News Roundup

Child protective restrictions put into new UK Sex Ed guidelines

Explicit age limits will appear for the first time in statutory guidance issued to schools in the UK covering relationships, sex education and health.

Children in primary school will not be taught sex education until they are in Year 5 — aged nine — while discussion about explicit sexual acts will not take place until children are 13.

Teachers will also be banned from giving children lessons about gender identity — the idea that children can have a sexual identity unrelated to their biological sex, adopt different pronouns, names and wear uniforms of the opposite sex.

The move represents an attempt to deal with concerns that some children are being exposed to sensitive information when they are not ready for it.

When children are first taught any sex education, in Year 5, when nine years old, it should be in line with the science curriculum, with a factual approach teaching children about conception and birth.

Parents will need to be consulted about anything that children are taught. The guidance is explicit that primary school children should not be taught about pornography.


Swiss clinic apologises to family after providing ‘assisted dying’ in secret to British man

A clinic in Switzerland which provides assisted suicide to hundreds of people each year has apologised to the mother of a British man who took his own life without his family’s knowledge.

Following an ITV News investigation, Pegasos said it would change its procedures to ensure that relatives were always informed in future.

Forty-seven-year-old Alastair Hamilton told his mother he was flying to Paris last August, but instead travelled to Basel where he took a lethal dose of drugs.

As Judith Hamilton, 82, waved him off to the airport, she says her son told her: “He put his arms around me, looked me straight in the eyes and he was smiling. And he said ‘love you, mum, love you lots, always have, always will no matter what’.”

The chemistry teacher had dramatically lost weight and complained of stomach problems in the months leading up to his death, but did not have a diagnosed illness.

His family had been supporting him in seeking medical help and had no idea he was actually travelling to Switzerland to end his life.


Reduce divorce waiting period to six months, says Green TD

The waiting period before a couple can divorce would be lowered from two years to six months under proposed new legislation.

Green Party TD Patrick Costello will introduce a bill to amend the minimum period of separation, which was already reduced from four years to two in 2019.

Mr Costello said the move to two years “does not go far enough”.

When the constitutional prohibition on divorce was removed following a referendum in 1995, a minimum period of four years was required to access divorce—a clause which was written into the Constitution.

In 2016, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan proposed a referendum that would remove the four year wait and replace it, in the text of the Constitution, with a two year wait.

However, in 2019, the Government decided for a referendum that would delete the length of the waiting period entirely from the constitution and leave it up to the Oireachtas to decide what it should be.

They also said they would introduce legislation that would set the waiting period at two years.

The referendum was subsequently passed by a large majority.


US Government agency condemns UK silent prayer arrest

A U.S. federal government commission has criticised the recent arrest of a silently praying Christian in Birmingham, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, in its annual international report.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was established as part of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which mandates that U.S. policy includes condemning violations of religious freedom abroad and assisting foreign governments to protect this fundamental human right. Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The 2024 annual report highlighted the high-profile arrest of Vaughan-Spruce as an example of European governments “targeting individuals for their peaceful religious expression”.

Responding to the news, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce said:

“Arresting individuals for silent prayer has put Britain in a position of global embarrassment. Nobody should be criminalised for their mere thoughts – this is a basic principle of a liberal democracy. If we can’t get that right at home, how are we meant to uphold human rights on the world stage?”


Hate speech bill ‘on the rocks’, says political analyst

A showdown within Government is expected on hate speech legislation that could result in the bill being shelved, according to a leading political analyst.

The Irish Times’s Political editor, Pat Leahy reports that sections of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary parties are “dead set against” the hate speech elements of the bill, despite the Green Party saying it remains a “key commitment in the Programme for Government.”

One Government insider is reported as saying that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael TDs and Senators are “near unanimous” in there opposition and there will be “uproar” if it’s pushed forward.

“This law will not be enacted,” the source told Leahy. “The question is how much harm the parties will inflict on themselves before accepting that.”

Concerning the substance of the bill, Leahy said he has repeatedly asked what the bill would make illegal to say in future that it is not currently illegal, given that there is already legislation criminalising incitement to hatred.

He reports that no answer was forthcoming.

He also noted that Senator Michael McDowell has asked the Department of Justice “what is intended by the term ‘transgender’ and the phrase ‘a gender other than those of male and female’” in the definitions of the Bill. That also has been left unanswered.

Leahy commented: “It would be hard, I promise you, to overstate the lack of enthusiasm in Government for a debate on how many genders there are”.


