Religion news 18 February

Image credit: Church of England

Seventeen organisations boycott review of Prevent strategy

Seventeen organisations are boycotting the review of the government’s Prevent strategy, in protest at the appointment of William Shawcross as its leader. Among many public appointments, he was chairman of the Charity Commission and director of the Henry Jackson Society, and he has been criticised for remarks about Islam. The organisations include MEND, Amnesty International, Liberty, and the Runnymede Trust. In a joint statement, they say his appointment undermines the credibility of the review and proves the government lacks the political will to carry out an impartial and objective review. The Guardian quotes the Home Office saying that Mr Shawcross met the criteria and possessed the right range of skills and experience: “It is false and disingenuous to say that Prevent disproportionately targets Muslims. It plays an essential role in stopping vulnerable people being drawn into all forms of terrorism, with safeguarding at its heart. It is important that this review is conducted so this vital programme continues to improve.”

MP supports right of Sikh farmers in India to protest

Thousands of farmers in India have been protesting for more than six months against three agricultural laws passed by the Indian government. Most of them are Sikh and from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana and they have set up camp on the outskirts of Delhi in their tractor trailers, with kitchens, shops and libraries. The protests have particular resonance in the UK, where most of the Sikh community are still connected to their ancestral homes with families owning farms and working the land. Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough, says more than 100 cross-party MPs have called on the government to raise their concerns with the Indian prime minister. Full story here

Complaints to BBC over ‘strikingly hostile’ interview with Muslim leader

More than 100 people have signed an open letter to the BBC, complaining about an interview on Woman’s Hour with Zara Mohammed, 29, the new secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. She was asked by the presenter, Emma Barnett, to talk about the number of female imams in the UK, but replied that her role was organisational not theological and the matter was not in her remit. The complainants said the interview was “strikingly hostile”, and one of the signatories said the interview was a symptom of a wider cultural problem within the BBC and the media when it came to the representation of Muslims. The Guardian‘s story here

Accusations of abuse in Catholic church increase 29 per cent in one year

The annual report of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission discloses that the number of people accused of abuse in the church in England and Wales rose by 29 per cent in 2019 compared with the previous year. It says 28 per cent of complaints were against priests and most concerned sex. The majority of victims came forward after many years — between 19 and 69 years after the event. Survivors say victims are still met with responses devoid of integrity or compassion and lives are still being broken.

Actress loses employment tribunal case over views on sexuality

Seyi Omooba , a 26-year-old actress, has lost her employment tribunal case against Leicester Theatre Trust and her former agents, who sacked her after discovering her Facebook post saying she did not believe homosexuality was right. The tribunal found the theatre dropped her from the role because of the strong reaction and negative publicity to her views, and not because of the religious views themselves. She had been due to play Celie in The Color Purple, who is sometimes depicted as a lesbian character. Her claim was supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which her father, Pastor Ade Omooba, founded. Its director Andrea Williams, told Premier Christian radio that the judges and lawyers did not understand what she meant and that the judgment was “an attack on Jesus Christ”.

Instagram creates virtual Ash Wednesday ritual

The Church of England has reinvented the mark of the cross, traditionally placed on the forehead during the Ash Wednesday liturgy by a priest using ash and oil, with a virtual sign. The design can be superimposed on facial images using an Instagram filter and is among a collection of virtual replacements for traditional liturgy in the season of Lent, which started yesterday and leads to Easter. Lent liturgy can now be celebrated at home and online, as many churches remain closed for public worship because of the pandemic.