Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.
Separation of religion from state
The separation of religion and state is the foundation of secularism. It ensures that religious groups don't interfere in affairs of state, and makes sure the state doesn't interfere in religious affairs.
In the United Kingdom there are officially two state recognised Christian denominations - the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Queen is both head of state and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. There is no established church in Northern Ireland or Wales but the 26 unelected bishops of the Church of England who sit in the House of Lords influence laws that affect the whole of the UK.
Christianity is one major influence among many that shape our current ways of life; we are a nation of many denominations and religions and large sectors of the population do not hold, or practise, religious beliefs.
If Britain were truly a secular democracy, political structures would reflect the reality of changing times by separating religion from the state.
Secularism protects both believers and non-believers
Secularism seeks to ensure and protect freedom of religious belief and practice for all citizens. Secularism is not about curtailing religious freedoms; it is about ensuring that the freedoms of thought and conscience apply equally to all believers and non-believers alike.
Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion.
Secularism is about democracy and fairness
In a secular democracy all citizens are equal before the law and parliament. No religious or political affiliation gives advantages or disadvantages and religious believers are citizens with the same rights and obligations as anyone else.
Secularism champions human rights above discriminatory religious demands. It upholds equality laws that protect women, LGBT people and minorities. These equality laws ensure that non-believers have the same rights as those who identify with a religious or philosophical belief.
Equal access to public services
We all share hospitals, schools, the police and the services of local authorities. It is essential that these public services are secular at the point of use so that no-one is disadvantaged or denied access on grounds of religious belief (or non-belief.) All state-funded schools should be non-religious in character, with children being educated together regardless of their parents' religion. When a public body grants a contract for the provision of services to an organisation affiliated to a particular religion or belief, such services must be delivered in a neutral manner, with no attempt to promote the ideas of that faith group.
Secularism is not atheism
Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. Secularism simply provides a framework for a democratic society. Atheists have an obvious interest in supporting secularism, but secularism itself does not seek to challenge the tenets of any particular religion or belief, neither does it seek to impose atheism on anyone.
Secularism is simply a framework for ensuring equality throughout society - in politics, education, the law and elsewhere, for believers and non-believers alike.
Secularism protects free speech and expression
Religious people have the right to express their beliefs publicly but so do those who oppose or question those beliefs. Religious beliefs, ideas and organisations must not enjoy privileged protection from the right to freedom of expression. In a democracy, all ideas and beliefs must be open to discussion. Individuals have rights, ideas do not.
Secularism is the best chance we have to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and peacefully.Secularism from the British Humanist Association.
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.
British Humanist Association The BHA.
The BHA works on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical lives on the basis of reason and humanity. We promote Humanism, a secular state, and equal treatment of everyone regardless of religion or belief.
Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence, and reason to discover truths about the universe and have placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.
Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists and this combination of attitudes is called Humanism. Many millions of people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word 'humanist' and don't realise that it describes what they believe.
It is one of the main purposes of the British Humanist Association to increase public awareness of what Humanism is, and to let the many millions of non-religious people in this country know that, far from being somehow deficient in their values, they have an outlook on life which is coherent and widely-shared, which has inspired some of the world's greatest artists, writers, scientists, philosophers and social reformers, and which has a millenia-long tradition in both the western and eastern worlds.
We also hope to give greater confidence to people whose beliefs are humanist by offering resources here and elsewhere that can develop their knowledge of humanist approaches to some of the big ethical, philosophical and existential questions in life.
Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:
British Humanist Association
Humanist Society of Scotland
National Secular Society
Atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. Atheists see no arguments and evidence for the existence of a supreme being or supreme beings.
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of religion is the philosophical study of the meaning and nature of religion. It includes the analyses of religious concepts, beliefs, terms, arguments, and practices of religious adherents.
Religion is a belief system that includes a god or gods. There are and have been many religions. Within each their are sub-sets of beliefs, usually referred to as denominations.
They're heavily veiled, believe in polygamy and have to follow thousands of rules. Yet increasing numbers of young and educated British women are converting.
Rasheed Benyahia was in a hurry. Like so many young adults going places in Britain today, he needed to get a move on.
When he said that he had only himself to blame for the death threats and abuse, he epitomised how morally redundant this whole controversy has become.
The castigation of a British gymnast for 'mocking Islam' is illustrative of a troubling return of blasphemy, argues Stephen Evans.
As someone who works full-time to promote political secularism, to see what is now happening in France defended in these terms is deeply troubling.
The BBC and Demos have published an accidental case-study in why we should all stop using the meaningless and sinister word 'Islamophobia'.