Saturday, 5 April 2008

Times: Marriage: it's a class act

[...] the truth is that marriage is coming perilously close to being a matter of class, along with church attendance, home cooking and male employment. This was never so before. As Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, never tires of pointing out, one of the defining characteristics of the underclass is that its members do not marry - that requires a degree of commitment, of emotional and financial stability. Think of the difference between Shannon Matthews' mother with her several children by different fathers, and her grandparents, for whom marriage and jobs were the norm.

It matters. Marriage provides a kind of psychic security for the people in it. Living in a relationship that is, at least in principle, permanent and exclusive means that there's a security as you grow older that the unmarried don't have. And unmarried women being more prone to suicide suggests that you lose that ballast at your peril. There are the obvious, proven, statistical advantages of marriage - you live longer, you're healthier, your children are better educated and happier - but the real benefit runs deeper. It demonstrates we can make binding commitments.

Did I say we've never been here before? The Emperor Augustus took a dim view of the flight from marriage. His solution was a tax on bachelors. Read more
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(Ed: Interesting to see liberalism struggling with its instinctive dislikes!)

[...] The difficulty for Mosley is that his alleged activities instinctively feel both private and secret. It's also quite clear that London would now be choosing between Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick if it had been Livingstone in the News of the World's video. The problem has always been where the line should be drawn, partly because the boundaries shift. Forty years ago, divorce could end the career of a children's entertainer; now, the disqualifying threshold seems to be use of class-A drugs. But is this morality now solid, or might there be a future in which a known cokehead can continue being cheeky for pre-schoolers on TV?

The latter seems unlikely but the fluidity of definitions is a constant difficulty. A common view, sanctified by the Press Complaints Commission, is that there must be a direct connection - usually hypocrisy or conflict of interest - between private and public conduct. So a bishop's mistress is a different matter from a baker's. But this rule is difficult for Mosley. Just as the children of a home secretary must expect more scrutiny of their drug use than the average adolescent, so the son of the leader of the British Union of Fascists needs to be extra careful, even behind closed doors, about touching certain sores.

However, even a divided society must agree that certain private actions make it impossible to head a public organisation. These are proven racism (or other discrimination) or unwanted sexual attention, whether rape, paedophilia or harassment. Mosley can argue that his sex life is consenting. But he has to prove that his preferred perversity was, as it were, innocent. If it proves to have any hint of anti-semitic or pro-Nazi sentiment, then, regardless of how it ceased to be private, he must leave any public role at the speed of a Ferrari. But if he's got five kids by three different women, that's his business. Read more
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Telegraph: Family breakdowns harmful as global warming

Britain is suffering from an epidemic of family breakdowns affecting all levels of society from the Royal family downwards, one of the country's most senior judges will say today.

Mr Justice Coleridge, who presided over the preliminary divorce hearings of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, will accuse Gordon Brown of prioritising the abolition of plastic bags over support for families, and say the Government is "fiddling while Rome burns".

"Family breakdown is at all levels of society - from the Royal family downwards," he will say.

"Without being in any way over-dramatic or alarmist, my prediction would be that the effects of family breakdown on the life of the nation, and ordinary people, in this country will, within the next 20 years, be as marked and as destructive as the effects of global warming.

"We are experiencing a period of family meltdown whose effects will be as catastrophic as the meltdown of the ice caps."

Judges are witnessing a "never-ending carnival" of human misery, and almost all of society's social ills can be traced back to the collapse in family stability, he says. Read more
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Matthew Parris: Tony Blair doesn't understand that the core of faith is fanaticism

[...] Throughout history, faith resurgent, the Church militant - be it Islam, Christianity or Judaism - tends as it gains enthusiasm to become more extreme. It goes back to basics. It strips the modifications of modernity, delving for a core. That core is fundamentalist. So, yes, from the Bible Belt to the Vatican, from the West Bank to Helmand, a comparable muscle is being flexed, it is profoundly reactionary, and all faiths do share it. In some deep and inchoate way, these human tendencies are indeed “all on the same side”.

But it's not my side, and it shouldn't be yours; and a secular political class of the kind that produced our current generation of leaders, including Mr Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, should think long and hard before throwing so much as a scrap to this tiger - let alone riding it. Read more
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Download or watch Tony Blair's Lecture

[... ] One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews (and I get asked a lot of odd questions) is: is faith important to your politics?

It’s like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn’t affect your politics.

But there is a reason why my former press secretary, Alastair Campbell once famously said
‘We don’t do God’. In our culture, here in Britain and in many other parts of Europe, to admit to having faith leads to a whole series of suppositions, none of which are very helpful to the practising politician.

First, you may be considered weird. Normal people aren’t supposed to ‘do God’.

Second, there is an assumption that before you take a decision, you engage in some slightly cultish interaction with your religion – ‘So, God, tell me what you think of City Academies or Health Service Reform or nuclear power’ i.e. people assume that your religion makes you act, as a leader, at the promptings of an inscrutable deity, free from reason rather than in accordance with it.

