphemy ever arrested by police let alone sentenced or any punishment. I have never witnessed that an accuser was arrested.

In fact, the tradition of extrajudicial killings in the name of blasphemy is very old in our country and Muslims, especially Punjabi Muslims, have always appreciated this act of murder and have portrayed the perpetrators as heroes. Harking back to history almost 91 years ago to when Ilam Din assassinated Rajpal on 6th April 1929, the Muslims of Lahore formed a committee to defend him, which included some of the biggest names of the time.  It is said of our national poet Allama Iqbal that when he was laying the body of Ilam Din in the grave, he had said in his choked voice that the son of the carpenters had excelled all of us.

 It confirmed that they always considered the assassination attempts of alleged blasphemers – glorious and a just deed. Muhammad Ali Jinnah (now considered the founder of Pakistan) who then, had no formal experience dealing with criminal cases, had come all the way from Bombay to Lahore just to support Ilam Din’s appeal and defended it in the Punjab Chief Court. It is not fair to say that Jinnah appeared in this case only as a lawyer; because Jinnah was one of the top politicians in India at that time and he was not an ordinary lawyer who would appear in a case just for a fee.

He was aware of the sectarian and political significance and dimensions of the case and wanted to reap its political benefits.

After the formation of Pakistan, where the ideas, thoughts and perceptions of many other personalities were tailored and manufactured, many fictitious and unrealistic incidents were also attributed to Ilam Din. His personality was rediscovered. It was claimed that he had told the court that, “Yes I have killed Rajpal and I am not sorry but proud of my killing”.

In Lollywood (the Lahore based film industry), two films were made to glorify Ilam Din. Haider played the role of Ilam Din in one film while Muammar Rana played the role of Alam Din in the other. In both of these films, Ilam Din was glorified and his assassination of Raj Pal was justified. Then the state-run television PTV aired a long-running drama about Ilam Din, called “Wafa Ke Pekar” and ironically dramatized by renowned so called progressive writer Asghar Nadeem Syed. Actor Tauqeer Nasir, who played the role of Ilam Din in the play, had said in an interview that he had filmed every scene of the play after ablution.

The myth about Ilam Din is so popular that he had confessed his crime during the trial and expressed pride in his action, although it is completely wrong and there is no confessional statement in the records of case file. The fact is that he pleaded not guilty before the court and took the position that he did not commit the murder and that he was wrongly implicated in the case by the police. The murder file is part of the Lahore High Court’s record and a copy can be obtained, but we still have a strong impression that Ilam Din never denied the murder rather made confession loud and clear. As matter of fact, Jinnah had asked him to deny the killing and he would save him from hanging.

The saga of Ilam Din is an integral part of our fabricated political and cultural discourse. In Pakistan, the people who do not endorse the motif of Ilam Din are not even equal to the salt grain in the flour. The majority of the people consider Ilam Din  to be their hero and true lover of the holy prophet. The celebrations of his annual death anniversary are held at his grave every year, where speeches are made in support of his initiative.

As long as, Ilam Din remains part of our political, cultural and religious discourse, extrajudicial killings in the name of blasphemy will continue.                                                                                                                                   r