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Nov 25 2013

Rory Fenton condemns

At the New Humanist, Rory Fenton says no thank you.

It is astounding how quickly we forget or wilfully ignore that human rights are there to protect people – not beliefs. At the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, of which I’m president, we increasingly see this confused notion of rights being applied on UK campuses. Whether it’s our student groups intimidated for “blasphemy”, as at LSE and Reading, or religious societies refusing unmarried women permission to speak, as at Bristol, this trumping of individual rights by the supposed rights of “beliefs” is increasingly common.

…nestled in the report was a bizarre and backward recommendation; universities should be willing to enforce sex segregation between male and female audience members if a speaker requests it.

The report’s peculiar logic ran as follows: speakers have the right to free speech but if their demands for sex segregation are not met they will refuse to speak. Therefore to not enforce sex segregation is to deny the speakers’ freedom of speech. The report is careful only to endorse the ‘nice’ kind of segregation with men and women split on the left and right hand sides of a lecture theatre rather than front and back, the logic here being that men and women are being treated ‘equally separately’, whatever that means.

That it’s equally insulting to both of them?

That wouldn’t be much of a recommendation if it were true, but it’s not true. So yeah, whatever does that mean?

This logic has echoes of the old racially segregated Deep South of the United States; separate but equal. To argue that segregation is not inherently unequal is to fail to see just why men and women are being kept apart in the first place; this drive for segregation stems from ideologies that view women as very much inferior to men. To allow these ideologies power in UK universities is to betray hard-won individual rights and the principle that in public spaces all must be treated equally. Separate is never equal.

That is correct. And it makes me very, very angry that UK university vice-chancellors are just flinging all that away.

The report goes as far as to say that non-religious beliefs, such as feminism, should take second place to “sincerely held” religious beliefs. That’s right; the mere fact that they are religious makes some beliefs more important than others because, of course, Feminist can’t be sincere in their beliefs.

Because those “beliefs” are secular, so they can’t be “sincerely held.” They can only be held, loosely and kind of sloppily, the way secular people do.

The Universities UK report focuses on sex because it’s an issue that has come up before but there is no reason for its logic to stop there. If a racist is invited to speak – should he not have the audience forcibly segregated into whites and non-whites? What if his beliefs are really “sincerely held”? Could the EDL insist on all Muslim students sitting separately? Of course Universities UK would never support this.

Just what I keep saying! I said it on their horrible blog post, too. I hope they (or rather, Nicola Dandridge) answer (answers).

19 comments

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  1. 1
    John Morales

    I hope they (or rather, Nicola Dandridge) answer (answers).

    To belabour the obvious, sometimes “silence is louder than words”.

  2. 2
    helensotiriadis

    these university vice-chancellors… what good is their education and position doing them — and the world — if they can be so infuriatingly blind to the immorality of these actions?

  3. 3
    Carmichael

    Idiotic beliefs don’t magically become less idiotic because they’re “sincerely held”. It’s actually worse if they are sincerely held. “I think God wants men and women to be segregated at public events, but I’m not sure. Let’s look at the evidence.” That at least gives us something to work with.

  4. 4
    naturalcynic

    It’s the speaker’s choice as to what is more important: the message or the audience. If having the audience segregated is more than the message, then the message just can’t be worthwhile.

  5. 5
    Bjarte Foshaug
    The report goes as far as to say that non-religious beliefs, such as feminism, should take second place to “sincerely held” religious beliefs. That’s right; the mere fact that they are religious makes some beliefs more important than others because, of course, Feminist can’t be sincere in their beliefs.

    Because those “beliefs” are secular…

    …as in “based on actual reasons”. And as everyone knows, to be worthy of respect beliefs must be “deeply held“, as in “unjustified”. The reason being that two wrongs make a right…

  6. 6
    John Morales

    Bjarte @5,

    [those “beliefs” are secular…] …as in “based on actual reasons”.

    No.

    </pedantry>

  7. 7
    Aliasalpha

    I say have some fun with it, organise speakers to make increasingly absurd segregation demands until they get the message. Every student with a D in their surname (but NOT if they also have one in their first name) must be seated in a chair facing south south west unless it’s a Thursday when they can be seated normally but must wear campus provided jumpers that feature a picture of pandas eating corn but using those little corn cob holders

  8. 8
    Johnny Vector

    But don’t you see? Jesus is the lamb of God and all, so holding beliefs about religion is like a nice shepherd’s pie. You might burn your hands, but other than that you can totally hold it sincerely. Whereas feminism, well, feminism is more a type of soup, which runs right through your fingers and slops all over the floor. So checkmate! And I know that’s true because don’t argue with my metaphors!

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    You know, when I was religious, my ***sincerely held religious belief*** included feminism. So, as an attendee at one of these things, wouldn’t the speaker be trampling all over my SACRED religious belief* to insist that I be treated as unclean?

    *As opposed to just my regular human rights as they would be doing now.

  10. 10
    ludicrous

    Yeah, and some of those women could be menstruating, sitting next to one of them could make your dick bleed or fall off.

  11. 11
    Shatterface

    The report goes as far as to say that non-religious beliefs, such as feminism, should take second place to “sincerely held” religious beliefs

    I think sincerely held beliefs in things that are objectively true (such as men and women being equal) should take precedence over beliefs that are objectively fals (big Beardy man in Sky)

    In fact, a half-hearted belief in something that might be objectively true should take precedence over an absolute conviction in a belief which is horseshit.

  12. 12
    maddog1129

    If a racist is invited to speak – should he not have the audience forcibly segregated into whites and non-whites? What if his beliefs are really “sincerely held”? Could the EDL insist on all Muslim students sitting separately? Of course Universities UK would never support this.

    I’m not too sure they wouldn’t.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    John Morales @ 6, honestly, that’s not pedantry, it’s just missing the point. Isn’t it obvious that Bjarte didn’t mean “based on actual reasons” is the definition of secular but that it follows from secularism?

    Someone else (I forget who) did the same thing just a few days ago – “corrected” a point about the implications of a word or phrase by offering a dictionary link. Oy.

  14. 14
    Artemis

    The report’s peculiar logic ran as follows: speakers have the right to free speech but if their demands for sex segregation are not met they will refuse to speak. Therefore to not enforce sex segregation is to deny the speakers’ freedom of speech.

    This is a brilliant argument right here. Let’s see:
    I have the right to free speech but if Universities UK doesn’t send me a million dollars I will refuse to speak. Therefore, them not sending me the money is to deny me my freedom of speech.

    I hope they stop oppressing me and give me my money!

  15. 15
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Ophelia @6, no, it’s not obvious to me.

  16. 16
    Mary L

    The students could employ the “nice kind of censorship” and not attend.

  17. 17
    Bjarte Foshaug

    @John Morales #6, #15
    Yes, yes, yes… I am aware that “secularism” relates to church state separation and the absence of any religious bias from politics. My point wasn’t to get into a semantic debate regarding the definition of “secular”. What I was trying to get at was the absurdity of treating beliefs as especially worthy of respect if they’re held for bad/non-existing reasons (a.k.a. “faith”).

  18. 18
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Thanks, Bjarte.

    I rather think that you, I and Ophelia (and hopefully most readers) share the same opinion about such absurdity.

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    John – mkay. Sorry if I was rude. Maybe it’s a matter of idiom – “as in” is idiomatic shorthand for “one of the implications being” or some such. Ironic, when Bjarte is in fact (if I remember correctly) Norwegian, but there you go.

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