Third, you want to impose your religious faith on others.

Fourth, you are pretending to be better than the next person.

And finally and worst of all, that you are somehow messianically trying to co-opt God to bestow a divine legitimacy on your politics.

So when Alastair said it, he didn’t mean politicians shouldn’t have faith; just that it was always a packet of trouble to talk about it.

And underlying it all, certainly, is the notion that religion is divisive, irrational and harmful. That is why for years, it was assumed that as humanity progressed intellectually and matured morally, so religion would decline.

Read/watch here

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Office of the Presiding Bishop, Diocese of Virginia respond to preliminary court ruling

(Ed: In short, the office of the Presiding Bishop, and the Diocese of Virginia, argue that that the law of Virginia, even if it has been interpreted correctly, is unconstitutional, and therefore shouldn't be on the statute books at all. That one could run!)

The Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Diocese of Virginia issued statements April 4 response to a preliminary ruling a day earlier by Fairfax County Judge Randy I. Bellows that it was appropriate for 11 Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) congregations to file property claims under a portion of Virginia state law that is triggered when there is a so-called "division" of a church or religious society.

Statement from the Office of the Presiding Bishop follows:

We are obviously disappointed in yesterday's ruling by the trial judge against the Episcopal Church and the Diocese that involved one Virginia statutory issue in the case. While we believe that the Court's conclusion that Virginia's unusual "division" statute applies to the current situation in the Diocese, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is incorrect, there will be time enough in the future to seek review of that decision if it becomes necessary. In the meantime, we shall present to the Court at the scheduled argument in May our contention that if the statute means what the Court has held, it plainly deprives the Episcopal Church and the Diocese, as well as all hierarchical churches, of their historic constitutional rights to structure their polity free from governmental interference and thus violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced. Read more
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Diocese of Ohio Litigation Ends 'Peaceful Way to Coexist'

The Diocese of Ohio recently filed a declaratory judgment with the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland, asking that it, the diocesan trustees, and a minority of members at five dissident congregations be declared the rightful owners of church properties where the congregations voted overwhelmingly to leave in 2005.

The March 26 filing came just a month after an article in the Akron Beacon Journal described how the relationship between the five dissenting congregations and the diocese was an exception to the personal acrimony and litigation prevalent throughout many other dioceses of The Episcopal Church. In another break with standard practice in most other dioceses, Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., of Ohio did not depose the clergy when they requested transfer of their canonical license to the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

In the Beacon Journal article, Martha Wright, communications officer for the Diocese of Ohio, had said, “We are looking for a faithful resolution to the property issue involving the congregations that have elected to leave the diocese. The priests in those congregations have asked to be released from their orders and their requests have been granted, but we have not taken any action where property is concerned.” Read more
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Friday, 4 April 2008

Guardian: Save religion and help it become a force for good, urges Blair

Religion must be rescued from extremism and irrelevance, Tony Blair said last night, in his first big speech in Britain since stepping down as prime minister last year.

Blair, a Catholic convert, made the remarks during a lecture on faith and globalisation at Westminster Cathedral, where he used to attend mass while in office. He used the 45-minute speech to highlight the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation which has its official launch next month and aims to help different faith organisations work together.

He said last night: "For religion to be a force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism, faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance, an interesting part of our history but not of our future." Too many people saw religious faith as stark dogmatism and empty ritual, he added.

"Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life," Blair said. "It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target."

He went on to argue that religion could help to advance humanity and end global poverty. One of his foundation's aims is to bring people of faith together in pursuit of the UN's millennium development goals, which include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality and combating diseases. Read more
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Times film review: Funny Games

(Ed: Warning, some people may find even the review disturbing, let alone the film.)

[...] Few would deny the laser-precision of its conceptual logic and the meticulous fashion in which that is executed. And yet, with the possible exception of No Country For Old Men, I can't recall a film in recent times that I have loathed so much, or whose intellectual and artistic rationale I find more wrong-headed.

[...] true artists fashion alternatives. They create new, impossible universes. Now, more than ever, we need a cinema that offers audiences beauty, that believes in ecstasy and rapture as a social catalyst.

It's true Hollywood doesn't do that very often. All the more crucial then for directors as gifted as Haneke to move beyond parasitic critique and single-note invective. All the more crucial that they try love. Read more
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The Times: Max Mosley's behaviour was not immoral, simply disgusting

(Ed: Disgusting? In this day and age?)

[...] Mosley hasn't behaved in an immoral fashion. He has merely behaved in a manner we consider disgusting and has been found out. The moral, in so far as it can be called a moral, is that it is easier to forgive people for being immoral than for being disgusting. Read more
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BBC News: Rise in women doctors 'worrying'

(Ed: This comment caught my eye: "The main thing we need is a revolution in the attitude of society towards childcare and who has the responsibility for childcare.")

The rising number of female doctors is "bad for medicine", and universities should recruit more men, a GP warns.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Colin McKinstry said female doctors were more likely to work part-time, leading to staffing problems.

