A Burnley vicar ,who has campaigned to expose sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Church of England, has been named Secularist of the Year
The Rev Graham Sawyer, who is the vicar of St James’ Church of Briercliffe, was one of two joint winners presented with a £5,000 prize at a lunch hosted by the National Secular Society.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who won the award in 2012, presented the prize at the event in central London.
The award, which Mr Sawyer shared with Phil Johnson, from Eastbourne, the chairman of Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, a support group for those who have been sexually abused by ministers or clergy. came the day after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse concluded three weeks of hearings into the cover-up of abuse in the diocese of Chichester.
Stephen Evans, the NSS’s chief executive, praised the duo for their “courageous efforts to break the silence that has allowed an epidemic of abuse to take place in the Church of England”.
He said:“Graham Sawyer has made strong, reliable and consistent demands for reform from within the Church of England.
"Phil Johnson has given a voice to many voiceless people who have suffered clerical abuse. Both have faced institutional hostility and worked tirelessly to promote meaningful change which will protect children in the future, often at great personal cost.
“We hope their work will cause those in positions of power to reflect on the damage done by excessive deference to religious authority.
"The Church of England must be held to account for its cover-up of abuse, including through independent oversight of its safeguarding policies. And ultimately it needs to be disestablished so society can hold clerical authorities to the same standards as everyone else.”
Speaking about the award Mr Sawyer said he was " very hunbled" to receive it.
He said: "When religious leaders are given secular power or one particular religion (let alone one group in one religion) is given a position of privilege by the state, we all too often see an abuse of power:
"Perhaps an example of this is the way that the established Church of England has treated victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by its leaders over so many years.
"I cannot understand why any reasonable person in the UK – whether they be a person of faith or not – couldn't support the NSS's principled version secularism that defends both freedom of and from religion.
"In today’s modern, multicultural and multi-faith Britain, with people of no faith as well, we need to send out a very clear message to everyone that all will be treated equally and fairly.”
The NSS has given out the Secularist of the Year award annually since 2005 to recognise a campaigner or group for an outstanding contribution to the secularist movement.
The society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone's human rights so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs.
Mr Sawyer, who has been the vicar of Briercliffe, since 2012 also has Australian and New Zealand citizenship.
A former child protection worker, journalist, broadcaster, teacher and author in 1992 he stood to be MP in Barnsley.
He has worked for the BBC World Service and also the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden.
Mr Sawyer has served as a vicar at several churches in both the UK and New Zealand.