Sunday, February 01, 2009

Silenced Christian soldiers: British army chaplain bans Creed 'so services won't offend minority religions'

Sandhurst military academy has dropped the Church of England Creed from services over fears that it may offend religious minorities. The move has outraged worshippers who say centuries of religious tradition have been sacrificed for the sake of political correctness. Senior chaplain Reverend Jonathan Gough dropped the Christian declaration of faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, when he took office earlier this month. Mr Gough - nicknamed the `Right On Rev' by some of his flock - says he wants avoid offending non-believers.

But Christian cadets and civilians were furious when the traditional Anglican service abruptly ended without the Creed being read last Sunday. Although no official announcement was made, a fellow Chaplain said it had been removed `to stop upsetting cadets who do not believe in God'. Last night the Ministry of Defence confirmed the Creed, which also refutes heresy, had been withdrawn from services at the Royal Memorial Chapel to make the church more inclusive. This is despite the fact that it is not compulsory for any Sandhurst cadets to attend.

Both Princes William and Harry trained at the prestigious academy in Camberley, Surrey. One senior member of the Chapel yesterday said the decision to cut the affirmation of faith was ludicrous. He said: `It's a disgrace. Nobody was told and everybody has been left shocked and angry. It's just an attempt to be "right on".'

The Creed, found in the book of Common Prayer, begins: `I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried'.

Theologian, Dr Richard Bell, from Nottingham University, said it was `something that unites most Christians and for the vast majority it is the act of stating who you are' He added: `The Creed is the central plank of the Church of England service. If you give up on that you are effectively giving up on God. Frankly I'm appalled by this decision.'

Former army officer Patrick Mercer, who went on to become the Bishop of Exeter, last night led calls for the Creed to be returned. Mr Mercer, who trained at Sandhurst, said: `If you go to an Anglican Church service you expect to hear an Anglican service. I think the good reverend is being a little too precious.'

Mr Gough, 46, is a former secretary for ecumenism for Archbishop of Canterbury and has served in the Army for 20 years during conflicts in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and more recently Afghanistan. Last night he would only say: `I had many options to choose from.'

An Army said it was common practice to alter the service from time to time. `The people who are angry should sit down with Reverend Gough for a cup of tea,' a spokesman said.


Warning from British supermarket: This milk bottle contains, er, milk

In a nation seemingly overcome by health and safety paranoia, it's only natural for shops to seek to protect themselves from litigious customers. So even the most inoffensive products can be plastered with warnings that they contain 'nuts', 'eggs', ' shellfish' or some other potential allergen. Asda, however, really is milking this trend for all it's worth. Under the heading 'Allergy advice', plastic bottles of milk sold by the supermarket carry a serious warning - 'Contains milk'. Apparently, that the product is called milk and the milk is plain to see are insufficient signals to those who are dairy intolerant.

The Asda episode is indicative of a policy by supermarkets and food manufacturers to liberally stamp warnings on products to avoid legal complications. They fear that failing to include the warning will leave them vulnerable to compensation if a shopper suffers an adverse reaction. Last week it was revealed that the Happy Egg Company was selling eggs through leading supermarkets with a warning on the box saying, 'Contains eggs'. Earlier this month, Cadbury said it was including a warning, in yellow capital letters, that its Dairy Milk chocolate bar 'contains milk'.

Regulations issued by the Food Standards Agency require manufacturers to state on the packaging if goods contain allergens - a total of 14 substances including eggs, shellfish, nuts and milk. A spokesman for the regulator said it was not necessary to have an additional allergen warning on a milk carton. 'The use of allergenic ingredients must be declared on a label, but it can be anywhere, including in the ingredients list and in the name of the product,' she said. 'In the case of milk, where it is clear the product being sold is cow's milk, there is no legal requirement for a label to contain additional allergen advice.'

Many fear the use of unnecessary warnings risks bringing the allergy warning regime into disrepute. Readers who contacted the Mail after seeing the case of the Happy Egg boxes thought the warnings have gone too far. One wrote: 'Most health and safety advice, information and warnings have nothing to do with the health and safety of anyone and is purely about avoiding litigation.' Another said: 'I'm surprised no one has put a health warning on my Sunday roast chicken - "Not suitable for vegetarians".'