Women, who now outnumber men in medical schools, were also less likely to take part in training or research, he said.

But opponents said the best candidates should be chosen regardless of gender and flexible working policies improved.

Professor Jane Dacre, vice dean of biomedical sciences at University College London, said rather than worrying about having too many female doctors, there should be more focus on ensuring equal opportunities for medics throughout their careers.

"When I was at medical school, there was a quota and they were only allowed 30% women.

"There is quite a developing evidence base that female doctors are not inferior to male doctors, but in fact are doing better in terms of getting into medical school and in their exams."

But she said women doctors were still under-represented in some specialities, such as surgery, and at senior levels in the profession.

The best candidates needed to be chosen for medical school whatever their sex but flexible hours, on-site child care and part-time training options were needed to ensure women doctors had equal opportunities in their career, she said.


Women now outnumber men in most UK medical schools by three to two.

This has reversed many years of male dominance in medicine and unfair discrimination against women, said Dr McKinstry, who is also a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

But the recent large rise in female medical graduates was worrying, particularly in more "family friendly" areas of medicine such as general practice, he added.

Many older full-time male GPs are shortly due to retire leaving behind a workforce of younger women, many of whom work part-time.

"I'm not meaning to be critical - women have a difficult time of it because they are left with the bulk of childcare.

"The main thing we need is a revolution in the attitude of society towards childcare and who has the responsibility for childcare." Read more
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Daily Mail: Balls 'starts witch-hunt against faith schools to please party'

Ed Balls was accused yesterday of undermining faith schools in an attempt to further his Labour career.

The Children's Secretary came under mounting pressure over his "cash for places" allegations this week against top performing state schools.

Mr Balls said dozens of schools - almost all of them Church of England, Roman Catholic or Jewish - are breaking admissions rules and selecting pupils by the back door.

Scroll down for more...
Jewish school

Rabbi Abraham Pinter of the Yesoday Hatorah Senior Girls School (pictured) believes faith schools are being undermined

Some are charging parents upfront fees running into hundreds of pounds, he said.

But Tories accused him of staging a "witch-hunt" to win over Labour party members hostile to faith schools and bolster his position for a future leadership bid.

The head of a leading Jewish comprehensive said Mr Balls's revelations smacked of victimisation of faith schools and warned that "forces" were attempting to undermine them. Read more
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Breakaway Episcopal parishes awarded property, assets

A Fairfax circuit judge has awarded a favorable judgment to a group of 11 Anglican churches that were taken to court last fall after breaking away from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late 2006.

In an 83-page opinion released late last night, Judge Randy Bellows ruled that Virginia"s Civil War-era “division statute” granting property to departing congregations applies to the Northern Virginia congregations, which are now part of the Nigerian-administered Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

“The court finds that a division has occurred in the diocese,” the judge wrote. “Over 7 percent of the churches in the diocese, 11 percent of its baptized membership and 18 percent of the diocesan average attendance of 32,000 [per Sunday] have left in the past two years.” Read more
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Judge rules in favour of Virginia churches, against TEC

VI.) Conclusion:

ECUSA/Diocese argue that the historical evidence demonstrates that it is only the "major" or "great" divisions within 19th-century churches that prompted the passage of 57-9, such as those within the Presbyterian andMethodist Churches. ECUSA/Diocese argue that the current "dispute" beforethis Court is not such a "great" division, and, therefore, this is yet another reason why 57-9(A) should not apply. The Court agrees that it was major divisions such as those within the Methodist and Presbyterian churches that prompted the passage of 57-9. However, it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the Diocese, ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude, especially given the involvement of numerous churches in states across the country, the participation of hundreds of church leaders, both lay and pastoral, who have found themselves "taking sides" against their brethren, the determination by thousands of church members in Virginia and elsewhere to "walk apart" in the language of the Church, the creation of new and substantial religious entities, such as CANA, with their own structures and disciplines, the rapidity with which the ECUSA's problems became that of the Anglican Communion, and the consequent impact-in some cases the extraordinary impact-on its provinces around the world, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations.

Whatever may be the precise threshold for a dispute to constitute a division under 57-9(A), what occurred here qualifies. For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds that the CANA Congregations have properly invoked 57-9(A). Further proceedings will take place in accordance with the Order issued today.

Read here
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Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Way we Live Now: Does it matter what you do in private?

London's Mayor has five children
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has dismissed claims that revelations that he has five children by three different women will affect his mayoral campaign.

[...] "Clearly, I don't think anybody in this city is shocked about what consenting adults do. As long as you don't involve children, animals or vegetables they leave people to get on and live their own life in their own way." Read more

Max Mosley denies Nazi claims in orgy scandal
[...] After three days of lurid headlines and calls for him to resign, Mosley is going on the offensive over a scandal that has shocked Formula One and the boardrooms of the car manufacturers who compete in the sport. Since the story broke on Sunday, he has spent many hours speaking to lawyers, assembling a case against the paper that will centre on invasion of privacy and his belief that he was the victim of a set-up. It appears that Mosley will not deny that he took part in the orgy but will dispute the context in which it occurred.

