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Poll: Should Suffolk schools receive ‘atheist handbook’ from British Humanist Association?

11:32 04 May 2014

The Young Atheist

The Young Atheist's Handbook

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Secondary schools in Suffolk are to receive a copy The Young Atheist’s Handbook, as part of a national campaign by the British Humanist Association.

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The book, subtitled ‘Lessons For Living A Good Life Without God’, is written by science teacher Alom Shaha, who was raised a Muslim in the Bangladeshi community in south-east London before becoming an atheist.

Margaret Nelson, a member of the Suffolk Humanists and Secularists, said the move wasn’t in response to David Cameron’s insistence that Britain is a Christian country but had been planned for a long time.

The £11,000 cost of buying and distributing the books was raised by voluntary donations.

Ms Nelson said having the books in the library would provide a resource to inquisitive youngsters.

“It’s about finding out things for yourself, working out your own values and not necessarily accepting the religion that you’re handed down by your family or community,” she said.

“A few years back now I was involved with a group of youngsters at Kesgrave High School who took part in making a film for schools, the particular film was called ‘Why Atheism?’

“They were very thoughtful and very honest. I got the impression that most of them had given a lot of thought to what they had learnt in school and, although they were interested, none of it applied to them.

“They worked things out their own way and rejected religion. It’s not a surprise to me but it seems to be a surprise to a lot of older people who think we are proselytising to them to reject religion. They’re already doing it anyway.”

Geoff Barton, the headmaster of King Edward VI Church of England school in Bury St Edmunds, said they were “relaxed” about the book which was an “interesting and provocative read”.

“We want young people to understand the importance of belief and faith whatever their religion and it seems to me that part of what we should be doing is understanding that people reject faith and why they do that.”

The book, he said, “contributes to the kind of debating culture we should have here.”

The vicar of St Mary le Tower Church in Ipswich, Charles Jenkin, said: “Everybody has a right to express and promote their views and the thing is to have a lively debate.”

While Fr Leeder of St Pancras Catholic Church in Ipswich said: “I think at the end of the day it’s up to each school what books they put in their library. I hope no Catholic school would put such a book in its library.”

He added: “It seems a little bit of a cheek if every Tom, Dick or Harry who had a bee in his bonnet and wrote a book and sent it to a school expected them to include it. Why should any room be made for an atheist book?”

Fr Leeder said he appreciated the Bible was used in all schools, however said this was different as it was a classic text in the same way as Shakespeare rather than something by a “not very well known author”.

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