Do you agree with the following statements about the meaning of life?
1. Scientific and other evidence is the best way of understanding the universe, as opposed to religious belief.
2. Right and wrong can be explained by human nature alone and do not require religious teaching.
3. What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world.
A recent MORI poll for the British Humanist Association showed that over a third of the UK population (17 million people) agree with the sentiments above. Yet in many important areas of social and public life these views are under-represented, or worse they are being misrepresented.
The British Humanist Association helps people who seek to live a good life without religious or superstitious beliefs. We provide educational resources and represent the humanist viewpoint in public debate. We campaign on major issues affecting British society, such as the increase in faith schools, the continued presence of 26 bishops in the House of Lords and the legal requirement that school assemblies should include religious worship.
We believe that religious viewpoints have a disproportionate influence on public policy. With the current government plans to contract out more public services to religious groups, this influence is set to grow. Our aim is to stop this.
Our vision is a world without religious privilege or discrimination, where people are free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values.
The Local Development Project exists because the BHA believes that there is a lack of representation in some areas for humanists and non-religious people. Our experience shows that local authorities communicate with their citizens about diversity, equalities and social cohesion via a complex web of forums, networks and consultations. These feed into higher level organisations eventually reaching national bodies.
At a local level, the non-religious are often left out of this dialogue due to lack of organised and recognised systems of communication and lack of recourses. In many cases local authorities do not even consider including humanists and non-religious people as they are not considered to have any distinct needs as a group; unlike ethnic minorities or the religious.
However, this leads to a gap in knowledge at local level and exclusion of humanists and non-religious people from decision making bodies. It can also lead to a lot of support for interfaith work which helps to add to cohesion between faiths but does not add to dialogue between the religious and the non-religious.
Therefore, the local development project aims to:
. identify how humanists and non-religious people might contribute effectively to the work of equality bodies and networks, including groups which discuss religion and belief issues, within local authority areas
. identify how humanists and the non-religious might engage with relevant local government bodies
. set up and maintain a network of humanists and non-religious people to represent the policies of the BHA in their local area
. represent the views of humanists and the non-religious on bodies which take part in local discourse around religion and belief issues
. engage representatives of humanists and other non-religious people within local activity
o Recruiting individuals around the country who are interested in taking on an active role in their locality for the BHA. In some areas these individuals may already exist and will be working with their existing local groups. However, in other areas, there is no group or the group is not active locally.
o Setting up these individuals in a network supported by a dedicated staff member. This includes a web forum, contacting each other and their local group if they have one, an e-newsletter and occasional visits from BHA staff. In addition, 5 regional training workshops were run for the network to train volunteers in listening techniques and networking.
The Local Campaigns Officer will co-ordinate activities and contact all local authorities and interfaith organisations. Local authorities will be given written guidance on working with humanists and non-religious people and how to include them.