Food expert Tom Parker Bowles said: 'It does get to the point when warnings go too far. 'We don't need to be told a peanut contains nuts or eggs contain egg.'

Nine-year-old Rory Poulter noticed the latest warning while using Asda's semi-skimmed organic milk to cool his breakfast porridge. 'How ridiculous is that,' said Rory, from Richmond, Surrey. 'It is a carton of milk, just milk, why would anyone need to be warned that it contains milk? It's just silly.'

Asda admitted it had got things wrong and said it will remove the warning later this year. 'Everyone knows milk is milk,' a spokesman added.


British universities drop degree courses in alternative medicine

And not a moment too soon

Universities are increasingly turning their backs on homoeopathy and complementary medicine amid opposition from the scientific community to "pseudo-science" degrees. The University of Salford has stopped offering undergraduate degrees in the subjects, and the University of Westminster announced yesterday that it plans to strengthen the "science base" content of its courses after an internal review which examined their scientific credibility. Both universities are following the lead of the University of Central Lancashire, which last year stopped recruiting new students to its undergraduate degree in homoeopathic medicine.

The decisions by Salford and Westminster open a new chapter in the fierce debate about the place of awarding of Bachelor of Science degrees in subjects that are not science. Several universities run degree courses in complementary medicine, which include a range of therapies including homoeopathy, crystal healing and herbal medicine. But academics opposed to such courses regard them as misleading and damaging to the reputation of the universities that offer them.

In a letter to The Times today a group of scientists led by Professor David Colquhoun, a pharmacologist at University College London, say that they are encouraged that such courses are being closed down. However, they add that although some universities are now taking sensible actions in cancelling such courses, government policy on regulation of alternative medicine is in a mess because there is no official view on "which treatments work and which don't".

The University of Salford said it planned to wind down the undergraduate programme in traditional Chinese medicine "for financial and strategic reasons". He acknowledged that the course had been criticised by the scientific establishment, but said that the university would continue "to encourage and promote research into complementary and alternative medicine". He added: "It is not our role to comment on the views of others."

A spokesman for the University of Central Lancashire said that it would not be drawn into a debate about the scientific basis of certain forms of complementary medicine. However, he accepted that some of its courses had attracted "bad publicity" and said the university had commissioned a review of its courses in this area, which would be published at the end of March. "We have had academic debate within the university on whether these courses are scientific or not," he said.

A spokesman for the University of Westminster said the university had recently undertaken a review of its undergraduate Complementary Therapies courses as part of an internal restructure. "The review recommended that the delivery of the courses' distinctive scientific base be reinforced, along with the capacity of the department to conduct high quality research with due academic rigour," he said. He would not say whether the review had been ordered as a direct result of criticism of the courses, adding only that "graduates will continue to receive a grounding in scientific understanding and analysis".

Other universities have got around "pseudo science" accusations by offering such courses as arts degrees. The University Campus Suffolk, for example, offers a two-year foundation degree in holistic therapy as an arts course.

Other universities are more robust in their defence of their courses. Ian Appleyard, principal lecturer in acupuncture at London South Bank University, said that acupuncture should be studied for the very reason that it was not well understood from the standpoint of Western scientific medicine. Acupuncture had been used by a significant proportion of the world's population for thousands of years. "Recent large-scale clinical trials such Haake and meta-analysis from reputable institutions such as The Cochrane Collaboration, have shown that there is evidence to support the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture treatment for back pain and migraine," he said. [That is a barefaced lie. The studies he mentions showed that acupuncture had placebo benefits only]


British immigration chaos gives thousands the same birthday!

Tens of thousands of immigrants have been allowed to register the same January 1 birthday on official Government records, it emerged last night. They include at least 3,250 asylum seekers who told officials they did not know when they were born. Some asylum seekers destroy their papers and claim to be younger than they actually are, in order to increase their chances of remaining in the UK. Even failed claimants are not normally deported until they reach 18, if they arrived here alone. Also, judges do not recommend foreign criminals for deportation if they were still minors when their offences were committed.

Opposition MPs said the farce was proof the system remained in 'complete chaos' - almost three years after it was declared 'not fit for purpose' by then Home Secretary John Reid. Officials are supposed to record an accurate date of birth for every migrant arriving. But, if migrants insist their home country does not record their date of birth, officials are allowing them to register January 1.