In a letter to all the members of the FIA that is expected to be published today, Mosley claims that he has been the victim of a “deliberate and calculated personal attack” after what he said was a “covert investigation” of his private life and background. Read more

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Telegraph: Faith schools 'face witch-hunt over admissions'

Ministers have been accused of a "witch-hunt" after naming dozens of faith schools which they said were illegally selecting the best pupils.

Critics said the "outrageous" attack on 87 Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools risked undermining their religious ethos.

The schools were reprimanded for using banned admissions policies to weed out children from poor homes, including charging parents up-front fees for ostensibly free state education.

One Anglican and five Jewish schools were identified as asking for "voluntary" contributions as a condition of entry. One Jewish primary wanted almost £2,700 a year for extra security and Jewish studies classes, which are not funded by the taxpayer.

Others were asking parents for marriage certificates and failing to give priority to children in social services care.

Critics accused Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, of attempting to divert attention from the fact that 100,000 parents failed to get children into their first choice school this year. Read more
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Times: Top state schools hit by cash for places row

Faith schools were accused yesterday of forcing parents to pay for places at the best state primaries and secondaries.

One Jewish school in London asked parents to contribute £895 a term when they applied for places for their children.

Yesterday the Government pledged to take action against the cash-for-places scandal, giving new powers to the independent schools adjudicator to enforce the admissions code. However, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, came under immediate fire for waging a “witch-hunt” against faith schools, with local authorities, religious groups and opposition politicians disputing his findings.

Yesterday Mr Balls made public a report into schools in Manchester, Northamptonshire and Barnet, North London, which found that one in six was breaching the admissions code, introduced last year to ensure fair access to pupils from all backgrounds. Mr Balls said that the vast majority of the 96 schools found to be abusing the code were faith schools, which have control over their own admissions.

A total of 29 schools in the survey failed to comply with at least two requirements of the admissions code. Read more
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Independent: "Vast majority" of faith schools breaking admissions laws

The vast majority of faith schools are breaking the law when admitting pupils, according to Government research published yesterday. The study shows that some seek money from parents and fail to give priority to children in care.

A survey of 106 voluntary-aided schools by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) revealed that 96 are in breach of a new statutory code on admissions. Of those, 87 are faith schools.

Six were found to be asking parents for voluntary financial contributions before admitting their children. At Beis Yaakov Jewish primary school in Barnet, north London, parents were asked to contribute £895 per term.

However, the biggest single breach of the new statutory code involved the admission of children in care. A total of 58 schools were found to be refusing to give them priority in admissions, as demanded by law. In addition, 13 did not admit special-needs children at all. One school, Hasmonean primary – also in Barnet – was found to have breached the statutory code in 10 different ways. Read more

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Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Open Letter to Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, concerning the new Bishop of Sheffield

Your Grace,

I am writing as one of the signatories to the letter sent in January requesting a mission-minded, theologically-orthodox, parish-experienced bishop of Sheffield. I write as an Anglican by conviction not by convenience, who feels privileged to have benefited from the wonderful legacy of our English Reformers, who gave their lives for Christ.

I would like to add a perspective to the letter already sent (currently available for view at as the vicar of a small and therefore typical parish church in our diocese, who feels privileged to serve our Lord and Saviour in this context.

It is vitally important that our next episcopate is not perceived to be a satellite of the larger gathered churches in the wealthier areas of our diocese, particularly the south-west suburbia of Sheffield.

Small parish churches do have tremendous potential for growth under God but they are also under grave pressure financially and in terms of filling the volunteer posts required for viability. Small churches as far afield as Rotherham suffer from the phenomenon of Christians living in our parishes commuting to the larger churches on Sundays. In some cases these commuters will use the facilities of their local parish church during the week without any seeming regard for the mission for Christ of these churches. Their very presence at mid-week outreach groups such as mums and toddlers begs the question: ‘Why are you not supporting your local parish church?’

There is a grave danger that many parish churches in our diocese and in others around the country will be lost as witnesses to Christ in the coming decades. The consequence is that the Church of England could become a bourgeois religious club only represented in affluent suburbs, city centres with a high proportion of young urban professionals, and upmarket university towns (predominantly reaching independently-educated students).

This would be a massive tragedy for the spiritual life of our nation and a terrible waste of evangelistic potential. I appeal to you, together with your colleagues on the Crown Nominations Commission, to appoint a bishop who has a heart for the renewal of the parish system of the Church of the nation, serving as it currently does by God’s grace a diversity of communities for Christ.

Yours sincerely in His service,

Julian Mann

Oughtibridge Parish Church

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The Times: My gay husband: why it took so long for me to leave him

Dear Peter
I didn't intend sending you this letter, but to use it only as a means of catharsis and, possibly, a justification to myself for the leap in the not-so-dark I'll take once the house is sold and we start to live totally separately.

