A Happy Hypocritical Easter!

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Easter is a tradition celebrated across the world, which Christians believe to be in honour of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary.

Secularists and atheists, will instead celebrate the spring equinox, taking advantage of the fantastic range of delicious chocolate eggs and cakes, that modern day Easter commercialism presents so wonderfully to us.

“Hypocrisy”, some may cry. However, the Christians amongst you may be surprised to learn that Easter, is in fact, a Pagan festival, and is not really about Jesus at all. Has it never struck Christians as being somewhat odd, that rabbits and chocolate eggs are associated with Christ’s Resurrection?

It would appear that the bible has caused Christians some confusion with the following passage from Act 12:3: ‘This was during the days of Unleavened Bread’, which is where The New Testament Church observes the feast days described in Leviticus 23. Acts 12:4 states: “And when he [Herrod] had seized him [Peter], he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.” Some translations of the bible, such as this 21st Century King James edition, have translated the word ‘Passover’ to ‘Easter’.

However, the mistranslation of the word Easter has come from the Greek word ‘pascha’ – derived from the Hebrew word pesach. As there is no original Greek word for Passover, for this reason, a Hebrew word is used in the Greek New Testament. The word has only one meaning: Passover (Account found at Exodus 12). It does not mean Easter.  Thus, the verse does not endorse Easter, and is instead an indication that the Christian Church observed the Jewish Passover ten years after the supposed death of Christ. More importantly, there is no other mention of the word Easter anywhere else in the bible. There are no verses anywhere in the Bible, that authorize or endorse the keeping of Easter celebration. The Bible also makes no mention of Lent, eggs, egg hunts, Easter bunnies, etc. It does, however, mention hot cross buns and sunrise services as abominations, which God condemns.

It would appear that the mistranslation of Acts 12:4 may have been an attempt to insert a Pagan festival into biblical scripture for the purpose of authorising it as a Christian tradition. Verse 14 goes on to state that the Passover ceremony was commanded by God to be an annual memorial feast to be kept by Israel “forever”. This command is repeated in Leviticus 23:5. Exodus 12:15 introduces the seven-day festival called the Days of Unleavened Bread (also repeated in Leviticus 23:6-8), which was to immediately follow the Passover feast each year. This is why Acts 12:3 states, “This was during the days of unleavened bread”, before mentioning the Passover in the next verse.

Despite the biblical command listed in Leviticus 23, that Passover should still be kept by Christians today (Acts 2:1; 12:3; 18:21; 20:6; I Cor. 5:7-8; 16:8), how ironic that almost no Christian who professes to worship Jesus Christ, observes the Passover as commanded.

Thus, as there is no specific instruction to observe Easter in the Bible (although the permanent command to observe Passover, is), from where did Easter originate?

Origins

Easter has most likely originated from before the Hebrew feast of Passover. The earliest reference to a similar holiday comes from Babylon, 2400 BCE. Ancient Babylonians would mark the beginning of Spring with a gala celebration honoring the resurrection of the god, Tammuz, who was killed by a wild boar. Tammuz was returned to life by his mother/wife, Ishtar with her tears. Ishtar was actually pronounced “Easter”.

Celebrating the beginning of spring may be among the oldest holidays in human culture; a tradition that would occur every year during the spring equinox. Biologically and culturally, it represents for northern climates the end of a “dead” (winter) season and the rebirth of life (spring), as well as the importance of fertility and reproduction.

The city of Ur also had a celebration dedicated to the moon and the spring equinox, which was held during our months of March or April. On the spring equinox, Zoroastrians continue to celebrate “No Ruz”, the new day or New Year. This date is commemorated by the last remaining Zoroastrians, and probably constitutes the oldest celebration in the history of the world.

Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are also very ancient, and the Old Testament mentions Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking Pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead. Jeremiah 7:18: ‘The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead dough to make sacrificial cakes for the queen of heaven. And to offend me all the more, they pour out drink offerings to foreign gods’.

It is interesting that Christians seem to have adopted all the fun things about Easter from Paganism, including the tradition of Easter Bunnies, which are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare.

