Boris Johnson obviously didn’t do GCSE Religious Studies


With the GCSE Religious Studies Morality exam paper next week, students will begin revising what religions say about alcohol and drugs. Today’s embarrassing ignorance by Boris Johnson at a Sikh temple in Bristol emphasises the importance of young people doing Religious Studies at secondary school. Boris Johnson the trade secretary seemed oblivious that Sikhs don’t drink alcohol when he said: “I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here by saying that whenever we go to India – Mumbai or to Delhi – we have to bring clinking in our luggage,” he said. “We have to bring Johnnie Walker, we have to bring whisky. There is a duty of 150 per cent in India on imports of Scotch whisky. So we have to bring it in duty free for our relatives. But imagine what we could do if there was a trade deal with India, which there will be, because then the tariffs would go.”

Now that you’ve gained an insight into Sikh attitudes to alcohol perhaps you might want a refresher of some other faiths:

Christianity alcohol



Lifestyle Rationing or Health Optimisation?

Quite often in Religious Studies lessons our discussion lead us to the NHS – the National Health Service in Britain which provides free medical treatment to people resident in the country. If we are discussing the causes of crime; illegal drugs; alcohol and cigarette addiction; multi-faith society; and immigration we often at some point mention the NHS and its benefits and flaws.


So what do we think about some NHS trusts having a criteria which puts smokers and obese people at the back of the queue for certain treatments like hip and knee operations? The critics call it ‘lifestyle rationing’ whereas the NHS Trust says they advise patients to improve their lifestyle over 6 months as health optimisation. Now other NHS Trusts might take up this policy and so people are debating whether it is morally fair: the Evening Standard, The Sun, The Independent,  and BBC all reported this story.

What might a religious person think about this debate? With regards Christianity we could refer to: sanctity of life, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Sheep and Goat, Do Not Kill, the Golden Rule, Love Thy Neighbour, live like Jesus, and situation ethics. Whereas for Buddhism we could refer to the 5 Precepts focusing in on Do not Harm and Do not Take Drugs, Karma, Tanha (craving), Karuna (compassion) and Upaya Kausalya (skilful means).


Are animals safe in zoos?

In the UK zoo inspectors will go and check on zoos incase they are mistreating animals. There are numerous laws to protect animals:


Recently zoo inspectors said they had found “significant problems caused by overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor nutrition, lack of suitable animal husbandry and a lack of any sort of developed veterinary care” at South Lakes Safari Zoo.


The Guardian reports that one African spurred tortoise named Goliath died after being electrocuted by electric fencing, while the decomposing body of a squirrel monkey was discovered behind a radiator. The zoo had a death rate of about 12% of its animals a year. Can you think of any more pros and cons of keeping animals in zoos?


Religions have an opinion on zoos too: how do their teachings affect what they think of zoos?


UN Global Commission on Drug Policy

The United Nation’s Global Commission on Drug Policy has just released its annual report which states that civil and criminal punishments for drug use and possession should be abolished.

The former Swiss president and chair of the commission, Ruth Dreifuss, told the Guardian: “Politicians should show and prove to the people that what they are doing is to save the lives of these people and bring them to the health services they need to avoid overdoses and to create a climate so when these people are in need, they are able to find help.”

The report explains that even though most of the world has punitive harsh measures to try and deter people taking drugs the world has actually seen a 33% increase in the number of 15-64 year olds taking drugs in the last twelve months in the time period 2003-2014.

Do you think Britain should decriminalise drug taking and possession? Or do we need strict laws on drugs for the protection of British citizens?

Turkey Planning to Reintroduce the Death Penalty

Turkey is trying to join the EU, however since last summer’s uprising by groups in the military they have said they are going to re-introduce the death penalty which should automatically bar them from joining.

Wading into the debate is the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who told the room of EU Foreign Ministers that some EU states had previously taken time to abolish the death penalty in the 1980s and 1990s – and that this had no been an automatic bar on membership.

These comments might sound a bit whiffy considering Johnson used to complain about Turkey joining the EU and often used it as a strong reason for Britain leaving the European Union. Now he’s saying that Turkey should be allowed to join even if it’s planning to start the death penalty again. The answer for this turnaround might lie in Turkey’s important position in regional conflicts like Syria and the fight against ISIS. Politics, eh!


You can investigate whether it is ever morally acceptable to have the death penalty on a BBC Ethics guide to the topic. Moreover the BBC also has Christian opinions on the topic in its GCSE Bitesize pages. On BBC Three they have a 28 minute documentary called Death Row and Forgiveness which has some upsetting scenes. If you are more interested in History, the BBC made a documentary called the History of Capital Punishment which has an interesting perspective.


With Newborns being Handed Over in Car Parks There are Calls to Change Surrogacy Laws

The number of babies born through surrogacy has risen, due to improvements in fertility technology and the reduced stigma about non-traditional families. Some 214 surrogate babies were registered with the courts in 2014-15, up from 138 in 2011-12.

Surrogate births are governed by the 1985 Surrogacy Arrangements Act, which bans commercial payments and requires a six-week period immediately after a baby is born before parties can apply to the courts for a formal transfer of parental rights. Campaigners and lawyers argue such rules are now outdated. The Government has said that reforms to the surrogacy law could be introduced by 2020.

But for now new mothers are getting upset at how they are being forced to hold their new children in such sterile conditions as the hospital car park. One new mother described how “[Hospital staff] took us off the premises. They got the surrogate’s husband to come and escort us out. He physically carried the baby out of the hospital and handed us the baby in the car park. It seems hospitals don’t want to take any responsibility in case a legal dispute occurs and it has happened on their territory so they’re liable.”

She explained: “We felt like we were stealing a baby. It put a huge strain on everything. There’s an overwhelming sense you’ve done something wrong by having a child through surrogacy. We’re good law-abiding people and we were treated like we’d done something wrong. I felt incredibly vulnerable.”

An interesting link to this story is the recent BBC Scotland documentary by Alex Jones entitled Fertility and Me which sets out the statistics on infertility as well as the emotional turmoil couples feel when they don’t get pregnant as quickly or easily as they hope.