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Quick Nav : BHA Home : News : General Press Releases : Polly Toynbee named President of British Humanist Association 

Polly Toynbee named new President of British Humanist Association

Political and social commentator Polly Toynbee has been appointed as the new President of the British Humanist Association (BHA), taking up the office that fell vacant with the death of comedian Linda Smith last year.

Ms Toynbee, accepting the appointment, said, �I am honoured to be appointed President of the BHA at a time when not for many years has there been such a need to promote a Humanist view of the world. Religious fanaticism is the clear and present danger all round the world. We need to oppose religious zealotry by promoting the positive and liberating case for believing life on earth is precious because the here and now is all there is and our destiny is in our own hands. Mankind itself has all the innate moral strength it needs, without inventing divine reward and wrath.

�Humanism is tolerant of all beliefs, so long as they oppress no-one else, including weak members of their own communities, and so long as they seek no special privileges from the state. The Humanist view of life is progressive and optimistic, in awe of human potential, living without fear of judgement and death, finding enough purpose and meaning in life, love and leaving a good legacy.�

Ms Toynbee takes up her new office at a time of greatly increased activity for the BHA, with growing membership and public support for its work and the importance of its campaigns against religious privilege and discrimination (most notably in state-funded �faith schools�) gaining wider recognition.

Hanne Stinson , BHA chief executive, welcoming the appointment, said, �We are all delighted. Polly is highly articulate, and well respected as a commentator on social affairs and religion: just the person we need to raise the profile of the BHA and help us get the views of the people we represent across to government and opinion-formers. She is a great opinion-former herself, and I am sure she will do a wonderful job for us. Linda Smith � the BHA�s much loved President until her tragically early death last year � will be a very hard act to follow, but I am sure that Polly can do it.�

For more about Polly Toynbee see note 1 below.
For more about the office of President see note 2 below.
For more about the British Humanist Association see note 3 below.

To arrange interviews or for more info rmation, contact Hanne Stinson on 020 7079 3583 or email or contact Andrew Copson (BHA Education and Public Affairs) on 020 7079 3584 or email


1. About Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee is a political and social commentator on �The Guardian�. She was the BBC�s Social Affairs Editor until 1996, and has previously worked for �The Independent�, �The Observer� and �The Washington Monthly�, USA . She has written books on the NHS, adoption, unskilled work and audits of Labour�s first and second terms. Her recent book was �Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain�. Among other awards, she has won the George Orwell prize and this year�s Commentator of the Year in the National Press Awards. She is Chair of the Brighton Festival and President of the Social Policy Association. She is a director of the Wise Group, a social enterprise for employment. Educated at Badminton School , Holland Park Comprehensive and Oxford University , she lives in Lambeth and has four children and three grandchildren.

2. About the Presidency of the British Humanist Association

Linda Smith was President of the Association from 2004-2006; she was preceded by agony aunt and broadcaster Claire Rayner . Previous Presidents have included jazz musician George Melly , cosmologist Sir Hermann Bondi and author and scientist Sir Julian Huxley

In addition to its President the BHA has thirteen Vice Presidents: Professor Simon Blackburn , Baroness Blackstone , Professor Sir Bernard Crick , Professor Richard Dawkins FRS , Dr James Hemming , Lord Hughes of Woodside , Professor Richard Norman , Claire Rayner OBE , Dr Harry Stopes-Roe , Baroness Turner of Camden , Baroness Whitaker , Jane Wynne Willson , Professor Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS .

The BHA is also supported by a panel of Distinguished Supporters, all eminent in their fields � whether the arts, sciences, politics, academia or media. You can read more about them  here

3. About the BHA

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity promoting Humanism, and representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned but non-religious people in the UK .

The BHA is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for a secular state. Committed to human rights, democracy, equality and mutual respect, the BHA works for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief and speech, and for an end to the privileged position of religion in law, education, broadcasting and wherever else it occurs.

The BHA is also renowned for its humanist funerals, weddings, baby-namings and other non-religious ceremonies. These meet a very real need in the community, and the rapidly growing demand for high quality ceremonies has meant there are now many thousands performed each year.

The BHA helps humanists and other non-religious people to gain confidence in their beliefs and build a foundation from which to live their lives with integrity. The BHA supports networks for families, teachers and others to share ideas and experience and provide mutual support. Local humanist groups provide opportunities for humanists to meet like-minded people for lectures, discussions and social activities.


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