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Spring festivals honouring Eostre, the great mother goddess of the Saxons, were also held hundreds of years before the documented birth of Christ. The name Eostre was fashioned after the ancient word for spring, Eastre. The goddess Ostara was the Norse equivalent whose symbols were the hare and the egg, which began the modern tradition of celebrating Easter with eggs and bunnies. Several goddesses were associated with the practice:

  • Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
  • Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
  • Astarte from ancient Greece
  • Demeter from Mycenae
  • Hathor from ancient Egypt
  • Ishtar from Assyria
  • Kali, from India
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    Goddess Ishtar

In the Mediterranean region, there was a pre-Christian spring celebration centered around the vernal equinox that honoured Cybele, the Phrygian goddess of fertility. Cybele’s consort, Attis, was considered born of a virgin and was believed to have died and been resurrected three days later. Attis derived his mythology from even earlier gods, Osiris, Dionysus, and Orpheus, who also were supposed to have been born of a virgin and suffered death and resurrection as long as 500 years before Christ was born. The death of Attis was commemorated on a Friday and the resurrection was celebrated three days later on Sunday. (Does this story not sound familiar…?)

It would thus appear that the name of Easter and the traditions surrounding it are deeply rooted in Pagan religion.

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A Pagan march through the streets…

Other “borrowed” Easter traditions, that are Pagan in origin, include Easter lilies being revered by the ancients as symbols of fertility and representative of the male genitalia, whilst the ancient Babylonian religions had rituals involving dyed eggs, as did the ancient Egyptians. Note that the origin of the Easter egg is based on the fertility lore of the Indo-European races, with the egg being a symbol of spring. Conversely, in Christian times, the egg became a symbol of religious interpretation, which symbolised the rock tomb out of which Christ emerged to the new life of his resurrection. Thus, another example of a pagan custom being “Christianised”, to deceive—as well as making Christians feel better about why they are following a custom that is not in the Bible.

Ironically, Christians seem to believe the sunrise services (yet another ancient pagan practice, which welcomes the sun on the morning of the spring equinox) is a “beautiful”, “moving”, and “religious” tradition. Yet, the Bible at Ezek. 8:13-18 states something very different: 

‘There, at the entrance to the Lord’s temple, between the porch and the altar, were twenty-five men facing toward the east with their backs to the Lord’s temple. They were bowing to the sun in the east… Isn’t it enough that the house of Judah has observed here all these detestable things? They have filled the land with violence, and they continue to provoke my fury. Look at them! They even put the branch to their noses!  I will certainly respond with wrath. I won’t spare or pity anyone. Even though they call out loudly to me in my hearing, I won’t listen to them.’

Thus, observing sunrise services is so serious, Ezek. 9 documents that God would ultimately destroy all who persisted in it.

Nice.

Deuteronomy 12:28-32 also confirms that Christians should never mix Pagan traditions with God’s commands. The Passover was commanded; not Easter.

Christians: Do bear in mind the following as quoted from Matt. 15:6-7: ‘So you do away with God’s Law for the sake of the rules that have been handed down to you. Hypocrites!…’

Therefore, if Christians continuously choose to disregard the wishes of their beloved God, year after year, then why should atheists, such as myself, feel “left out” of the loop? Atheists also enjoy celebrating what has now become a commercialised festival, and the opportunity to devour a substantial amount of chocolate. Surely, that can only be good for the economy…? Mass public spending within the food industry, subsequently followed by mass public spending in the diet and pharmaceutical industries…

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Happy Easter, everyone!

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Public Ignorance of the EU and Human Rights

Britain's PM Cameron addresses a news conference after an EU heads of state summit in Brussels

Prime Minister, David Cameron (Image: The Commentator)

The future of Britain’s role in the European Union has made some unsettling headline news over the past few months, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge of an in/out referendum on EU membership – but, only if the Conservative Party wins the 2015 General Election.

The speech came following a ComRes survey that revealed the anti-EU, UK Independence Party (Ukip) achieved its highest-ever rating at the expense of the Conservative Party. This helped Labour to extend its lead, placing Labour at 41 per cent, and the Tories at 31 per cent. If repeated at a general election, such figures would give Labour an overall majority of 110, with the Tories losing 99 seats, and the 36 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs defeated.

