Archive for June, 2009

Opus Dei sets its lawyers on atheist game makers

<b>Opus Dei</b>: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

Opus Dei: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

The Prelatura del Opus Dei, a sinister, secretive group of Catholic extremists whom most people will recognise from The Da Vinci Code, are threatening a Danish game producer with legal action due to alleged trademark violation. Opus Dei: Existence After Religion, billed as “the world’s first atheist card game”, is the brainchild of two young philosophy students.

Managing Director of Demas Games, Mark Rees-Andersen, trademarked Opus Dei in Denmark, the cultists having let it expire in 1996. The game was launched in January this year. Less than a month later, the Prelatura sent a threatening letter via their Spanish lawyers, Ungria, claiming that their trademark rights had been infringed, and telling the producers “in order to avoid that this conflict results in legal actions”:

– To immediately cease using the words OPES DEI, alone or with any other word, number or device, or any confusingly similar expression, to distinguish any of your goods or services, or in the advertising of the same.
– To proceed to remove from commerce all existing documentation of any type that alludes to the goods/services that you manufacture and/or market including the words OPUS DEI
– To voluntary [sic] withdraw your Community trademark application No. 7.284.953, your trademark application in Denmark No. VR015809 OPUS DEI: EXISTENCE AFTER RELIGION and domain names including the expression OPUS DEI.

In other words, destroy your entire stock.

As the students had spent a great deal of time and money on the project, they tried to open up a rational dialogue with the litigious biscuit-munchers. Their offer was declined.

To the rescue comes Danish law firm GFK. They offered to defend the game-makers pro bono, believing them to have a strong case which could well serve as a principle case for the future. Indeed, the words “opus dei” have been in common use for centuries, and must surely be in the Public Domain. Plus the trademark held by the religious organisation does not cover its use in the production and marketing of novelty games.

So Dema games will fight on. The first battle will take place here in the UK, where the Catholic cultists have challenged their rights to the domain name This looks like it will be an easy victory for the good guys, as a Nominet mediator has assured Rees-Andersen that there have been many previous case-decisions which support them.

There is also a Facebook group you can join.

Opus Dei have had their fingers burnt in trademark disputes before – most amusingly in Chile back in 2005. They tried unsuccessfully to sue a LGBT newspaper for trademark infringement and causing offence. The paper’s name: Opus Gay.

(Hat tip: G&LH Magazine, where this story first broke)

Uncut Antichrist prompts moment of lucidity from Beyer

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist has been passed uncut with an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification, despite scenes featuring violent sex, genital mutilation, and erect penises.

This is a welcome sign that the BBFC are continuing along a liberal path, assuming the role of informer rather than censor.

John Beyer, the anti-smut campaigning successor to Mary Whitehouse, sums it up with unusual clarity:

The BBFC no longer ‘cuts bits out of films’ but provides information about films so that members of the public can make up their own minds about what films they want to see or avoid.

And this, he goes on to explain, is exactly what Mediawatch UK is against. We can’t have the public making informed decisions for themselves, can we? That is a job for their moral superiors.

Because they know best.

Polish Catholics against Madonna

What, again? Yes, every Madonna tour upsets Christians of one ilk or another. This time Polish Catholics are up in arms, trying to get the Warwaw leg of her Sticky and Sweet tour cancelled.

Not only is her show “anti-Christian”, but it is also scheduled for August 15th – and we all know what day that is, don’t we?

No? Why it’s the Assumption of Mary, you heathen swine! That’s the day that Jesus’ mummy died and got scooped up to heaven, body and soul. Clearly you can’t have a rival “Madonna” prancing about in stage in fishnets while pious Catholics are busy celebrating this most holy of miracles.

Have you no respect for other people’s deeply held religious beliefs?

Anyway, if they can’t get it banned, they’re going to “stifle Madonna” with a picket.

<b>Presumption Day</b>: Madonna's Warsaw gig coincides with the anniversary of the Mother of God's human cannonball act

Presumption Day: Madonna's Warsaw gig coincides with the anniversary of the Mother of God's human cannonball act

Prison magazine withdrawn because satirical swine-flu article offends Muslim inmates

The Jailhouselawyer’s Blog carries news that Inside Time, a monthly magazine distributed free to prisoners in the UK, has recalled 50,000 copies of its latest issue because of fears that a humorous article on swine flu and an accompanying cartoon could be offensive to Muslim inmates.

<b>Atchoo!</b> The bearded pig in a turban that could have offended 17% of the prison population. (click for the full-page scan)

Atchoo! The bearded pig in a turban that could have offended 17% of the prison population. (click for the full-page scan)

The column by Andy Thackwray, a prisoner at HMP Hull, was entitled “Porky’s Revenge“. It hypothesised that swine flu was the result of a failed plot by Osama Bin Laden “eradicate every pig in Christendom”:

Yes, not too long ago in a cave somewhere in deepest Afghanistan, our bearded foe created his halal flu virus to totally wipe out the pigs of the Western world, and hopefully see the end of pork as we know it. Only trouble was, the young terrorist Bin Laden hand-picked to fly across the Atlantic to carry out the wicked deed was not only a goat short of a full flock, he’d also never ventured out of his village before. So, with geography not being one of his strong points, coupled with his poor command of the English language, it’s not surprising that he got off the plane one stop early thinking he was in Kansas, America when really he was in Cancun, Mexico. There, he set the Bin Laden flu virus free on a Mexican pig farm instead of on an American one as planned – what a knob!

The article was accompanied by a cartoon of a bearded, turbanned pig standing on its hind legs and sneezing.

