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Unhappy with his parking lot

07 June 2013

THE usual problem this week: I write when all the church news, such as it is, will be old by the time you read this. In particular, all of the writhings around gay marriage ought to have been settled.

So, to set them all in proportion, some news of the National Secular Society. Not all that much has been heard from this tireless organisation since Pope Benedict's visit to the UK failed on every count to live up to the billing promised it by the NSS.

I still have up on my personal blog Terry Sanderson's comment from the autumn of 2010: "Andrew Brown says that the NSS's prediction of a cost of £20 million for the papal visit is 'risible'. . . I hadn't realised just how barking Mr Brown is."

Woof. The total cost was £10 million, with security costing around £1.5 million.

Since then, the NSS has scaled down its assault on the cost, if not the evils, of religion, and on Sunday it appeared outraged by £3. This is what atheists and, indeed, agnostics and pagans must pay if they go shopping in Woking on a Sunday without getting their tickets cancelled in a church.

Owen Bowcott in The Guardian quoted Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS: "The equal treatment of all, regardless of belief or non-belief, is a key secular principle. We have launched this challenge to preferential treatment of worshippers because it is neither legitimate nor lawful for local government to favour the activity of any faith (or non-faith) group through tax-funded subsidies."

I think I'd admire him more if he said it was not the principle of the thing: it was the large cappuccino that he had forgone which upset him. Woking Council is contesting the suit, on the grounds that there is a benefit to the community from people's attending services, equivalent, I assume, to at least £3.01 a head. It's nice to put a figure on these things.

THE other story of petty anti-religious sentiment came from The Independent, which reports that Orthodox Jews have been forced from their summer camp at the University of Aberystwyth by a ruling against candles.

"This summer, university authorities have said the holidaymakers are no longer allowed to light candles in the Pentre Jane Morgan campus of more than 100 properties as they have done every Friday night to usher in Shabbat - the Jewish day of rest.

"One holidaymaker, Mrs Brander, said: 'We have found a holder to make each candle safer. We offered to discuss it with the fire brigade, but the university was not interested.'

"A spokesman for Aberystwyth University said it had taken legal advice and consulted its own health and safety advisors and fire brigade. 'The university . . . would be delighted to welcome this group back, as long as they are able to sign our terms and conditions,' he said." This might just be a case of bureaucratic silliness, but I suspect something nastier. 

THE Telegraph, meanwhile, had a piece of rather discomfiting original reporting by Andrew Gilligan, examining the figure widely accepted of 212 "anti-Muslim incidents" since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.  "Yet the unending 'cycle of violence' against Muslims, the unprecedented 'wave of attacks' against them from strangers in the street, the 'underlying Islamophobia in our society' - all turn out to be yet more things we thought we knew about Woolwich that are not really supported by the evidence.

"Tell Mama confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that about 120 of its 212 'anti-Muslim incidents' - 57 per cent - took place only online. They were offensive postings on Twitter or Facebook, or comments on blogs: nasty and undesirable, certainly, but some way from violence or physical harm and often, indeed, legal. Not all the offending tweets and postings, it turns out, even originated in Britain."

Only 17 of the cases involved individuals' being physically targeted. There is history behind this story: Tell Mama has links with the East London Mosque, which Andrew Gilligan has written about in the past. And there is widespread prejudice against Muslims in this country. None the less, it suggests that the most important response to the Woolwich atrocity was not a wave of anti-Muslim attacks, but the York mosque that disarmed criticism by inviting strangers in for tea.

Oh dear. I have run out of space to say all the important and original things about gay marriage which I had planned.

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