Saturday, May 09, 2009

More disrespect for a Christian heritage

Queen’s Trinity Cross honour deemed unlawful by Britain's Privy Council, sitting as a court of appeal: Unlawful in terms of the Trinidad & Tobago constitution, not in terms of Britain's constitution, as Britain has no written constitution, just a set of customs. Unmentioned below is why the medal is called the "Trinity" cross. "Trinidad" is Spanish for Trinity. Will they change the name of their island now too?

Old medal above, replacement below

An honour established by the Queen has been declared unlawful after Muslims and Hindus complained that its Christian name and cross insignia were offensive. The Trinity Cross of the Order of Trinity was established by the Queen 40 years ago to recognise distinguished service and gallantry in the former colony of Trinidad and Tobago. It has been received by 62 people including the cricketers Garfield Sobers and Brian Lara, the novelist V. S. Naipaul and many of the islands’ leading politicians and diplomats.

The Privy Council in London has ruled that the decoration is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-Christians. Five British law lords said that the creation of the honour breached the right to equality and the right to freedom of conscience and belief. The implications of the ruling on British decorations are being studied by lawyers at the Cabinet Office, which oversees the honours system. A spokesman said: “We have noted the judgment and are monitoring the situation.”

A parliamentary review of British honours has already recommended streamlining the system with new titles that have no reference to Christian saints or symbols.

The Trinity Cross was established in 1969 and took precedence over all other decorations except the Victoria Cross and George Cross. The title and choice of insignia followed six years of consultation and research of national awards in other countries. Questions were raised, though, about the overtly Christian nature of the words “Trinity” and “Cross” and the use of a cross insignia, which led to some of those nominated refusing to accept the decoration. Lord Hope of Craighead, in his Privy Council judgment, said that the Trinity Cross was “perceived by Hindus and Muslims living in Trinidad and Tobago as an overtly Christian symbol both in name and in substance”. He said that it breached the islands’ Constitution of 1976.

The law lords refused to make the order retrospective, meaning that the recipients will not be stripped of their honours.

The legal case had been brought by groups representing Trinidad and Tobago’s Muslim and Hindu communities, which account for about 30 per cent of the Caribbean islands’ population of 1.3 million. The High Court of Trinidad and Tobago ruled in 2004 that the decoration discriminated against non-Christians but said that it did not have the power to invalidate the royal order. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling. The island’s Cabinet has already agreed that the name of its highest national award should be renamed the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and that the Order of the Trinity would become the Distinguished Society of Trinidad and Tobago. They also said that the decoration would be redesigned, with the cross replaced by a medal.

The islands, which attained independence in 1962, are among the most prosperous countries in the Caribbean. The Queen is expected to visit in November when they host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

A review of the British honours system by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee in 2004 recommended reducing the number of decorations from twelve to four, with the new proposed titles having no reference to the Cross or Christian saints. Paul Flynn, a Labour member of the committee, said: “The titles are now meaningless, they are the remnant of another age and I don’t think they have any particular Christian significance.” The committee did not consider the issue of religious discrimination, with most of the controversy relating to the use of the word Empire in honours titles and the confusing and archaic nature of the system.

Benjamin Zephaniah, the black poet, publicly rejected his honour in 2003, saying that the title of the Order of the British Empire gave an impression of white supremacy. Last year Christine Grahame, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament, described the George Medal, one of the highest civilian awards for bravery, as “clearly very Anglocentric” and unsuitable for Scots. She suggested replacing it with a nationalist award such as a “St Andrews Medal”.

Hugh Peskett, editor-in-chief of Burke’s Peerage and Gentry, said that changing the names of titles to remove their Christian references would destroy hundreds of years of history. “Part of the significance of an honour is its antiquity and I can see no reason why they should be changed,” he said.


Britain's dumb border control again

They catch illegals arriving and then send them to a place where they can just walk right out the door.

Organised criminal gangs have exploited a children's home beside Heathrow airport for the systematic trafficking of Chinese children to work in prostitution and the drugs trade across Britain, a secret immigration document reveals.

The intelligence report from the Border and Immigration Agency, obtained by the Guardian, shows how a 59-bed local authority block has been used as a clearing house for a trade in children that stretches across four continents. At least 77 Chinese children have gone missing since March 2006 from the home, operated by the London borough of Hillingdon. Only four have been found. Two girls returned after a year of exploitation in brothels in the Midlands. One was pregnant while the other had been surgically fitted with a contraceptive device in her arm. Others are coerced with physical threats to work as street-sellers of counterfeit goods. It is thought that many work in cannabis farms.