Interestingly, in the wake of the Conservative Party’s drubbing in the Eastleigh by-election, after being out-beaten by the UK Independence party, Senior Tory cabinet ministers have this week raised the prospect of pulling Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights – again mentioning, only if the party obtains an overall majority in the 2015 General Election. Meanwhile, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says that the Conservatives will repeal the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the ECHR in domestic law. Theresa May, the home secretary, has reportedly been working on the plans for the Tories’ next manifesto.

The recent news is all the more depressing when one considers that the Opinium/Observer survey found that 56% of Britons would probably, or definitely, vote for the UK to leave the EU if they were offered the choice in a referendum.

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Anti-EU protesters outside the Houses of Parliament, London (Image reproduced from The Guardian)

It is, therefore, clear that such calls by the Tories are merely gesture politics, in an attempt to regain popularity. It is also clear that because the Tories have lost a by-election, they now feel the need to play to the audience. It does not make any sense for Britain to leave the EU, or for the Human Rights Act to be repealed, nor for the UK withdraw from Strasbourg. However, if a referendum really is held, it places Britain in a very dangerous position, given the position that so many Britons feel such distain towards the EU. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, is on a similar wavelength of thought to myself. Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Miliband stated:

“I think it is incredibly dangerous what David Cameron is doing. He is essentially sleepwalking us towards the exit door from the EU.”

“The last thing we should do is start to say for some date five, six, seven years hence, let’s decide now to have an in/out referendum. As Michael Heseltine said very well yesterday, that means you are having a referendum on a negotiation that has not yet begun, with a timescale that is uncertain and an outcome that is unknown. That is an incredible gamble. We know why this is happening. He is worried about the threat from Ukip and he is worried about what is happening in his own party. It is the wrong thing to do.”

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Ed Miliband, Leader of The Labour Party (Image: The Telegraph)

There is perhaps a strong possibility that the EU debate is merely a sideshow, distracting from the real problems of the Eurozone, the UK economy and manufacturing – especially when there are fears of the UK facing a triple dip recession, not to mention losing its prestigious AAA rating.

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(Image: mydavidcameron.com)

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“Trust in me…” (Image: Top News)

Another depressing issue, is the fact so many British people seem to confuse the European Union with the European Convention of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act with the European Convention. It is now over twelve years since the Act took effect, but uninformed and misleading statements are still made about the EU, and human rights law, by those who should know better, and circulated by those who could not care less.

When debating topics based on the European Union, some of the comments I receive on Twitter never fail to amaze me with regards general level of misunderstanding and ignorance as to what the functions of the EU actually are.

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Contrary to what the lady in the above tweet (and many others) seem to believe, leaving the European Union will not stop the courts preventing the removal of foreign criminals, and neither will it do anything to improve our national security, which I will explain.

In one sense, one cannot blame peoples’ ignorance when they believe they are “informed”, after reading absurdly incorrect news articles that are all too regularly sensationalised in a number of tabloid newspapers. A few weeks ago, I came across this shining example of Eurosceptical ignorance on Twitter, when someone posted a link to this article published in ‘The Sun’: Youngsters at risk after EU ruling. According to yet another scare-mongering tale, The Sun claims that theEU could let fiends like him prey on your children.”

To set the record straight, the story concocted in the mentioned Sun article, came from a judgement that was actually given by the Court of Appeal – an English and Welsh court, based in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It is not an EU court, and the EU had absolutely nothing to do with this particular judgment which was regarding Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks and the incorporated rights of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgement given by the Court of Appeal can be found here, and anyone who takes the time to read it will observe how the judgement is in no way related to the story in The Sun.

The Mail on Sunday has also provided excellent evidence of misinformation with their story purporting, “New outrage as Taliban suspect told he can stay”, which begins “In a new human rights case to cause anger”. The case is not even about a human rights at all, but is actually about the EU Refugee Qualification Directive. The case report can be found here. Please feel free to read it and see if it bares any resemblance to the story. Incidentally, if we were to expunge all traces of the European Convention on Human Rights from our law, that Directive would still apply.

