Off with their heads: We don't live in the 1550s, you know

I'll support anyone's right to have religious views, however batty I think they are, but I won't join them in the 16th century

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The Independent Online

Isn’t it funny, watching the BBC’s Wolf Hall, with the wonderful Mark Rylance, to see how our leaders once had to jump through hoops to appease the church? There was the pope, sticking his oar into everything, while the king put his own spin on defending (the) faith and parliamentarians tried to keep their heads while making laws about an entire country’s moral code. Just like now, in fact.

Last week, praise be to science, MPs voted to approve mitochondrial donation, despite the objections of Catholicism and the Church of England. But what were bishops doing getting a say in a medical matter anyway? It’s just like the debate on equal marriage for same-sex couples: if you don’t approve of it on religious grounds, don’t do it. I’ll support anyone’s right to have religious views, however batty I think they are, but I won’t join them in the 16th century.

How disappointing, then, that the Government still allows some special measures for religious people that contradict scientific evidence and moral sense. Last week, the charity Animal Aid released footage that showed sheep in a halal slaughterhouse being kicked and thrown around, and their throats hacked at while they struggled in pain and terror. The abuse of animals by rogue workers in slaughterhouses, and halal or kosher slaughter (without stunning) are separate problems; but slaughter without stunning is a problem. The RSPCA says so, citing evidence from the Farm Animal Welfare Council that cutting the neck of a conscious animal results in “very significant pain and distress”. The FAWC advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and therefore it is a legal requirement in the UK to stun all animals before slaughter. Except that certain religious groups are exempt. How medieval.

Meanwhile, a handful of faith schools are shocked and disgusted about being expected to inform school inspectors how they handle homophobic bullying in their schools. They cry foul in the right-wing press, which leads to accusations of Ofsted “teaching five-year-olds about gay sex”. Writing in The Independent, the chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said, “[you’d] be forgiven for thinking Oftsed is rampaging through the education system on an aggressively secular mission to tear up the fabric of England’s proud faith-school tradition”. Well, it isn’t. But maybe it should. Anyone with “religious reasons” for not doing everything possible to protect children from bullying should be sent back to Tudor England where they belong.

Black hearts

Hot on the heels of the Money Advice Service finding that one in 10 people has a secret escape fund (aka “f*** you fund”) for when they leave their partner, the top “dating” website for already-married people has named “Red Tuesday”, just before Valentine’s Day, as the day you’re most likely to get dumped. This is after polling its two-timing users, who had most often chucked someone in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day in the following ways (in order of popularity): by text; by phone; in person; on Facebook; via Whatsapp; on Twitter. So, if you’re a cheating scumbag who would like to meet another unreliable cheapskate with alley-cat morals this February, you know where to go.

To find a literary masterpiece

In a literary discovery equivalent to finding the Holy Grail down the back of a sofa, the publisher of To Kill a Mockingbird’s author Harper Lee announced last week that a copy has been found of another, finished novel by her that everybody had completely forgotten about. The shine slightly went off that story when suspicious fans started asking questions about why it has seen the light of day only now.

But never mind, there’s news of an even more exciting find in Jennifer Lopez’s new movie, Boy Next Door. J-Lo plays a bookish divorcee (we can tell she is bookish – she wears glasses) whose love interest gives her an embossed hardback that he claims to have bought for a dollar in a garage sale. It’s The Iliad. “Oh my God,” she breathes, opening the front cover, “this is a first edition!” Perhaps in the sequel he will win her back by getting it signed.

No smoking without ire

Three cheers for Bristol, which has banned smoking in two of its public squares. I wish it could be banned in the busy high street where I work, before the next person blindly wandering along, texting and smoking finds that stabbing me in the eye with a lit cigarette turns out to be very bad for their health. I like to drink pints of beer and eat huge portions of baked beans and chips, which – like smoking – can result in unpleasant emissions for others.

So, smokers, let’s cut a deal: don’t blow smoke and wave fire in my face, and I won’t fart in yours.

No 10 doesn’t add up

If a politician were to admit she struggles with reading and writing, could not even try to spell “immigration” or “taxes” and hasn’t the faintest idea where Syria is, there would immediately be questions about her suitability for office. So why is it OK, even obligatory, for politicians in charge of immigration, taxes and finding Syria to admit they’re no good at basic maths? David Cameron became the latest last week, refusing to tell reporters what nine times eight was, “in case I get it wrong”.

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, did similarly, right after her speech declaring a “war on illiteracy and innumeracy”. So did George Osborne last year when a seven-year-old asked him what seven times eight was. I don’t know what they teach them at these fancy private schools, but it is not cute or funny for any adult to be innumerate, and it’s pretty scary that the man responsible for tackling the budget deficit isn’t sure that he can multiply seven by eight. We need a war on innumeracy in the Government, and quick about it.

Ellen E Jones is away