What made me change my mind was recalling that you said you were a little “confused” about my motives and reasons for such a serious step, radically changing a relationship that has spanned 40 years. You became angry and upset; yet you have often said in the past that you wouldn't be able to tolerate our situation, were the roles reversed. So may I plead a little confusion also?

Maybe the simplest way of looking at the separation is to think of it as part of an evolving process. First there was your revelation that you were gay (which took me many years to accept), then, later, our decision to combine your need for liberty and a degree of licence with your determination to remain at the core of the family. This led to your move away to live in London during the week and our children and friends accepted the explanation that you were under pressure at work. But the truth of course left me with all kinds of imaginings: what were you doing, who had you been with when you came home to me on a Friday night? Read more
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EV News: Welsh Synod fails to pass women bishops legislation

The General Synod of the Church in Wales has this afternoon rejected a motion to permit the consecration of women as Bishops.

As legislation the motion required a 2/3rd majority from each of the three houses of the Synod - Bishops, Clergy and Laity. The vote passed in the houses of Bishops and Laity but failed to secure a 2/3rds majority in the house of clergy as 18 voted against and 27 in favour (60% rather than 66.6%). Read more

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Barry Morgan: Women bishops essential to mission

(Ed: I think my headline is nearer to what he is saying than the Guardian's, "At odds with the gospel: Refusal to ordain female bishops is counter to core Christian values. We must stand up and say so today."

In an age when women have broken through the glass ceiling in most professions in Britain, it is strange that they still face discrimination in a church that believes there is "no male or female" in Christ. Women can become judges, surgeons, chief executives and heads of state, but in the Church in Wales - which waited until 1997 to ordain women as priests - they are as yet unable to become bishops.

I do not see how, having agreed to ordaining women to both the diaconate and priesthood, the church can logically exclude women from the episcopate. That is why I and my fellow bishops will be asking members of the church's legislative body today to vote in favour of a bill to allow women clerics to become bishops. It's a move that Anglican churches have made in other countries - Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and the US, though not yet England. I believe Wales is now willing to embrace this important change too. Read more

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The Way we Live Now: Former inspector praised by MPs is facing the sack for speaking to The Times

A police worker praised by MPs for protecting thousands of girls from forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight.

Philip Balmforth has been removed from his duties and faces a disciplinary hearing next week after giving an interview to The Times about Asian children who go missing from schools in Bradford.

The former police inspector, regarded as a national authority on “honour-based” violence, stands accused of “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent.

It is understood that the force, which has investigated 176 cases of forced marriage in the past year alone, took action against Mr Balmforth after receiving a complaint from Bradford council. Senior figures on the local authority are said to have claimed that his high-profile work was damaging the city’s image and was “bad for regeneration”. Read more
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Support and hear Bp Michael Nazir Ali at Ilford 'Three Faiths Forum'

Dear Friends,

On Friday 18th April, at 8.00pm at the Ilford Islamic Centre, Albert Road, Ilford, Bishop Michael Nazir Ali will be addressing an open meeting of the East London Three Faiths Forum.

The issues discussed with include his recent concerns regarding multiculturalism. The title of his address will be “Faith in a Plural Community”.

Bishop Michael has taken police advice about security and been advised it is safe to go. However it could be that there will be protests by Muslims against him either outside or in the meeting, to which Christians are welcome. It is being organised by Robert Hampson of Holy Trinity, Hermon Hill.

When Michael came to the Oxford Union in similar circumstances a few weeks ago, there was a substantial presence of Christians inside and outside the meeting. This made a tremendous difference.

To get to the Ilford Islamic Centre from Ilford Town Centre, go down Ilford Lane going south from the main roundabout on the town centre ring road. Then take the second on the right (Bedford Road), the first on the left (Cleveland Road), and then the first on the right (Albert Road). The mosque is immediately on your left and the Islamic centre on your right opposite the mosque. If you are coming by public transport, Albert Road runs parallel to Ilford High Road the other side (South side) of the Ring Road and quite near the Library.

I hope that some may be able to attend to support Bishop Michael.

Every blessing

Paul Harcourt
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Church in Wales gathers to decide if women can become bishops

THE governing body of the Church in Wales will today gather in Lampeter to decide whether or not to allow women priests to become bishops.

Opponents demand the appointment of a male bishop who will minister to parishes that decide they cannot accept the leadership of a woman.

A Select Committee has tabled amendments guaranteeing that no one who refuses to accept the authority of a woman bishop will face a disciplinary panel. Read more
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This is London: Women more troubled by bag theft than rape, BNP candidate claims

A senior BNP leader with a strong chance of winning a seat in the London Assembly next month has written that rape is a "myth" and that "some women are like gongs - they need to be struck regularly."

The Standard can reveal that Nick Eriksen, the BNP's London organiser and the second-highest candidate on its list for the Assembly, is the author of "Sir John Bull," a notorious far-Right blog which has regularly advocated hatred and abuse against women. The disclosure will be a serious blow to the BNP's hopes of London electoral success.