In 2007, 21,652 people were logged as having this date of birth, including 3,000 asylum seekers. They represent one in every 25 entries on the immigration system, which records the details of asylum seekers, foreigners arriving on a visa and British nationals acting as their sponsor. Home Office officials said some countries recorded only a year of birth, and not the exact date. Others, such as China, do not recognise the British calendar year.

But police say that having so many migrants with the same date of birth is leading to problems of identification. One said: 'The amount of asylum seekers we pick up with the same birthday is ridiculous. It makes a complete mockery of the system.'

A case which highlights the problem is the 2005 killing of Zainab Kalokoh, who was shot through the head while cradling her six-month-old niece at a christening. Timy Babamuboni was jailed for 16 years for his part in the killing but will not be deported because of his age. He was officially 14 when he and fellow gang members carried out the killing in Peckham, South London. His brother Diamond, who claimed to be 18, was also jailed for 16 years.

But police believe both men were far older than their Nigerian birth certificates suggest. Officers think the original reason for the fraud was to enable the Babamuboni family to claim more state benefits in Britain and have a better chance of receiving housing.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: 'If ever you wanted proof this Government has created a system in complete chaos, it is this.' A UK Border Agency spokesman said: 'Less than 1 per cent of the people entered onto our systems in 2007 were asylum seekers with the date of birth of January 1. 'The vast majority come here to work, study or visit with passports which confirm their date of birth. 'One thing is clear - people cannot hide their identity by giving their date of birth as January 1.'


"Muslim schools performed best overall" in Britain

I believe it. Why? One word: Discipline

Pupils in England's religious state schools scored significantly better examination results at seven, 11 and 16 than those in community schools, figures show. On average, 85 per cent of children at Anglican, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools left primary school with a decent grasp of the basics - compared to 79 per cent elsewhere. Muslim schools performed best overall, although they constitute only a fraction of the country's 7,000 faith schools.

Critics claim that higher scores are achieved because faith schools use admissions policies to cream off middle-class pupils. Last year, the Catholic Church reported a surge in late baptisms as parents attempted to boost their children's chances of getting into the much sought-after schools. And a recent report by the Runnymede Trust - a multi-cultural think-tank - said they should be stripped of their power to select along religious lines to prevent distortion.

But faith leaders insist schools do well because of their religious ethos and a focus on traditional discipline and teaching methods. Oona Stannard, director of the Catholic Education Service, said: "Our success comes from fulfilling our mission, which is so much more than what Ofsted or the Government says a school must do. When I was a teacher, I remembered that I was not just seeing a child, but was seeing God in that child, and that creates expectations in teachers. "We are charged with developing the whole child."

Faith schools currently make up a third of all state-funded schools in England. Some 4,657 are Anglican, 2,053 are Roman Catholic and 82 belong to other Christian denominations. Another 36 schools are Jewish, eight Muslim, two Sikh and one is Hindu. Most use religion - often gauged by attendance at weekly worship or references from local faith leaders - as a tiebreaker when over-subscribed.

An analysis of GCSE results from 2007 reveals pupils in these schools make more progress at every stage of the education system. Some 51 per cent of pupils in Church of England schools and 52 per cent in Catholic schools gained five or more good GCSEs, including the subjects of English and maths. Scores increased to 63 per cent in Muslim schools but soared to 77 per cent in Jewish secondaries. By comparison, only 43 per cent of pupils made the grade in England's non-religious schools last year.

Faith schools also outperformed the rest based on the Government's favoured "value-added" measure, which compares performance at 16 to results when pupils started secondary school at 11. Scores are also weighted to take account of the number of pupils speaking English and second language and those on free meals - ensuring schools with large numbers of middle-class children do not gain unfair advantage. On this measure, Muslim pupils made the most progress, followed by those at Jewish schools, other Christian schools, Catholic schools and Anglican schools. Again they outstripped secular schools.

It suggests that claims faith schools are dominated by children from rich backgrounds may be exaggerated. Last month, a report by the schools adjudicator found that two-thirds of schools controlling their own entrance policies - most of which are faith schools - failed to follow the code on admissions. A large number were found to have asked for extra information from applicants, prompting critics to accuse them of seeking to discover parents' incomes and marital statuses in order to "cream off" middle-class pupils who tend to do better academically.


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