The report, marked "restricted", reveals that victims of a trafficking network that has agents based as far apart as China, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Kenya arrive at the home just outside the airport perimeter, only to disappear almost immediately. It states: "The absconding may be at the facilitation of organised crime groups and the children may then be exploited for financial gain."

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, is facing calls from the opposition to explain how the home came to be exploited by traffickers. "This report appears to highlight a scandalous situation in our immigration system," said the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling. "To have such a large number of children going missing when they are supposed to be in care is unacceptable. We need an urgent explanation from the home secretary."

The report, by the immigration agency's national intelligence unit, was passed to the Guardian by a source concerned that too little action was being taken to tackle the problem. It says Chinese children arrive alone on flights to Heathrow before they are picked up by border officials and taken into local authority care. In two thirds of cases, they disappear quickly – most within a week and many within 24 hours. Many flee during fire drills and 10 have jumped out of windows. Others simply walk out of the front door into waiting cars.

Hillingdon council said the disappearances seemed "planned and coordinated" by criminal gangs. "They were being trafficked and there has been organised movement through the facility," said Julian Worcester, the deputy director of children's services. He said the number of Chinese children coming through Heathrow had declined recently as a result of attempts to disrupt the networks, but the most recent figures show the problem remains. Between April and December 2008, 13 of the 41 Chinese children taken into care in Hillingdon disappeared.

"There is still a large proportion who go missing but the total numbers are going down," said Worcester. "As a result of coordinated action, Heathrow is now seen as a more difficult airport to traffic people through. We think some of the activity has been displaced to other airports, in particular Stansted in Essex and Manchester." There is no suggestion that anyone involved in the administration of the home is responsible for aiding the traffickers. Other residents have fled situations in troubled countries, including Iraq and Somalia, and have not been trafficked.

Chinese children now account for a quarter of all suspected trafficking cases involving under 18s.

MPs and campaign groups are increasingly concerned at the number of suspected victims of trafficking who are going missing from local authority care. Last week, the Home Office's child exploitation and online protection centre said one in five suspected victims of child trafficking were missing from care. "The Hillingdon experience is of such national significance that it cannot be swept under the carpet," said Christine Beddoe, the chief executive of Ecpat UK, a charity that campaigns against child trafficking. "We have been calling on government for an inquiry into missing children for years. Every year we are ignored, hundreds more children are being exploited. Does it require another death like Victoria Climbié for the government to act?"

Minutes of a recent meeting about Chinese child trafficking attended by officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the UK Human Trafficking Centre revealed a "lack of will to deal with child trafficking cases" among police child abuse investigation teams.

Ping Hayward, the director of the Chinese Community Centre in London, said: "This is a hidden and underground part of Chinese life."


The Islamic NHS

The NHS just tells a Muslim dentist not to discriminate, rather than penalize him in any way for doing so. Will it be different this time? Unlikely. Muslims must be treated as if they are made of spun glass. I predict a token fine which will change nothing

A Muslim dentist refused to treat patients unless they wore traditional Islamic dress, it was alleged today. Omer Butt, 32, ordered women to put on head scarves or he would not register them or their families at his NHS-funded clinic, it was claimed. At least two patients were left in pain after they declined to follow his self-imposed rules, the General Dental Council heard.

It is the second time that the dentist - who is the brother of a former spokesman of the radical Islamic group al-Muhajiroun - has appeared before the council's disciplinary panel on similar allegations. Two years ago he was reprimanded for telling an Asian mother-of-two he would not register her unless she wore the Muslim hijab. The GDC heard how Butt believed it was his duty to stop Muslim patients committing what he believed was Al-Kaba'ir, a religious sin. He even put a laminated sign on the wall of his waiting room telling patients they would have to adhere to his strict dress code or find another dentist.

John Snell, for the GDC, said: 'He sought to impose a dress code on patients attending his practice. 'He required that women cover their hair with a head scarf, or hijab, and that male patients remove any gold jewellery. 'If he had simply expressed a preference, without imposing any compulsion to adhere to this dress code, there may be no cause for complaint. 'However, he insisted - and those who did not comply were refused treatment. 'He made compliance with Islamic dress code a condition of treatment, which is entirely inappropriate under the auspices of the National Health Service. 'Patients should have access to NHS treatment regardless of their religious observance, or otherwise.'

One patient, referred to only as Mrs F, told how she went with her husband and three children to register as patients at the Unsworth Smile Clinic, in Bury, Lancashire, in 2006. While they were waiting to be seen, Butt called her husband into an office and told him he would have to tell his wife to wear a head scarf or the family would not be seen. They promptly left and made a formal complaint to the NHS.