‘Surge’ in Pakistan of forcible conversion and marriage of girls to Muslim men

There has been a sharp increase in cases of abductions, rapes, forced conversions, and forced marriages of young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan in the first four months of this year, according to reports in local press.

The lack of accountability for perpetrators has been blamed for a surge in these types of crimes.

The Associated Press reported in 2020 that such crimes are endemic to Pakistan where each year, nearly 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam, largely to pave the way for underage marriages that are non-consensual.

On 11 April 2024, UN experts expressed dismay at the continuing lack of protection for young women and girls belonging to minority communities in Pakistan. The UN Office of the High Commissioner summarized their report:

“Christian and Hindu girls remain particularly vulnerable to forced religious conversion, abduction, trafficking, child, early and forced marriage, domestic servitude and sexual violence,” the experts said. “The exposure of young women and girls belonging to religious minority communities to such heinous human rights violations and the impunity of such crimes can no longer be tolerated or justified.”


HSE spends €8.5m on abortion-inducing drugs

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has spent more than €8.5 million on abortion pills in the first four years since abortion was legalised in 2019, according to a report in the Irish Mirror.

Nearly 27,700 women accessed drug-induced abortions through the HSE between the beginning of 2019 and the end of 2022. The figures do not include surgical abortions conducted in hospitals which number in the hundreds each year. They generally take place after the 12th week of pregnancy.

A total of 12,420 abortion pills in the four year period were accessed by women in Dublin city and county, representing 45% of the overall number, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The number of drug-induced abortions accessed through the HSE increased during the first four years since the procedure was legalised from 6,017 in 2019 to 8,595 in 2022. Data for last year is not yet available.

The annual cost of providing abortion pills for the procedures – mifepristone and misoprostol – also increased during that period from just under €1.85 million to nearly €2.7 million.


Lib Dems ‘broke equality laws’ over deselection of Christian candidate

The Liberal Democrats have been accused of deselecting a candidate based on his Christian faith in a breach of equality law.

Members have reported the party to the equalities watchdog over accusations that the party has tolerated a “hostile environment” for people of faith, failed to investigate serious allegations of discrimination and harassment and “emboldened those who believe Christians should be driven out of public life”.

The complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concerns the treatment of David Campanale, an Anglican and award-winning former BBC journalist, who is set to be replaced as a prospective MP candidate for Sutton and Cheam after a two-year campaign against him by members of his local party and a number of LGBT activists.

Party members supporting him are now calling on the EHRC to launch an independent investigation into “multiple alleged breaches of equality law and our party constitution”.


‘Urgent need’ to tackle Catholic ethos decline among younger teachers

There is an urgent need for a co-ordinated response to the decline in young teachers’ commitment to teaching the Catholic faith, according to a leading educationalist.

Addressing the annual meeting of the Joint Managerial Body, the umbrella organisation for faith-based secondary schools in Ireland, Professor Eamonn Conway of the University of Notre Dame Australia said that three out of ten teachers under 29 years of age report not “witnessing” to Catholic ethos at all or doing so only to a limited extent.

This, he said, requires a “whole sector approach across primary, secondary and tertiary levels to re-position Catholic education confidently”.

“A surprising number of teachers are still open to an intelligent articulation of the Catholic faith but need to be provided with attractive opportunities both for personal spiritual formation as well as continuing professional development.”

Professor Conway, who is also a priest, said teachers are increasingly experiencing work overload and burnout, and which he said is evidence of a “technocratic paradigm”.

This, “devalues human beings, sees only technocratic solutions to every difficulty and must be resisted above all in Catholic educational contexts.”


Court protects Religious Education in NI, but ‘more attacks likely’

A ruling in favour of Religious Education (RE) by the Court of Appeal in Belfast last week has been welcomed by a member of Aontu, though she warned that more attacks will come.

‘Humanist’ parents had taken a case against State-run schools which provide only Christian-based RE on the grounds that excluding other worldviews breached their child’s human rights.

While the appeal court affirmed that such RE lacked a degree of critical objectivity, the judges ruled it did not amount to ‘indoctrination’ as the parents had full liberty to remove their children from RE class if they so wished.

Aontú Deputy Leader, and teacher, Gemma Brolly it’s “very welcome news because we’re living in a society where we’re constantly coming under attack for our Faith”.

“We have some of the highest standards pastorally and academically across the world. Yet we constantly hear in the North that it’s almost as if we’re standing children in the corner and driving Faith down their throats and it’s the complete opposite.

“As much as it is very welcome news, unfortunately I don’t think it will end or that it will be the last we’ll experience of discrimination or attacks because of our Faith,” she said.

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