However, for those without a legal or political background, stories such as that published in The Sun and the Mail on Sunday, can seriously misinform, and unnecessarily scare a significant number of people. It is unfortunate that the tabloids appear to get rather confused when ranting about their hatred of the Human Rights Act and their hatred of the EU. After all, it can all get quite complicated, and with such feelings of outrage, who cares about the difference between the European Union, Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, the Euro… They’re all the same – right?

Wrong.

For those who are confused between the European Convention of Human Rights, such as the person in the above Tweet appeared to be, the EU has nothing to do with the European Convention of Human Rights, just as the EU and ECHR have nothing to do with the Court of Appeal. The EU is not a party to the Convention, and has no role in the administration of the court of human rights.

The European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, is administered by the Council of Europe (‘CoE’), an organisation set up in 1949 by the Treaty of London, for which the UK was one of the first ten states to sign up. Ironically, it was Winston Churchill – proudly named the greatest Briton by The Sun, and held in such high regard by the British Nation – who called for a ‘Council of Europe’ six years earlier in 1943.

Although signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights is a condition of EU membership, they are distinct institutions. The EU, by contrast, is an economic and political union of 27 states, and its development was separate from the CoE.

Despite so much British outrage regarding the subject of the European Convention on Human Rights in its most recent years, the European Convention on Human Rights was actually formed by the CoE all the way back in 1950, and entered into force in 1953. It is, in fact, an international treaty that is aimed at protecting human rights. Ironically, it was drafted in the most part by David Maxwell Fyfe, a British Conservative MP, lawyer, and prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. Furthermore, it was based on many of the UK’s common law rights. 47 states are now party to the Convention, and have all agreed to abide by rulings of the Strasbourg court. In a further twist of irony, consider that it was former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, who signed the Maastrict Treaty in 1992, thus forming the European Union; David Maxwell Fyfe, a Conservative MP who oversaw most of the drafting of the ECHR; and it was Winston Churchill – yet another Conservative, who called for a Council of Europe. Yet, it is also the modern day Conservatives who now claim to be so skeptical of Britain’s role in the European Union and European Court of Human Rights.

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David Cameron in a Winston Churchill style meme (reproduced from The Sun)

However, it was the Labour enacted Human Rights Act, 1998, which brought much of the European Convention on Human Rights (which was based on many UK common law rights – as mentioned above) into domestic British law. This ensures that all UK courts are able to apply human rights law directly, which means that the vast majority of human rights judgments affecting British law, are actually produced by local UK judges. Thus, the Human Rights Act is an instrument which should be commended by those who want the UK courts to decide things instead of Strasbourg. The Act’s existence has made it rare for applicants to require a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights, and the case law developed by UK judges in UK courts since 2000 means that Strasbourg jurisprudence has become less relevant ever since. The Human Rights Acts also provides that UK judges cannot disapply primary legislation on human rights grounds, and so the supremacy of parliament is maintained – which goes against the tabloid propaganda that the UK has given away its legislative powers to Europe.

Since 2000, human rights have become part of the mainstream in litigation. I do find it incredibly ironic that Newspapers have sought to rely on Article 10 – Right to free expression under the ECHR (para 33 and 36 here), yet are so quick to loathe the very institution that gives them to freedom to publish such sensationalised misinformation.

From the amount of coverage and political argument the court generates, many may be mislead into believing that it rules against the UK hundreds of times per year. However, the statistics may surprise you: Only around ten judgements a year come from Strasbourg. In 2012 there were 3,308 applications made by individuals to the Court involving the UK, with only 21 were declared “admissible” by the Court. The 21 UK cases amounted around 2% of the total substantively considered by the Court (1,093), with the Court finding an actual violation in only ten UK cases. A similar number of applications were brought before the Court in 2011, suggesting that around 99% of applications from the UK are being dismissed in the very early stages.

Context is everything!

