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Leicester Secular Society is the world's oldest Secular Society. It meets at its headquarters, the Leicester Secular Hallmarker in the centre of Leicestermarker, Englandmarker, at 75 Humberstone Gate.

Founding of the Society

Founded in 1851, the society is the oldest surviving of numerous Secular Societies formed throughout Englandmarker in the mid-19th century, largely through the efforts of George Jacob Holyoake and his supporters. (The National Secular Society was founded in 1866).

Principles

The Society is rooted in the principles of secularism. The membership page of its website includes the following assertions:



Practical Humanity: Our efforts should be devoted to the elimination of human misery, injustice, poverty and ignorance in the world as it is here and now.

We oppose religious teachings that divert people away from realities, into inactive fatalism, supernatural worship, or superstitious ritual.

Free Speech: People should be able to express and publish their views, however controversial, without fear of persecution, prosecution or physical harm, so long as they allow others the same freedom.

We oppose bigotry and coercion based on factors such as beliefs, racial and ethnic origins, disability, sex, age, sexuality or lifestyle.

Rational Argument: Anyone should be prepared to submit their views to vigorous argument, questioning their assumptions and testing their conclusions.

We refuse to believe or act on any dogma advocated without evidence just because some authority says so.

Working Together: Moral values like kindness, loyalty and honesty arise from the need for people to live together in a peaceful and constructive manner.

We advocate separation of church and state, withdrawal of special privileges of religious organisations, and secularisation of church schools.



History

The society owes its survival partly to a long tradition of radical thought in Leicester, going back to the Lollards, Luddites, Dissenters, Chartists and the Cooperative movement, but also to the building of the Leicester Secular Hallmarker in 1881. This was financed by subscription from the members although the Leicester engineer and councillor Josiah Gimson was the main benefactor. It was Gimson who chose the young and innovative architect, W Larner Sugden, and who engaged the sculptor Ambrose Louis Vago for the five busts on the front of the building which depict Robert Owen, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Socrates and, most controversially, Jesus.

After Gimson's death in 1883, one of his sons, Sidney Gimson, became the mainstay of the society until shortly before his death in 1938. He was ably assisted by F. J. Gould as secretary from 1899 to 1908. Another son, Ernest Gimson, became famous as a designer in the Arts and Crafts movement of William Morris, whose speech on "Art and Socialism" at the Secular Hall in 1884 marked the beginning of the Socialist movement in Leicester..

In the period after the Second World War the society went into a decline. Average weekly attendances dropped from a high of 50 to a low of 20: its members having perhaps thought its battles largely won. However, the recent resurgence of religion as a political issue has reinvigorated the membership.

Current status

In 2008, the membership has expanded to over 160. There are also ambitious plans, with assistance from heritage grants, to refurbish the Secular Hall to meet modern standards, including disabled access to the upper floors.

See also



References

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