On 24 August 2005, Mr Eriksen wrote: "I've never understood why so many men have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the feminazi myth machine into believing that rape is such a serious crime ... Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal.

"To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that forcefeeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.

"The demonisation of rape is all part of the feminazi desire to obtain power and mastery over men. Men who go along with the rape myth are either morons or traitors."

On 5 November 2005, in an item entitled "Give her a slap!," Mr Eriksen approvingly quoted Noel Coward as saying: "Some women are like gongs - they need to be struck regularly." Read more
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Daily Mail: First wedding dress shop ONLY for pregnant brides opens

There was a time when a bride would do her best to hide the fact of being pregnant when she married.

But couture will always keep pace with social change.

And with more conceptions now taking place outside marriage than within, it was only a matter of time before someone filled this particular gap in the market.

Expectant Bride is a new service offering personal consultations to pregnant women planning to marry before the arrival. Read more

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Daily Mail: How rap music has gone from condemning drug use to glorifying it

The number of drug references in rap music has risen sixfold since the genre revolutionised pop music.

Researchers who analysed the lyrics of hundreds of songs say rap has been transformed from one which warned against the dangers of drug abuse to one that routinely glorifies it.

And because many of the references are coded, many parents are unaware what their children are listening to.

"Positive portrayals of drug use have increased over time, and drug references increased overall," said Dr Denise Herd, who led the study.

"This is an alarming trend as rap artists are role models for the nation's youth, especially in urban areas.

"Many of these young people are already at risk and need to get positive messages from the media."

Dr Herd looked for blatant and hidden references to drugs in 341 of the most popular rap songs released between 1979, when the genre was in its infancy, and 1997. Read more
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Daily Mail: BBC is too scared to allow jokes about Islam, says Ben Elton

(Ed: Apparently from an original interview in Third Way magazine.)

Comedian Ben Elton has said the BBC is too "scared" to poke fun at Islam.

He accused the broadcasting company of allowing programmes to run jokes about Christianity and vicars.

However, he claimed bosses were too politically correct and worried about a negative backlash to do the same about imams.

In an interview, Mr Elton, 48, who admits he has little religious faith, said: "I think it all starts with people nodding whenever anyone says, 'As a person of faith...

"I believe part of that is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam."

Referring to comic programmes such as The Vicar Of Dibley, starring Dawn French, he said: "There's no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass." Read more
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Guardian: US police foil primary school plot to attack teacher

he plot was meticulously prepared. The group was armed with a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape, and a glass paperweight, and members had been assigned specific roles including standing guard and cleaning up after the attack.

What shocked police officers as they moved in, acting on a tip-off, was the nature of the would-be attackers and their chosen victim. The group included nine primary school pupils, girls as well as boys, aged eight and nine; their apparent target was their schoolteacher in Georgia.

None of the children can be named, nor charged under Georgia law. But Tony Tanner, the local police chief, said the intended assault had been serious.

He told reporters: "We did not hear anybody say they intended to kill her, but could they have accidentally killed her? Absolutely." Read more
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Telegraph: Anti-homophobia books removed from schools

(Ed: Can't help observing the irony here, compared with the previous post. Alison Ruoff wants no more mosques, Muslims in Bristol succeed in doing what no group of Christian parents could have managed regarding a book on anti-homophobia for five-year-olds. Hmmm.)

Story books designed to discourage children from bullying homosexuals have been withdrawn from two primary schools after an outcry from predominantly Muslim parents, a council said yesterday.

The books were removed by Bristol City Council after parents complained that the anti-homophobia programme was not appropriate for many pupils and had been introduced without consultation.

The Council said that it had temporarily withdrawn teaching materials from Easton Primary School and Bannerman Road Community School and Children’s Centre so they could “meet their legal responsibilities and operate safely”.

One of the books, which was aimed at pupils as young as five, featured the story of a king who could not find a suitable woman to be his wife so he married a prince instead.

Members of Bristol Muslim Cultural Society in Bristol said parents were not outraged by the school’s anti-bullying policies but were frustrated by the lack of consultation.

Farooq Siddique, the community development officer for Bristol Muslim Cultural Society and a governor at Bannerman Road, said many schoolchildren - 70 per cent of whom are Muslim - were too young to define heterosexuality and homosexuality.

“The main issue was there was a total lack of consultation with parents. ... The schools refused to deal with the parents, and were completely authoritarian,” he said. Read more
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Telegraph: No more mosques, says senior Synod member

A senior lay member of the Church of England's "Parliament" has called for a ban on the building of more mosques in Britain.

Alison Ruoff, a long-standing member of the General Synod, said that new mosques should not be built in this country while Islamic states continued to persecute Christians.

The former magistrate, who was one of the strongest critics of the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on Islamic law earlier this year, added that sharia would be introduced into Britain "if we don't watch out".

Apart from being a Synod member, Mrs Ruoff, a conservative evangelical, also sits on the Bishop's Council, which advises the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. Read more
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The Way we Live Now: Parking fines: just you wait...