This is also one reason why leaving Strasbourg will not stop the courts preventing the removal of foreign criminals. As you can see from this full list on page 16 of this Ministry of Justice document, only a small number include cases on foreign criminals, extradition, or immigration.

In fact, the vast majority of such cases are decided by UK domestic courts, and none of the cases mentioned in previous Mail on Sunday’s headlines about courts stopping removals, is a European Court of Human Rights case. All relate to decisions by UK courts, as the Human Rights Act 1998 gave local UK courts the power to enforce most of the rights outlined by the European Convention on Human Rights. This prevents our human rights law being forged exclusively in Strasbourg, and UK judges are largely deciding UK human rights issues. Therefore, even if the UK withdrew from Strasbourg, the UK courts would still continue to apply human rights law, taking account the European Convention of Human Rights, as they are obliged to do by section 2 of the Human Rights Act.

Should the Conservatives also repeal the Human Rights Act, which has been suggested on many occasions, it would be replaced by a of Bill of Rights, which is likely to be similar to the ECHR – with a few British tweaks. Although the provisions of the European Convention are already enshrined in British law through the Human Rights Act, under Theresa May’s proposals, the final right of appeal would be to the British Supreme Court – not Strasbourg. That would mean a British citizen would no longer have the right to appeal a Supreme Court decision. Is that what Britons really want?

It must also be mentioned that the European Convention on Human Rights is just one of a number of international conventions that prevent the UK in deporting people back to their home countries, where they may face a real risk of torture, or from committing acts that may disproportionately affect children, such as ritual practices that harm children, paedophilia, and murder. Withdrawing from the European Convention would do little or nothing to change the UK’s human rights obligations – and nor would we want it to. I doubt the readers of The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, and The Sun, et al., would genuinely wish to withdraw from conventions that outlaw torture or protect children, if they were better informed.

If the UK were to leave the Strasbourg court, and the Supreme Court had the final say on human rights, British judges have occasionally suggested that a court might decide to disapply or invalidate a statute in exceptional circumstances. The 25-year old Court of Appeal judgment, (1) Nadarajah Vilvarajah, (2) Vaithialingham Skandarajah v Secretary of State For the Home Department 1990 which preceded the Human Rights Act, reveals that judges are not aways so obedient to the Government when it comes to interpreting basic rights – As Conor Gearty observes, ‘some judges might even be emboldened to strike down acts of parliament for breach of human rights, something that the current legislation specifically prohibits and so would be easier with the Human Rights Act off the scene.’ Likewise, I would imagine this would also be particularly so, if judges were aware that the safety net of an individual’s right to petition to the Strasbourg court, had been removed. The case of Nadarajah Vilvarajah and Vaithialingham Skandarajahin also reveals that Home Secretaries have felt unduly constrained by international agreements long before the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, Lord Hope stated in R (Jackson) v Attorney General, that the principle of parliamentary sovereignty ‘is no longer, if it ever was, absolute … It is no longer right to say that its freedom to legislate admits of no qualification whatever.’ Judges are supplied with a range of remedial powers that can address legislative actions that result in a violatation of rights, without the need to turn to the common law. Political posturing over immigration and asylum law long predated the Human Rights Act, and the law was as good then as it is now.

Nevertheless, reliance upon the principals of a judge does not mean we should let Home Secretaries, such as Theresa May and her ridiculous outbursts concerning the “evils” of human rights, dictate which agreement we remain party to.

Home Secretary Theresa May Recalled To Parliament To Answer Questions About The Deportation Of Abu Qatada

Home Secretary, Theresa May

The case of Ullah has also revealed that UK courts do “no more” than Strasbourg “but certainly no less“. Judges take the view that if there is a principle arising from a consistent line of cases in the Strasbourg court that does not conflict with British law, they will follow it. Therefore, the ECHR is not as ridiculous as the tabloids, and even some politicians, would have us believe. It also completely discredits the ridiculous anti-European propaganda on this website.

