Secularist of the Year 2012 - Peter Tatchell   20 Mar 2012

The Peter Tatchell Foundation

Secularist of the Year 2012 - Peter Tatchell

Irwin Prize for defending the separation of religion and the state

London, UK - 19 March 2012

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has won this year's award for Secularist of the Year. He was presented with the £5,000 Irwin Prize by the author and freedom of expression campaigner Nick Cohen, at a ceremony in London hosted by the National Secular Society (NSS) on Saturday, 17 March 2012. The audience included prominent scientists, journalists, politicians and writers.

See the NSS website:

Anthony Gajadharsingh, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said:

"We are delighted that our Director, Peter Tatchell, has been given this prestigious award. He has been a voice of human rights and secularism for more than four decades; challenging religious intolerance and defending freedom of belief for people of all faiths and none. While opposing special rights and privileges for religious organisations, the Peter Tatchell Foundation will continue to work for the human rights of everyone, believers and non-believers alike," he said.

Commenting on his receipt of the award, Peter Tatchell added:

"I feel very privileged and honoured to receive the Irwin Prize. However, compared to the heroism of secularists and humanists living under religious fundamentalist regimes, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, my own efforts are quite insignificant. I salute their courageous, inspiring work in defence of rationalism, scientific knowledge, freedom of expression and human rights.

"I pay tribute to my humanist and secularist colleagues in many countries, including Leo Igwe in Nigeria, Kato Mukasa in Uganda and George Thindwa in Malawi.

"Worldwide, organised religion is the single greatest threat to human rights; especially to the rights of women, LGBT people, atheists and minority faiths. Religious-inspired dogmas persecute Christians in Pakistan, Sunni Muslims in Iran, Shia Muslims in Bahrain and Jewish people in much of the Middle East. In many countries, atheists and apostates face discrimination, harassment, threats and violence from religious zealots. Some Islamist countries have the death penalty for Muslims who turn away from their faith. Even in the West, the religious right menaces freedom of expression and equality, with its demands for the censorship of the satire that targets religion and with its campaigns in defence of gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

"Secularists support the separation of religion and the state. With no established state religion, there is equality for people of all faiths and none. Secularism is the best guarantor of religious freedom. It is in the interest of people of all faiths, as well as the interests of non-believers. People are entitled to their faith but they are not entitled to insist that their religious values are the law of the land," concluded Mr Tatchell.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said:

"We are very pleased to have been able to reward Peter's lifelong commitment to human rights and to honour his support for a just and inclusive secular society. He has been active in many progressive campaigns over the past forty or more years, not least on gay rights, and has had to endure much public and press abuse because of it. But he has persevered and now he has made the unprecedented transition from public enemy number one to national treasure."

Mr Sanderson said in his introduction to the presentation:

"I'm very pleased to see that at last he (Peter Tatchell) has been recognised as a true secularist and someone who has given much to the cause....

"Of course, you'd have had to live on the moon not to have been aware of Peter's many campaigns to drive forward human rights. He is an international player and perhaps his most famous confrontation was that with Robert Mugabe, the tyrant of Zimbabwe . This resulted in him being badly beaten by Mugabe's thug-like minders.

"Peter is a fighter for civil liberties, criminal justice, democracy, free speech, LGBT rights, sex education and social justice.

"He has also faced physical attack in Russia and regularly finds himself the subject of attack in the streets and on public transport. His home is a fortress, but his determination remains resolute.

"The NSS first came across Peter when, in 1998, he audaciously climbed into the pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral and interrupted the Archbishop mid-flow. He wanted to call him to account for his antipathy to gay rights, something the Archbishop had consistently refused to address.

"Peter was charged under an obscure piece of legislation: the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. It uniquely protects churches from "riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour" and prosecutes anyone who "shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble" a priest. The reverse, of course, doesn't necessarily apply. For all those who have been molested, let, disturbed or troubled by a priest, there's little redress - particularly given that the worst offenders are secreted away by the Pope in the Vatican, beyond the reach of those troublesome international arrest warrants.

"It is a law that uniquely protects churches and chapels - in other words a religious privilege - and it was at that point that we took up his cause. A conviction could have resulted in a substantial prison sentence.

"The magistrate could not avoid finding Peter guilty but showed his contempt of the law under which Peter was convicted by fining him a derisory £18.60, the year the Act was passed expressed in pounds and pence," said Mr Sanderson.

Clive Bone, the former councillor at the centre of the Bideford council prayer victory in the High Court was awarded the £1,000 Simon Biber Memorial prize for Special Achievement.