[...] For people whose deepest experience of the intrusive state is the apologetic 50p fine from the library for a late book, or the request from the GP that you bring little Charlie in for a second MMR jab, the new powers to trap will come as an angry shock. As will the size of the fines: motorists outside the capital do not have the spare cash that London drivers, who tend to be fairly wealthy, do. I love the fact that someone somewhere thought rebranding parking wardens as “civil enforcement officers” would do something to counteract the effect.

For there is, as any Londoner knows, something depressingly bullying about people willing you to trip up, wanting to catch you out. And a penalty notice by post, one that threatens another penalty if you do not pay up at once - what a dismal, soul-destroying thing that is. You cannot remember where you were that day, you do not recognise the street, you get the A-Z, you vaguely recall a bus pulling out and forcing you to swerve, and you're not sure so you shrug and pay up. It feels like extortion. Often, it is extortion.

It won't happen immediately, everywhere. But it will creep in around the country, as cash-strapped councils discover new ways to try to make ends meet. Catching unwitting motorists stopping where they shouldn't is an easy revenue-raiser. Read more

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Times: Arts funding row over sex orientation demands

Theatreland will have to give up its bedroom secrets in the quest for funding, under new Arts Council requirements. Organisations applying for grants are being asked to state how many board members are bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or whose inclinations are “not known”.

Audrey Roy, the director of grants, said that the council needed to understand who its audience was and to whom its funding was going. “We see diversity as broader than race, ethnicity, faith and disability,” she said. Question 22 of the Grants for the Arts forms, relating to sexual orientation, was not compulsory, she added, although the form states that it must be answered.

The question caused anger and bemusement among leading figures of the arts world yesterday. The Oscar-nominated actor Sir Ian McKellen, who is openly gay, said: “It sounds extraordinary. It shouldn’t be on a form. It’s quite inappropriate.” Read more
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Independent: Scientists create Britain's first hybrid embryos

Scientists confirmed last night that they have created human-animal "hybrid" embryos for the first time in Britain in an effort to develop new stem-cell treatments for disorders such as Parkinson's disease, stroke and diabetes.

The scientists merged human genetic material with cow egg cells that had most of their own genetic material removed. The resulting hybrid embryos were genetically 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent cow.

The research is still preliminary and has not yet been verified in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but scientists at Newcastle University insisted the results were valid, the hybrid embryos surviving for three days in the test tube. Read more
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Darwin Disproved

Ed: To anyone still looking for this item posted yesterday, the date was April 1st (All, or April, Fools' Day for our overseas visitors).

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Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Daily Mail: Lib Dem Lothario: Nick Clegg reveals he has slept with 'no more than 30' women

(Ed: Don't think this is an April Fool.)

Giving an honest answer to a blunt question is a rarity in politics.

Perhaps last night Nick Clegg was realising why.

The Liberal Democrat leader, who cultivates an image as a clean-cut family man, has given an extraordinary interview in which he discussed how many women he had slept with.

Mr Clegg, 41, said there were "no more than 30" notches on his bedpost before going on to rate his performance in bed.

As a lover, he is apparently "not particularly brilliant or particularly bad", he explained.

He also revealed that he is a millionaire "in asset terms" and discussed a drunken incident as a teenager when he and a friend set fire to a collection of rare cacti in Germany. Read more
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Guardian: Homophobia rife in British society, landmark equality survey finds

Ed: "Summerskill said he regarded the debate about the size of Britain's lesbian and gay population as having been settled by the Treasury's actuary department, which said it was 6%, or 3.6 million people."

Britain's 3.6 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people see themselves confronted by huge barriers of prejudice at every level of society, according to the first authoritative poll of their views.

The poll, commissioned by the equality charity Stonewall, which said some public bodies were too "smug" about their record on discrimination, indicates that the schoolyard is the most entrenched bastion of prejudice.

The YouGov poll of 1,658 gay adults found homophobic bullying in schools is more prevalent now than in previous decades. Around 30% of lesbian and gay people expect to encounter discrimination if they were to try to enrol a child at primary or secondary school, and 80% believe they would have difficulty if they were to apply to become a school governor.

The NHS, police and courts are doing better than the education system in combating discrimination. However, a significant minority of gay people expect to be treated less well at a GP surgery or during an emergency admission to hospital. Read more
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Monday, 31 March 2008

Guardian: My quest to get de-baptised

My plan for de-baptism started to formulate when travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. While reading Richard Dawkins' atheist polemic The God Delusion, I had a friendly argument with a Russian babushka about our differing beliefs in an Almighty (not an easy task, given the state of my Russian).

When I got home, my parents told me how difficult it was to get me baptised in the first place. The rector even came round for tea, presumably to see if I was the sort of baby acceptable to the Church of England. It seemed to me that my divorce from the church would hinge on getting my name taken off the baptism register.