Further to the principle laid out by Ullah dictum, in the more recent Supreme Court judgment, Rabone v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012], Lord Brown examined the extent of the UK courts’ duty to follow decisions from the Strasbourg court, and their ability to go beyond such decisions. It was decided that UK courts need not always adhere to decisions of the Strasbourg court. Where a UK court is reluctant to agree with a decision by the Strasbourg court, it is permissible to reach a different conclusion from that reached at Strasbourg, but must ensure that Convention rights are not of a lower standard than those at Strasbourg. It has also been the case that the House of Lords has not followed clear decisions of the Strasbourg court when a decision can be distinguished without it, as was the case in Animal Defenders International v Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, [2006]. It is also the case that the UK courts need not follow a decision of the Strasbourg court when not taken by the Grand Chamber, as decided by the Supreme Court decision of R v Horncastle [2009]. (However, the UK court must follow an authoritative decision of the Grand Chamber.)Arguably, Lord Brown provides the courts with greater powers than those already recognised by the Supreme Court. In Horncastle, the Supreme Court decided not to follow a decision of the fourth section of the Strasbourg court which was on appeal to the Grand Chamber; in part, due to the concern that the decision had failed to take sufficient account of English common law. Yet, a court may decide that a Convention right applies beyond the current range of decisions found in the Strasbourg court, and UK courts may also go beyond the definition of Convention rights found in decisions of the Strasbourg court, as was the case in In Re G (Adoption: unmarried couple). Where there is no consistent case law from Strasbourg, it is still open to the UK courts to develop the common law to protect human rights – note that this is a development of the common law and not a definition of Convention rights.

The case of Ambrose v Harris (Procurator Fiscal, Oban)(Scotland) [2011] confirmed previous practices of the House of Lords, and Lord Kerr noted that Ambrose, appears to provide a stronger criticism of the Ullah dictum. The case recognised that domestic courts should have the power to define Convention rights when there was no clear decision from Strasbourg, thus suggesting not only that it should be a power of the court, but a duty. Whilst, interestingly, the case of Re P [2007], revealed that the October 2000 Law Commission report “Damages Under The Human Rights Act 1998”, proved to be more helpful in the court’s decision reasoning, than any particular determination laid out in law from Strasbourg. (Thank you to the anonymous person on Reddit, who so kindly drew my attention to the two latter cases mentioned.)

Therefore, withdrawing from the ECHR and abolishing the Human Rights Act, would appear to make little difference. Nevertheless, leaving Strasbourg could still, arguably, leave individuals in the UK in a weaker position against the state, if their rights are breached. The UK, along with Belarus – a country with questionable human rights – would be the only two European countries to not be a part of the ECHR.

Devolution also casts a long shadow over this debate. The fact is that the constitutional landscape of the UK has altered radically since the Conservatives last won a general election in 1992. As the Bill of Rights Commission discovered, the London Parliament’s options may be limited whilst issues surrounding Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales remain unresolved. Devolution makes the repeal of the Human Rights Act far less straightforward. A major issue is that both the Scottish and Northern Irish devolution settlements were intended to have the ECHR woven into their constitutional fabric from the outset. Thus, withdrawal from the ECHR could prove problematic to say the least.

The key question is whether withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights will solve the problems that the Conservative party – particularly the tabloids – have identified. The answer is ‘no’. However, given the unjustified British fear of European influence, an obsession with the expulsion of foreigners, and the rise of UKIP, the electorate are more than likely to disregard common sense.

Thus, I will ask the people of Britain this question: With regards Convention rights, which of our rights do we really wish to discard? The late Lord Bingham once stated:

“The rights protected by the Convention and the Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being.

Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned.

The right to life.

The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved.

The right to liberty and security of the person.

The right to a fair trial.

The right not to be retrospectively penalised.

The right to respect for private and family life.

Freedom of thought,conscience and religion. Freedom of expression.

Freedom of assembly and association.

The right to marry.

The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights.

The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation.

The right of fair access to the country’s educational system.

The right to free elections.

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British?

There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.

Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, those who need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy.”

I think Lord Bingham hits the nail most pertinently on the head.

As for leaving the European Union, that is a different matter altogether.