John Roberts, Operations Director and Company Secretary at Inside Time, was contacted by Diversity at Wormwood Scrubs and informed that the article and cartoon “might be offensive to Muslims”. Consequently, all 50,000 copies of the magazine have been withdrawn and will be reprinted without the offending pieces. Apparently this will cost the charity which runs Inside Time £15-20,000.

The Jailhouselawer also reports that the Mr Thackwray has been charged with a Disciplinary Offence, put in the Segregation Unit, and will be transferred out of HMP Hull.

UN free speech rapporteur told to watch his mouth

<b>Frank La Rue</b>: UN free expression hero

Frank La Rue: UN free expression hero

Frank la Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to free expression, got a firm telling off by representatives of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Geneva last week. His crime? To suggest that

Restrictions [on free speech] should never be used to protect particular institutions or abstract notions, concepts or beliefs, including religious ones.

And that

defamation of religions does not accord with international standards on freedom of expression

Enraged diplomats from Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), United Arab Emirates (on behalf of the Arab Group), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference), and individual delegations such as Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia, Sudan and Yemen claimed that La Rue was overstepping the bounds of his mandate by saying such things.

Many of them threatened to have La Rue removed from his post if he did not conform to their interpretation of his mandate.

Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union summed up,

Mr LaRue’s report was strongly supported in the Council by the United States, the United Kingdom and several NGOs who pointed out that under the terms of his mandate he was fully entitled to make recommendations to the Council and the UN without pressure or outside interference. It is becoming intolerable that some states, unable to win arguments on their merits are now stooping to such blatant bully-boy tactics.

Allah forbid that an officer responsible for the protection of freedom of expression should be free to express his support for freedom of expression!

(Tip – Article 19)

UPDATE: (June 9) Read Roy Brown’s full report here.

For god’s sake, Kirstie – now we have to reshoot

<b>Christ Almighty!</b> It's Kirstie Allsopp!

Christ Almighty! It's Kirstie Allsopp!

The Telegraph carries an amusing story about Relocation, Relocation, Relocation presenter Kirstie Allsopp’s frustration at being forced to reshoot scenes in which she used the words “For god’s sake” and “Christ Almighty”.

She expressed her annoyance on Twitter, saying

Just been told I can’t say ‘for god’s sake!’ or ‘Christ almighty’ on TV (& it’s channel 4!!). I am so sick of compliance I could scream! Aah!

Telegraph reporter Anita Singh managed to dig up a pressure group called The Campaign Against Political Correctness to provide some backup on this PC-gone-mad story.

A spokesman for the group came up with possibly the most profoundly wise words we have ever heard spoken on the subject:

‘For god’s sake’ and ‘Christ Almighty’ should in no way be taken literally.

Nevertheless, Channel 4 remain adamant that such language should be reserved for after the 9 p.m. watershed, by which time all good Christians have gone to bed.


Simon Singh to appeal bogus chiropractic libel ruling

Great news from Jack of Kent. Simon Singh has released the following statement:

The law has no place in scientific disputes

We the undersigned believe that it is inappropriate to use the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence.

The British Chiropractic Association has sued Simon Singh for libel. The scientific community would have preferred that it had defended its position about chiropractic for various children’s ailments through an open discussion of the peer reviewed medical literature or through debate in the mainstream media.

Singh holds that chiropractic treatments for asthma, ear infections and other infant conditions are not evidence-based. Where medical claims to cure or treat do not appear to be supported by evidence, we should be able to criticise assertions robustly and the public should have access to these views.

English libel law, though, can serve to punish this kind of scrutiny and can severely curtail the right to free speech on a matter of public interest. It is already widely recognised that the law is weighted heavily against writers: among other things, the costs are so high that few defendants can afford to make their case. The ease and success of bringing cases under the English law, including against overseas writers, has led to London being viewed as the “libel capital” of the world.

Freedom to criticise and question in strong terms and without malice is the cornerstone of scientific argument and debate, whether in peer-reviewed journals, on websites or in newspapers, which have a right of reply for complainants. However, the libel laws and cases such as BCA v Singh have a chilling effect, which deters scientists, journalists and science writers from engaging in important disputes about the evidential base supporting products and practices. The libel laws discourage argument and debate and merely encourage the use of the courts to silence critics.

The English law of libel has no place in scientific disputes about evidence; the BCA should discuss the evidence outside of a courtroom. Moreover, the BCA v Singh case shows a wider problem: we urgently need a full review of the way that English libel law affects discussions about scientific and medical evidence.


The list of signatories is impressive. Go to Jack of Kent to see them.

Blasphemy in Europe news

Three pieces of blasphemy news from Europe today, and they are all good.

Firstly, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the body’s constitutional law experts, advised that “blasphemy” should not be a criminal offence. They affirmed that blasphemy is part of a person’s freedom of expression, and was thus protected speech. “Incitement to religious hatred” on the other hand, should be illegal.

Secondly, the Norwegian parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove the “blasphemy paragraph” from a raft of new legislation. It was replaced with an additional paragraph on racism. Only the Christian People’s Party wanted blasphemy to be formally criminalised, as a “symbolic law.”

Finally, the counter-intuitively good news from the Netherlands is that the cabinet has dropped plans to scrap the current blasphemy law. Why is this good news? Because, as we reported back in November 2008, the blasphemy law was set to be replaced by something much worse.

The intention is to introduce the concept of “indirect insult” and expand an existing law which protects people on the basis of race, age, disability, and sexual orientation to include protection on the basis of religion or “conviction”. This means that remarks directed at Islam, Christianity, Buddism or – depending on your interpretation of “conviction” – even homeopathy and astrology, could be interpreted as indirect insults to people, and prosecuted as such.

The new law would have carried a far stiffer sentence, too.

Ultimately, the Dutch blasphemy law has to be repealed. But in the meantime, the status quo is preferable to the free-speech disaster that could have replaced it.