I am an atheist, but for me there was also a political dimension: why should my name be placed on the church's record and be used as a statistic to claim political and social influence? Read more

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Independent: right-wing Christian group pays for Commons researchers

(Ed: Note that the Roman Catholic Church also runs a Parliamentary Internship scheme, though the charitable status may be different. The National Council for Voluntary Organizations, itself a charity, also seems to deploy parliamentary interns - as can be seen in this job advert, as does the English Speaking Union. Is this therefore, I wonder, an objection to charities deploying parliamentary interns or to Christians doing this?)

An evangelical Christian charity leading opposition to new laws on embryo research is funding interns in MPs' offices, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has discovered.

Christian Action, Research and Education (Care) faces inquiries into its lobbying activities by the Charity Commission and the House of Commons standards watchdog after accessing Parliament at the highest levels.

Twelve research assistants sponsored by Care are Commons pass-holders, allowing them unrestricted access to Westminster in the run-up to highly sensitive and potentially close votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill next month. At least two MPs face questions after they omitted to declare they have Care-sponsored staff. Read more

Also Editorial: An unsuitable case for charity
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Guardian: Pay-per-view service at crematorium

(Ed: That 'lay to rest' line is on a par with the BBC reporter saying messages from the Titanic were just the 'tip of the iceberg' of a museum's collection.)

A new "pay-per-view funerals" service will enable bereaved friends and relatives to watch proceedings on their computer screens if they cannot pay their respects in person.

Critics believe the webcasting of ceremonies from a suburban crematorium in the UK to the world is macabre. But from tomorrow, Southampton crematorium will begin the £75-per-family service.

The crematorium manager's, Trevor Mathieson, said he was keen to lay to rest the pay-per-view label. Read more
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The Telegraph: Muslims outnumber Catholics, Vatican says

Muslims now make up 19.2 per cent of the world's population, outnumbering Catholics at 17.2 per cent, according to the Vatican's 2008 yearbook of statistics.

"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer." Read more
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The Times: Weddings are off: marriage rate falls to lowest level for 144 years

The proportion of Britons choosing to marry is at the lowest level since the figure was first calculated in 1862.

Politicians and financial experts blamed the Government for the fall in the marriage rate, saying that the tax system encourages people to stay single. Academics said that young people were increasingly wary of commitment, and many preferred the freedom of the single lifestyle.

The data, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, reflects a steady decrease in the number of marriages, bar a brief rise between 2002 and 2004.

The 2006 figures show that the marriage rate for men was 22.8 per 1,000, and for women 20.5: the lowest rate in 144 years. And the number of marriages fell by 4 per cent in 2006 to 236,980, compared with just over 244,000 the previous year. There has not been a year with fewer marriages in England and Wales since 1895. Read more
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The Times: Who wants to kill the elderly? I'm still waiting to hear back from the Bishop of Durham

Last week, irked by what I saw as the use of wild exaggeration by church leaders in the embryology Bill debate, I challenged one of them - the Bishop of Durham - to justify one of his more outrageous claims. Tom Wright had accused the “militantly atheist and secularist lobby” behind the Bill (a Bill, as it happens, supported and sponsored by many practising Christians) of believing “that we have the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people.”

I didn't choose to quarrel with Dr Wright's characterisation of abortion. What I did ask for, however, was any evidence whatsoever that any significant secular or atheist body of opinion advocates “the right to kill surplus old people”.

Bishop Wright's reply to my challenge, carried on Thursday's letters page in The Times, was to refuse to reply to it until I had answered a further series of questions that he set for me. This is, of course, odd. A cynic might think that the Bishop was playing for time while a diocesan search squad parsed the texts of old Polly Toynbee columns looking for gerontocide.

So let me answer the Bishop's questions. Read more
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Southern Africa primate Thabo Makgoba enthroned in Cape Town

The Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba was enthroned as primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) on March 30 at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

Formerly bishop of the Diocese of Grahamstown, Makgoba was elected September 25, 2007 to succeed Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane who had served as ACSA's primate since 1996 and retired December 31, 2007.

Makgoba was "collated" as Archbishop of Cape Town on January 1. At 48, he is the youngest bishop ever to be elected to the office of Archbishop and Metropolitan in the ACSA. Read more
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The Times: Prepare for a shock BNP victory

[...] It is being said that the local elections on May 1 are a rather boring affair with the obvious exception of the battle between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson to be the mayor of London. The BNP, however, will be more interested in the Greater London Assembly than whether Red Ken or the Blue Blond wins control of the capital city. For the complex electoral method - the additional member system - used for the assembly means that any political party has a decent chance of winning one of the 25 seats at stake if it can accumulate 6 per cent or so of the vote in the party list section of the ballot paper.

This is far from an impossible target for the BNP. The last local by-election conducted in London was on March 20 at Gooshays in the Borough of Havering. The BNP had narrowly won it in May 2006 in something close to a statistical fluke but now had to defend it after the departure of its councillor. It was assumed that this might be a challenge for the BNP. Far from it. Its share of the vote went up from 28 per cent to 38 per cent. The Liberal Democrats, for the record, managed the singularly strange feat of finishing sixth. Read more
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