There is much uncertainty on that matter, and the truth is that there really are more questions than answers at this stage, and many of the arguments for/against are purely speculative at the moment. If the UK were to withdraw from the EU, what would happen to foreign direct investment? How much of the regulatory burden currently imposed would we maintain if free to reverse it? How would the gross contributions be used if made available to the UK government? Would there be a mutually beneficial free trade agreement, or would the political fall-out from an exit lead to irrational protectionism? As Iain Begg at the London School of Economics stated to Channel 4: “If Mr Cameron said to the EU: ‘I’m taking my ball home, I’m not playing with you any more’, there would be some kind of revenge. That is what we would do if it were the other way round.”

What is desperately needed before any conclusions can be drawn, is a full blown cost-benefit analysis conducted by the UK government, using relevant counterfactual scenarios. It is somewhat surprising that the UK government has never commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the UK’s continued membership. Might this be yet another indication that the Government is not really intending to withdraw from the European Union, but is merely playing the electorate?

Memo to the editors and publishers of The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, Telegraph: Inform your readers; do not confuse them further.

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The Daily Mail comes up with yet another story of David Cameron relying on the ignorance of the population to give the appearance of taking a tough line on ‘Europe’.

The Hypocrisy of Saint David’s Day (Rhagrith Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant)

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Atheist author, Professor Richard Dawkins, recently congratulated the people of Wales after the 2011 census revealed that nearly a third of people living in Wales follow no religion, stating that people in Wales were ‘ahead of the rest of the UK’.

Statistics from the latest UK Census 2011, released on 11th December 2012, revealed that 32% of people in Wales consider themselves non-religious, against an overall UK figure of 25%.

The census found that 1.5% of the Welsh population were Muslims, 0.3% were Hindus or Buddhists, Sikh or Jewish took up 0.1%, and 0.4% stated other faiths. Prof. Dawkins reportedly dismissed the figures for people saying they were a Jedi Knight, or that heavy metal music was their religion.

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Yeah… My religion is METAL, man!

Yet, despite these figures, I do sometimes marvel at the hypocrisy of the entire nation lavishly celebrating Saint David’s Day – a day which has its roots in Catholicism. It is all the more ironic when one considers that Wales has been a predominantly Protestant country since the Welsh Bible was published in 1588, following the Protestant Reformation; not to mention the above mentioned Census figures. Nevertheless, it did not prevent cross-party political support, when the National Assembly for Wales voted unanimously to make Saint David’s Day a Welsh public holiday in 2000, along with 87% of Welsh people supporting the call (which was ultimately rejected by former Prime Minister, Tony Blair in 2007).

My Facebook newsfeed, as predicted, is literally plastered with photos of my former school friends’ children, dressed up in rather ridiculous traditional Welsh (peasant) costumes; photos of peoples’ homemade Welshcakes; status updates exclaiming that people were making Cawl (A Welsh stew containing lamb and leeks which is traditionally consumed on St. David’s Day); ghastly gif and jpeg banners that read ‘Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus’ (Happy St. David’s Day); all of which gives some insight into the feigned optimism that seems to span across the nation for one day every 1st March, disguising the chilling reality that depression and suicide is reportedly on the increase in Wales.

St. David’s Day is invariably celebrated in Wales, and by Welsh societies, throughout the world with dinners, parties, and Eisteddfodau (recitals and concerts). Parades take place, with food festivals, and street parties in bigger cities. Most schools traditionally have an unofficial day off, by participating in all-day school Eisteddfodau, with the main activities being recitation, singing, and traditional Welsh folk dancing. The main search page on Google.co.uk features a special St. David’s Day “Google Doodle” to commemorate the day, and despite the fact that Saint David abstained from drinking and advised others to do the same, a number of Welsh breweries make special St. David’s Day ales. British pub, J.D.Wetherspoon even run a St. David’s Day Ale Festival. Even more bizarre, is that Disney’s Mickey and Minnie adopt a Welsh identity for the Disneyland Paris St David’s Day Festival!

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A Saint David’s Day Street Parade (Copyright: Andrew Hazard)

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The Archdruid withdraws a sword from its sheath three times at a Welsh Eisteddfod

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The Saint David’s Day “doodle” featured on Google’s search engine page.

