Campaigners urge MSPs to believe in time for silence

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CAMPAIGNERS say MSPs should be made to carry out “silent meditation” in the Holyrood chamber once every three weeks – to reflect the fact that a third of Scots are non-religious.

Holyrood adopted regular Wednesday afternoon “Time for Reflection” slots soon after the parliament was first established 12 years ago, in contrast to the behind-locked-doors prayers said in the House of Commons. Guest speakers from many different religions have taken part.

But the National Secular Society (NSS) claims the parliament has ignored the fact that about one third of the Scottish population “cannot be said to be religious in any way”.

Norman Bonney, NSS council member for Scotland, said: “The visiting ministers, priests and speakers invited to lead Time for Reflection are intended to reflect the religious diversity of Scotland, but what gets missed out is the non- religious part.

“How are they to be represented? We’re suggesting just silent contemplation without the input or involvement of any religious person.”

Failing such a change, he said Time for Reflection should be scrapped.

He accepted Humanists had been included in those leading the reflection but said they could not necessarily be classed as non-religious since they officiated at weddings and funerals.

Mr Bonney said the 2001 Scottish census showed 28 per cent of Scots had no religion.

He added: “A 2009 survey by the National Centre for Social Research found that only about one half of the population could now be called Christian – 43 per cent say they feel they do not belong to any religion, 37 per cent are atheists or agnostics, and almost two in three never attend church services.” He said he hoped the future of Time for Reflection would be part of the review of parliament’s procedures announced earlier this week by Bruce Crawford, the Scottish Government’s Parliamentary Business Secretary.

Mr Bonney pointed out that today’s Time for Reflection slot was being led by President Cecil O Sampson of the Mormon Brigham Young University, Utah, in the US, and a senior member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He said: “Equal opportunities is supposed to be a founding principle of the Scottish Parliament but it seems that the principle is not followed in relation to Time for Reflection, where religions and denominations that relegate women to second-class positions are given a platform to espouse their doctrines.”

Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale suggested that, instead of silence, the parliament should invite more people from outwith the recognised religions to lead the slot.

She said: “I don’t see a problem with inviting people from charities or the voluntary sector to address us, if what they say is driven by a theme, for example, child poverty. The religious figures’ contribution is often issue-driven, so why not have other people doing it too?”

A parliament spokeswoman said: “Time For Reflection takes account of all faiths and none, and has done so since it was established by the Scottish Parliament.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com

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