Previous winners of Secularist of the Year are:

2011 - Sophie in 't Veld MEP (presented by A. C. Grayling)
2010 - The Southall Black Sisters (presented by Dr. Michael Irwin, accepted by Pragna Patel)
2008/2009 - Evan Harris MP and Lord Avebury (presented by Richard Dawkins)
2007 - Mina Ahadi (presented by Joan Smith)
2006 - Steve Jones (presented by Dick Taverne)
2005 - Maryam Namazie (presented by Polly Toynbee)

(University of Auckland)

Add a comment

Bookmark and Share


PM welcomes closer partnership with ASEAN

22 Nov 2015 News
New Zealand Government Rt Hon John Key Prime Minister 22 November 2015   PM welcomes closer partnership with ASEAN Prime ... more

Submissions open for United Nations report

20 Nov 2015 News
Minister for Women Louise Upston welcomes public consultation on a draft report for the United Nations outlining New Zealand’s... more


Increased Canterbury quake costs pushed Tower into the red

20 Nov 2015 Business News By Paul McBeth
Nov. 20 (BusinessDesk) - Tower, the general insurer, says it will report an annual loss next week after raising its provisioning for... more

NZ inflation expectations drift further below 2% mid-point

17 Nov 2015 Business News
Article - BusinessDesk   NZ inflation expectations drift further below 2% mid-point Nov. 17 (BusinessDesk) - Longer term ... more


Awards recognise NZ recreation's top performers

20 Nov 2015 Lifestyle
New Zealand’s recreation industry recognised 10 inspiring individuals and organisations at the New Zealand Recreation ... more

Villa Maria Proves a Huge Hit

16 Nov 2015 Lifestyle
VILLA MARIA PROVES A HUGE HIT TO OPEN SOVEREIGN TRI SERIES The Sovereign Tri Series for 2015/16 is underway with today’s... more


Auckland house price growth slows in Oct as new rules bite

4 Nov 2015 Property By Tina Morrison
  Auckland house price growth moderates in October as new rules introduced Nov. 4 (BusinessDesk) - Auckland house price growth... more

Tenancy bond system moves online

1 Nov 2015 Property
New Zealand Government 1 November 2015 A new tenancy bond service goes online today as part of the Government’s programme of... more


New migrant service launched for New Zealand and Australia

12 Oct 2015 Migration
Those looking for a sense of security when immigrating to New Zealand or Australia, need look no futher than the first inusrance... more

NZ's annual net migration reaches record 60,300 in August

21 Sep 2015 Migration
  NZ's annual net migration reaches record 60,300 in August on Indian, Chinese students By Jonathan Underhill Sept. 21... more


Australia's cloud passports only "conceptual" for now: DIA

29 Oct 2015 Travel & Tourism By Fiona Rotherham
Internal Affairs says Australia's cloud passports only "conceptual" for now   Oct. 29 (BusinessDesk) - The Department of... more

Auckland Airport a 'conductor' for New Zealand tourism: CEO

22 Oct 2015 Travel & Tourism By Fiona Rotherham
  Auckland Airport a 'conductor' for New Zealand tourism, CEO Littlewood says Oct. 22 (BusinessDesk) - Auckland International... more


Richie McCaw retires from rugby

19 Nov 2015 Sport
New Zealand Rugby Union Richie McCaw retires from rugby Richie McCaw has today confirmed he is hanging up his boot... more

Burling and Tuke on top at the mid-way mark

19 Nov 2015 Sailing
Yachting New Zealand Burling and Tuke on top at the mid-way mark at 49er World Champs Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have taken the... more


Gordon Campbell on why IS’s weakness makes it more dangerous

20 Nov 2015 Opinion By Gordon Campbell
Gordon Campbell on why Islamic State’s growing weakness makes it more dangerous One of the great things about writing online... more

Gordon Campbell on Islam and the Paris attacks

17 Nov 2015 Opinion By Gordon Campbell
According to polls, a third of Republican voters in Iowa want Islam to be criminalized. Unfortunately, the c... more

Kiwi Success

Cavalier promotes CFO Paul Alston to top job

20 Nov 2015 Appointments
Article - BusinessDesk   Cavalier promotes CFO Paul Alston to top job By Paul McBeth Nov. 20 (BusinessDesk) - Cavalier Corp, the... more

Employment Court Judge appointed

20 Nov 2015 Appointments
New Zealand Government Hon Christopher FinlaysonAttorney-General 20 November 2015 Kerry Smith, barrister and solicitor of... more


UPDATE: Weaker employment adds to rate-cut case

4 Nov 2015 Recruitment By Johnathan Underhill
Article - BusinessDesk   UPDATE: NZ employment falls in third quarter, adding to case for further RBNZ rate cut (Recasts to... more

Unemployment rises 0.1 per cent

4 Nov 2015 Recruitment
The latest Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) has reflected the softening of the economy in the first half of the year, with an... more