Do not get me wrong. I love Wales, and I am inherently proud of my Welsh-Irish heritage (Predominantly Welsh!). Wales is a beautiful country, with a rich cultural heritage – it is famously known for being the “Land of Song”, in addition to being famous for its stunning natural scenery and coastline, and its world famous rugby team. In fact, Rhossili Bay in South Wales, has been ranked 3rd Best Beach in Europe, and the Welsh always give visitors a warm welcome… If you’re not an English person visiting during rugby season! I must admit, that my ancestral roots also give me an excuse to join in with the atheist hypocrisy of celebrating a Saint, as I use the day as an excuse to make, and gastronomically demolish, a substantial number of homemade (vegan) Welshcakes.

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Rhossili Bay, Gower, Wales

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A Welsh lady with a plate of Welshcakes… The girl behind isn’t looking so impressed.

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The Harp is the traditional instrument of Wales

The biggest hypocrisy of all, is that few people in Wales actually seem to know who St. David actually was, or that the day has its roots in religion. For those of you who are wondering who is this St. David chap is, and why everyone now seems to fanatically celebrate annually on 1st March, I shall explain.

Dewi Sant, or St David, is the patron saint of Wales. According to the Museum of Wales, what little is known about him is based on a Latin manuscript written by Rhigyfarch, towards the end of the 11th century.

Rhigyfarch accounts that Dewi died in the year 589. He was a scion of the royal house of Ceredigion, and founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (St. Davids) on the western headland of Pembrokeshire, at the spot where St David’s Cathedral stands today. From the 12th century onwards, Dewi’s fame spread throughout South Wales, Ireland, Brittany, and the West of England, where it is believed he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He continued with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop. St David’s Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, particularly after Dewi was officially recognised as a Catholic saint in 1120. From this period on, he was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi.

According to Rhigyfarch, many ‘miracles’ have been attributed to Dewi, the most “incredible” of which, was when he caused the ground to rise underneath him, so that he could be seen and heard by all when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi. Now before the Christians amongst you get excited by the story of a rising floor, consider the irony that Rhigyfarch was the son of the Bishop of St David’s. It is, therefore, believed that the account was written as propaganda to establish Dewi’s superiority, and thus defend the bishopric from being taken over by Canterbury and the Normans.

In 1398, it was decided that Dewi’s feast-day was to be held by every church in the Province of Canterbury, and Saint David was recognised as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Although the feast of Dewi as a religious festival came to an end with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, St. David’s Day was celebrated by Welsh diaspora from the late Middle Ages., and became a national festival during the 18th century.

Interestingly, however, the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how the Welsh St. David’s Day celebrations in London would spark wider counter celebrations amongst their English neighbours. Life-sized effigies of Welshmen were reported to have been symbolically lynched; and according to Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud in the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, the custom had arisen in the 18th century of confectioners producing “taffies”, which were gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat— on Saint David’s Day. This perhaps gives us some further insight into the rivalry between the Welsh and English, which unfortunately, still exists to a lesser extent today.

Previous resistance to England can be seen in the poem Armes Prydain, composed in the early to mid-tenth century AD, in which an anonymous author prophesies that the Welsh people will unite and join an alliance of fellow-Celts to repel the Anglo-Saxons, under the banner of Saint David: A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant (And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi).

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Facsimile of a page from the Book of Taliesin (folio 13 recto), showing the last lines of the poem Cad Goddeu and the beginning of the poem Mabgyfreu Taliesin (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Now, I must facetiously bid my English readers, “twll dîn pob sais”, as I hypocritically devour my Welshcakes – cakes which were once traditionally baked on a cast iron griddle for hungry Welsh Coal Miners (along with a staple diet of Cawl, and a type of meatball called Faggots). The Welsh peoples’ love of Welshcakes is something neither the English (or the rest of the world) will ever quite understand. I suppose one could describe it as the Welsh equivalent of the English’s penchant for scones with jam and cream.

Happy Saint David’s Day everyone! (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus pawb!)

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And since I was once so cute, this is me in a traditional Welsh lady costume, aged 6.