Chief Rabbi accuses British Humanists of 'intolerance' over faith schools and circumcision

'If it is freedom you seek, please do not campaign against our freedom to practice our faith'


The chief rabbi has criticised Humanists in Britain for their attacks on faith schools and circumcision, calling for them not to “stoop to intolerance of faith communities and religious practice.”

In a speech given at an international interfaith conference held in Madrid this week, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke of his concern that Humanism is becoming “ever-more combative in the way in which it regards faith communities".

Restricting his comments to the Humanist movement in the UK, the chief rabbi said: “We are finding that, often, Humanism, and other secularist approaches, seek out opportunities to attack faith.”

He said the Humanist UK website describes campaigning against faith schools as an “aim for a secular state”.

Rabbi Mirvis added: “Those Humanists who campaign against the existence of faith schools are in effect campaigning against my freedom to raise my children in accordance with the tenets of my faith.

“Do I not have the right to educate my children in accordance with the values that I hold dear? Do I not have the right to teach them to be proud of their heritage so that hopefully they will, in turn, teach it to their children?”

The chief rabbi also took aim at the National Secular Society, saying that, regarding circumcision, the organisation’s chief executive had written: “The demand for religious freedom to be respected is often little more than a demand for the state to turn a blind eye to the violation of other’s rights and freedoms when done in the name of religion."

The chief rabbi described circumcision within Judaism as “the sign of our covenantal relationship with God".

He continued: "For Jewish men, it is an essential part of our existence. An attack against our right to perform circumcision is an attack against a most fundamental element of our belief.”

He urged Humanists in the UK “in friendship and with respect” to live their lives “according to the values you hold dear.

“However, if it is freedom you seek, please do not campaign against our freedom to practice our faith. If you are calling for tolerance, please do not stoop to intolerance of faith communities and religious practice.

"If you wish to prevent religion from imposing its values on our society, please don’t do just that, by seeking to impose Humanism on our society.”

In response, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said he did not “believe that [Rabbi Mirvis'} words are fair, nor that they reflect any attempt to engage either with our principles or our work.

 “The organisation works with many religious groups with whom we share liberal social values and indeed the coalition we co-founded for the reform of faith schools was chaired by a rabbi.

“We are ready to engage likewise with the Rabbi Mirvis at any time to explore what we share and how we can work together towards any shared goals and in the cause of greater mutual understanding.”

National Secular Society Chief Executive Stephen Evans said: “The chief rabbi is entitled to his view, but in a democratic society campaigns against religious violations of individual rights and freedoms must not be silenced.

"Religious practices aren’t beyond reproach and religious groups shouldn’t be given a free pass to carry out harmful practices.

“Secularists seek to ensure that the right to religious freedom is always balanced against other considerations, including the protection of children. People from all religious backgrounds and none should be able to unite behind that principle.”

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