thinking makes it so

There is grandeur in this view of life…

Atheist given Asbo for leaflets mocking Jesus

with 3 comments

I don’t think this is cool. (See also the National Secular Society’s response.)

Harry Taylor apparently left anti-religious posters in prayer rooms at Liverpool John Lennon Airport (strap-line: above us only sky) in 2008.

Liverpool Crown Court has just found him guilty of ‘causing religiously aggravated harassment’ and given him a suspended six-month sentence, as well as an ASBO forbidding him from carrying anti-religious leaflets in public.

What on earth is ‘religiously aggravated harassment’? It doesn’t seem as if he mocked or threatened specific individuals for their beliefs.

According to wikipedia the UK Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 says:

A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.

But it apparently protects the all-important freedom of expression with these words:

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

What am I missing?

© Chris Lawrence 2010.


Written by Chris Lawrence

24 April 2010 at 10:39 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks Terry.

    I immediately thought: but the UK doesn’t have a Supreme Court! But of course we do now. Shows how long I’ve been out of the country. (And glad I checked.)

    Yes – I thought as was I writing the post that despite the apparent injustice maybe it would be a good test case. It could certainly open a can of worms. There seems to be an assumption that there is such a thing as a duty of respect to religious beliefs, because they are things that people have and hold as important and dear.

    I’m not assuming there is no such duty of respect, but I think the burden of proof rests on those making the assumption. It would be fascinating to see the arguments people might bring forward, and how they might draw boundaries round religious faiths and exclude moral or political principles.

    In this case of ‘religiously aggravated harassment’, if there was a ‘crime’ it seems a particularly victimless one – which must be dodgy ground for jurisprudence. I can imagine people seeing or volunteering themselves as victims because they regarded what the man did as wrong. But is that enough?

    I can remember a gruesome experience of being at a christening several years ago when the minister described what was in store for non-believers. As a member of the atheist ‘faith’ could I have been a victim of ‘religiously aggravated harassment’?

    A Supreme Court de-worming could also be a good opportunity to analyse the legal significance of the word ‘sacred’. If a group of people hold something as ‘sacred’ does that imply any right to legal protection? If so, would the same apply to what the Nazis might have held (or neo-Nazis might hold) as ‘sacred’? And if not, why not?

    Thanks again, Chris.

    Chris Lawrence

    25 April 2010 at 12:47 pm

    • Thank you, too. Your response adds more reasons for me to think it’s a poorly crafted law. What, indeed, is “sacred”?

      I would think the question could even go as far as the European court of Human Justice, don’t you? That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? and potentially explosive.

      Whatever else, one must admit that life is never boring. At least not the one I’m looking at –

      Thank you for the sharing.


      25 April 2010 at 2:54 pm

  2. Yes, while at the same time, the Foreign Office is apologizing profusely for the leaked memo full of satirical suggestions about what the Pope might do to make his visit to the UK in September a greater success — sing a duet with the Queen, Head of the Anglican Church, open a child abuse help line, launch a new condom, etc. The Foreign Office, however, is not subject to ASBOs.

    When I first came to live here from the States, I found the lack of political correctness, which had seemed to me to have gone crazy in the States, quite refreshing. But it’s possibly even worse over here now.

    It seems to me to represent an unresolved cultural clash about political sensitivities. Britons have historically been incredibly robust by most international standards, but newcomers particularly from Muslim countries have operated under quite different assumptions about what constitutes essential respect.

    Meanwhile, it would not surprise me if the law against the expression of religious hatred ends up in the supreme court. Like the Dangerous Dog and Ban on Hunting acts, it was poorly crafted to gain the political support of a segment of society.

    Welcome to the global society. Learning to speak a new language is the least of our difficulties.



    25 April 2010 at 11:46 am

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