Mrs F told the panel: 'I was extremely annoyed. It's my choice if I wear a Hijab or not. But he told my husband he wouldn't treat any of us until I did. 'He even offered to provide one for me to use, but I didn't want to wear it. I shouldn't have to wear it to get treatment. 'I had great pain in my tooth at the time, but I wasn't going to stand for that so we left.'

Another patient and her family had to leave the clinic in June 2007 because she would not wear the religious headdress after spending a year looking for a dentist in the area, the hearing was told. The woman's husband, known as Mr C, was also called into a private room at the surgery where Butt asked him to impose a dress code on his wife. His wife said: 'My husband came out and he looked quite angry and his face was red. He said 'let's go'. 'He shouldn't say to me that he can't treat me unless I wear the hijab. He said he could provide one for us, but I didn't want to wear one. I was in pain that day.'

Butt, of Prestwich, Manchester, denies charges of misconduct for his treatment of two patients at the clinic. If found guilty he faces being removed the dental register. In September 2007 Butt was formally reprimanded by the GDC for similar behaviour and found guilty of serious professional misconduct.


Unruly pupils and rise in attacks drive Scottish teachers to despair

Teachers have been driven to “despair” by growing indiscipline in Scottish classrooms, being unable to exclude unruly pupils and plagued by constant low-level disruption, it was claimed last night. One trade union leader said that there was frustration within the profession at the apparent drive to keep problem children in mainstream education at all costs. Another representative said that stronger guidance should be provided to determine when such pupils should be expelled.

They spoke out following a Holyrood debate, called by the Scottish Conservatives, in which the Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said that the rising numbers of armed attacks in schools meant it was “little wonder that many in the teaching profession are in despair about what can be done”. She said that the increasing problem was consuming “more and more” of teachers’ time. Figures released earlier this year showed that physical attacks with a weapon increased from 286 in 2006-07 to 366 in 2007-08 and, that in the last academic year there were 39,717 exclusions.

Keith Brown, the Schools Minister, said that this constituted an 11 per cent decline on the previous year but backed moves by the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration to devolve decision-making on exclusions to head teachers.

The SNP Administration has been condemned by opposition politicians for its record on education and its failure to meet its manifesto pledges to reduce class sizes, increase teacher numbers and improve school buildings.

Following yesterday’s debate, Margaret Smith, of the Lib Dems, claimed that these “broken promises” were “hampering progress on tackling indiscipline in our schools”.

Earlier this year, a Dundee teacher, Mike Barile, was convicted of assault for grabbing a 15-year-old pupil and pinning another to a wall after they verbally abused him. Union leaders said yesterday that teachers were being forced to deal with insults and violence as well as insidious low-level misbehaviour.

Jim Docherty, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, agreed there was despair among teachers and said that the situation had been aggravated by a wish at both local and national levels of government to make mainstream education more “inclusive”. He said this meant that problem children were no longer being removed to dedicated facilities. “Specialist units for pupils who are socially, emotionally and behaviourally disturbed are at least part of the answer,” he said. He urged local authorities to produce more robust guidelines for when a pupil should be expelled.

Ken Cunningham, of the School Leaders Scotland union, agreed that there should be more central guidance — but insisted that heads should retain decision-making powers. He said that it was an exaggeration to describe teachers as despairing — and that, while there were violent incidents and low-level disruptions, “schools are overwhelmingly safe places for youngsters to be”.

A survey out today shows that one in ten teachers has not been given any information on the Executive’s overhaul of the curriculum and more than a third have not been told how it will affect their subject. The Educational Institute for Scotland’s study found widespread ignorance of the details of the Curriculum For Excellence, which is to be introduced in 2010-11.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the union, said that it and most teachers and lecturers supported the curriculum’s aims. Yet the existence of a “substantial minority” that did not feel fully engaged with its implementation was “an issue of real concern and urgency for local authorities and the Scottish government to address”. His union was worried about the lack of funding for the curriculum and that there was insufficient time for teachers to work on it, he added.

Judith Sischy, of the Scottish Council for Independent Schools, agreed that there was “a lot of concern” among teachers about how the curriculum would affect them. While teachers were pleased to see the details of the curriculum that were published in April, those in the secondary sector were worried about how they would tie in with new qualifications such as the Scottish Baccalaureate, she said.

At its annual conference the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association is to vote on a resolution for industrial action to be considered if more funding is not provided for the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence.


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