2013 General Assembly and Conference
This year, the European Humanist Federation held its General Assembly in Bucharest (24 May) alongside two other important humanist meetings : International Humanist and Ethical Union General Assembly (26 May) and a joined conference on “Education, Science and Human Rights” co- organised with the Romanian Humanist Association and the IHEU (25 May).
More than 200 participants attented the conference organised at the gigantic Palace of the Parliament and listened to high-level speakers included American science and atheism blogger PZ Myers and British psychologist Richard Wiseman.
Strenghtening the Humanist movement in Europe
This General Assembly was the opportunity to gather representatives from humanist organisations all over Europe, from France to Russia and from Norway to Malta. In addition to the GA’s formal business, EHF President Pierre Galand presented the EHF working plan for 2013-2015. Several member organisations also presented some of their activites and campaigns at home and discussed the relationship between church and politics in their countries :
Romania as a “battleground” for humanism and secularism
In Romania, the influence of the Orthodox Church is still very pregnant in politics and society and the room for science and other beliefs is very limited. About 90% of Romanian citizens declare themselves as believers and only 1% openly say that they are non-believers or atheists; the Romanian Orthodox Church is funded at the discretion of Members of Parliament with a huge amount of taxpayers’ money; confessional religious education remains compulsory in all schools; and sexual minorities are still discriminated against and moked even by political leaders.
As Remus Cernea, Honorary President of the Romanian Humanist Association and now Member of Parliament for the Green Party, Romania is a “battleground” in the progress of secular and liberal views. Holding a humanist conference on “Education, Science and Human Rights ” with other controversary issues like same-sex marriage was therefore very challenging in this context.
Cezar Maroti, RHA President, opened the conference and underlined the need to promote secularism and humanism in Romania. Oleg Brega, Modavian activist and journalist talked about the similar pernicious influence of religion in Moldavia, especially on the way gay rights activists are perceived in his country.
Emil Moise, President of “Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience” told the audience about the compulsory religious education in Romanian schools and the difficulty for pupils to “opt out” from religious classes. He also reminded the audience about the consequences of strong conservative moralism in Romanian society, which completely oppose individual rights and free choice like abortion for instance. Attila Nyerges, President of the Romanian Secular-Humanist Association explained how they were trying to reform religious education and offer alternatives classes. Catherine le Fur from the International Association of Free Thought, presented a survey showing the omnipresent influence of religion in schools and detailed the some pernicious funding systems like vouchers in the USA which are used to fund private religious schools.
Sylvia Lancaster from the Sophie Lancaster Foundation (UK) spoke about the death of her daughter Sophie in 2007 who was attacked along with her boyfriend and “kicked to death” purely because of her goth style clothing. Sylvia presented the work of theFoundation which is working to educate young people against bullying and attacking people with alternative sub-cultures like goths, punks or moshes. Thanks to this work, this growing form of discrimination has been recognised as hate crime in the UK.
Boris van der Ham, president of the Dutch Humanist Association, brought another perspective be explaining how humanism has become “mainstream” in Dutch society and how humanist organisations have adapted to this situation.
Pr Richard Wiseman gave a lively presentation on how our minds can betray us with cognitive effects (e.g. ptical illusion) making us see what does not exist. He noted that these effects also play a role in sustaining religious and superstitious beliefs.
Videos & interviews
Cezar Maroti, RHA President and Pierre Galand, EHF President
Polemic between a creationist and an evolutionist (Pr PZ Myers, USA)
Remus Cernea – interview with Richard Wiseman
Romanian media reports from “Gay conference”