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Meeting of 7th April 2015

Education is an important subject from the perspective of humanism. Discussing this subject at the meeting brought up several interesting points. A few of them are mentioned below.

On many occasions it seems that a lot of people don’t want to think for themselves. But maybe the problem is that they have not been taught to think for themselves.

It is necessary to protect children till they have enough maturity to make their own decisions. A difficult situation may arrive when your children tell you they are not a child any more or if you don’t agree with your teachers on a certain issue.

The right to education is important. Everybody should be able to become an active, free and educated member of society and education is needed here.

Education should not be linked to what ‘class’ you belong to.

We should teach children the love of mankind. But also to be wary of ill-intending humans. Education about human rights is important, not only for children but for everyone. Human beings should learn not to try and survive at the cost of others.

Human beings are more able to develop their own individual response than animals and the more educated they are the better they will be able to do so.

In western democracies there are not too many problems with regard to giving everybody a proper education. That does not mean there are no problems but it is not as strong as elsewhere in the world. Two examples were considered: A report about free state schools in India where children do not seem to learn a lot and the case of Malala Yousafzai who was shot because she stood up for education in Pakistan.

For a comment on the right to education in India, see .

For the story of Malala, see her book “I am Malala”, Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb, Orion Books, London 2013.




The Magna Carta, sealed on 15 June 1215, was a peace treaty between King John and a group of barons who were rebelling against him because he had requested disproportionate taxes from them to pay for his wars. The barons forced King John to give concessions and recognise their rights, in this way reducing the absolute power of the King.

The Magna Carta was not meant as a lasting declaration of rights for all citizens, but in later years the document was reaffirmed so often that it became part of the law of the country and was copied onto the first ever statute roll. The Magna Carta can be regarded as an important milestone in history, as the basis of the English constitution and as the forerunner of human and civil rights provisions today, both nationally and internationally.

Two important provisions, containing the rights to liberty, justice and fair trial, still have force of law today. Nobody may be deprived of their liberty without the prior judgement of their case by an impartial and independent judge. And everybody should have access to justice and recognition of their rights. We can also find these rights in modern human rights treaties.

The underlying principle of the Magna Carta is still very much alive today: government authorities do not have absolute power, they have to recognise certain rights and liberties of the population so that there is no need to resort to rebellion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, is based on this principle.

The Amsterdam Declaration of the IHEU Congress 2002 has many parallels with the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The protection of human and civil rights is in everybody’s interest. It is the only way in which a peaceful and humane society is possible. In this way, the Magna Carta, human rights and Humanism are all connected.

North Kent Humanists support the Magna Carta 800 Years Conference (Medway), organised by the Human Rights Office.




There are many practical examples of ethical business issues. For instance, someone with a disability, epilepsy, finds it almost impossible to get a job. Employers don’t want him because they are unable to get insurance, even though employers have the obligation to employ at least one person with a disability. Also, employers find excuses not to employ members of ethnic minorities although they should look at the qualities of the person in question rather than their ethnic background. That would even be in the interest of the employers themselves too.

Every human being should have the chance to work. We are all equal – not the same but equal as human beings.

The Independent on Sunday (31/8/14) published an article about the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. In 2015 they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals. A group of psychiatrists from the US, Europe, Africa and Asia are campaigning to have a specific mental health target included. This is important.

In 2011, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were proclaimed by the UN. They apply to all states and all businesses. They state, among other things, that states must protect against human rights abuse within their territory and/or jurisdiction by third parties including businesses. States have to take appropriate steps in this respect: enforce laws, provide guidance and ask businesses to report on how they address their human rights impacts. Businesses should avoid infringing on human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved. They should have policies in place for this. The human rights referred to are essentially those expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two Covenants on human rights plus the Core Conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

The Guidelines are ideals. Also they are a bit disappointing because they are lengthy and detailed and require a lot of paperwork by businesses, at the same time doing the paperwork does not guarantee that the Guidelines are actually carried out. The only good thing about all the principles is that repeated reference to our human rights results in better awareness of them. What is needed in practice is a clear short list of principles/the basic rights and remedies so that individuals can complain when they find their rights violated.

The International Labour Organisation has adopted a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). This document gives, especially in its second principle, a clear short list of what states have to abide by: recognition of freedom of association, no forced labour, no child labour and no discrimination. Non-discrimination takes us back to the practical example at the beginning of our meeting: not to employ someone with a disability can be discrimination, specially if the person in question  does not get the chance to explain his/her situation because the employer tells them he is not fussed about whether or not he abides by the rule of non-discrimination.

Good examples of ethical business are banks like Triodos who put their money in projects that help businesses in poor countries and/or in renewable energy projects.