NSS supports international secularism conference in Paris

Secularists from around the world discussed separation of religion and state at a conference in France, which was supported by the National Secular Society.

The conference, entitled “Laïques de tous les pays, unissez-vous!” (“Laics of the world, unite!”), took place at Paris’s city hall (Hôtel de Ville) on Friday and Saturday. It was organised by Laïques Sans Frontières and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, with funding from the NSS, Charlie Hebdo and other secularist organisations.

Over 40 speakers from across the globe participated in panel discussions on themes including the importance of secularism to democracy, Iran’s uprisings, the rights of women and LGBT people, and the global threat of religious extremism.

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson joined the final panel on how secularists around the world can unite. She outlined the challenges to secularism in the UK, where the presence of an established church, clerics in the legislature, and religious influence in state funded schools means the UK cannot be called a secular state.

She said that while it is important for secularists around the world to work together to achieve their aims, secularism “cannot look the same everywhere” as each country has its own cultural and historical context requiring its own particular model of secularism. She said: “We must promote a positive picture of secularism that unites not only dye-in-the-wool secularists like us, but everyone.

“And that means a secularism tailored to the needs of the people it serves. A secularism which can instil national and civic pride, welcome diversity, allow dissenters to express themselves, and bring people together through shared cultural and universal values. A secularism that people are happy to claim as their own.”

At the end of the conference, the organisers launched the “Paris Appeal” affirming that “the separation of religions and the state protects the rights of all regardless of their personal convictions, be they atheists, believers or agnostics”. The NSS signed the appeal, which can be read in full here.

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “We are very proud to have supported this conference, which is more necessary than ever at a time where religious threats to democracy, freedom and equality around the world are all too grave.

“Coming together and sharing ideas with other secularist campaigners is crucial to making separation of religion and state a reality, both in the UK and around the world.”

Image: From the left – Mohamed Cheik Mkhaitir, political refugee from Mauritania; Martine Cerf, general secretary of EGALE; Megan Manson, NSS head of campaigns; Françoise Laborde, president of EGALE; Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-present of the Freedom from Religion Foundation; Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian sociologist.

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