Archive for July, 2009

“Is Britain becoming intolerant to Christians?”

The Big Questions – the BBC’s Sunday morning faith and ethics debate programme – will this week be asking the question “is Britain becoming intolerant to Christians?”  I’ll be amongst the audience and so will have the chance to ask a few questions live on air – but am only going to put my hand up if I have a really good question, so if you have anything you want asked leave it as a comment and it may end up on TV.

Druid Priestess Emma Restall Orr, Reverend Martin Reynolds from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and journalist Lowri Turner will be leading the debate, which will look at cases such as Caroline Petrie, the Christian nurse who was struck off the register for offering to pray for patients, and Gary McFarlane, the Christian Relate counsellor who was sacked for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

BBC presenter (and practising Anglican) Jeremy Vine has spoken of how he believes Christians are becoming social pariahs in Britain, and feels unable to talk about his faith on his Radio 2 show.

Vine told Reform, the magazine of the United Reformed Church, earlier this year:

Just blurting it out would be destructive.  Just because something’s true doesn’t mean you can say it.  That’s quite an important principle.  Once I put my cards on the table about my faith in discussions, it becomes problematic.

Even Tony Blair jumped on the bandwagon when he revealed in 2007 that he had been unable to be open about his faith when Prime Minister for fear that people would label him a “nutter”.

It’s difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system.  If you are in the American political system or others then you can talk about religious faith and people say ‘Yes, that’s fair enough,’ and it is something they respond to quite naturally.

You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter.

Despite being discriminated against, their presence must demand at least a modicum of ‘special respect’, for I received the following instructions by email:

We usually advise people to dress smart-casual but please do wear whatever you feel comfortable in. Checked or striped clothes often cause a problem on camera and items that are revealing or religiously offensive often induce complaints from viewers!

Any questions, or tips on what to wear, welcomed.

The Big Questions will be broadcast live from 10am-11am on BBC1

Sunday 12th July 2009

iPlayer link

Religion & Ethics Message boards

Burger King says sorry to Hindus

<b>The Snack is Sacred</b>: Hindu groups had a beef about this burger advert

The Snack is Sacred: Hindu groups had a beef about this burger advert

A Spanish Burger King poster has been removed from the restaurant chain’s stores following complaints from The Hindu American Foundation. The ad featured Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of good fortune and beauty.

Suhag Shukla, Managing Director and Legal Counsel for the Foundation, said,

An advertisement knowingly and intentionally using sacred symbols, especially those of another religious tradition, for purely commercial purposes can be offensive in and of itself. Compounding this insult is the use of the sacred image for the sale of a meat product–Burger King’s judgment in associating a burger with a Hindu Goddess is absolutely baffling

Burger King apologised.

Burger King Corporation values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support a limited-time-only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone. Out of respect for the Hindu community, the in-store advertisement has been removed from the restaurants

Amusingly, the apparent success of this complaint was immediately leapt upon by a self-described “acclaimed Hindu statesman” named Rajan Zed, head of another advocacy group the Universal Society of Hinduism. He issued a triumphant press release which was picked up by a number of news sources, including “Scoop” linked above.

What does the Hindu American Foundation think of the inveterate self-promoter hi-jacking their campaign?

Jesus shat! Ireland’s Dail passes new blasphemy law

They’ve done it. The legislation to criminalise blasphemy was passed by the Dail today, with discussion of the issues placed under a strict time limit known as a guillotine (according to Atheist Ireland’s Mick Nugent, Ahern claimed that “extending time for blasphemy amendments would be regurgitating what has been discussed ad nauseum”).

This is what they have imposed on their citizens:

36. Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.

(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. [Amended to €25,000]

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

37. Seizure of copies of blasphemous statements.

(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36, the court may issue a warrant (a) authorising any member of the Garda Siochana to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein, (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Siochana of all copies of the statement to which the offence related that are in the possession of any person, (c) specifying the manner in which copies so seized and removed shall be detained and stored by the Garda Siochana.

(2) A member of the Garda Siochana may (a) enter and search any premises, (b) seize, remove and detain any copy of a statement to which an offence under section 36 relates found therein or in the possession of any person, in accordance with a warrant under subsection (1).

(3) Upon final judgment being given in proceedings for an offence under section 36, anything seized and removed under subsection (2) shall be disposed of in accordance with such directions as the court may give upon an application by a member of the Garda Siochana in that behalf.

Atheist Ireland intend to release a blasphemous statement on Saturday. A direct challenge to this law seems to be the only way forward. Provided they don’t pay too much attention to Father Ted writer Graham Linehan, who told The New Humanist,

Well, I like Mick Nugent’s idea of testing the law with a blasphemous statement, but it would have to be worded carefully so that it doesn’t dismay normal believers who just want to get on with their lives without bothering others with their beliefs.

He wants to make a blasphemous statement which doesn’t dismay religious believers! Well, he is a comedy genius…

Diesel bombers sentenced

The BBC has an update on the story of the three clowns who tried to set fire to a publisher’s house with diesel.

Abbas Taj, 30, Ali Beheshti, 41, and Abrar Mirza, 23 were each sentenced to four-and-a-half years According to The Mail, Andrew Hall QC said in their defence that the crime was

an act of protest born of the publication of a book felt by him and other Muslims to be disrespectful, provocative and offensive.

Poor things. No wonder they felt the need to burn people.

Careful now! Father Ted creators warn against “insane” blasphemy law

The creators of the classic comedy series Father Ted have come out in support of Atheist Ireland‘s campaign against the proposed blasphemy law. Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan gave their backing to a proposed “blasphemous statement,” which will be published by Atheist Ireland next Saturday in the likely event of the law being passed at the Dail this week.

The statement will blaspheme all the major religions in Ireland, including Christianity and Islam.

Graham Lineham said of the law,

This is insanity. Please, Mr Ahern, define the things we can’t say, please! Can we say, ‘Jesus is gay’? Or can we ask, ‘Is God in a biscuit?’ Could he tell us what it means? It is just insanity. After all, there are things contained in the holy books of one religion that are blasphemy to another religion. The logic behind this comes from Alice in Wonderland.

He went on to suggest it was part of a trend

to placate the craziest people on earth.

Mathews said that the law

hardly seems necessary in the Ireland of the 21st century … It’s a pity that law hadn’t been introduced when we were writing Father Ted, because it would have given us a great storyline. The best attitude to this nonsense is to laugh at it and send it up. There is no popular clamour for it in Ireland, so I wonder why Dermot Ahern has brought it in the first place.

Down with this sort of thing!

UPDATE: (7 July) Graham Lineham wasn’t happy with the way he was misquoted in The Guardian, so he agreed to answer a few questions from The New Humanist. A snippet:

It’s very important to smack down every attack on free speech and secularism when they appear, because religious fanatics are getting louder and crazier and more violent, and capitulating only energises them

Irish blasphemy law – one step closer to disaster

The Dail Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights voted on 1 July 2009 to make blasphemy illegal in Ireland, carrying a maximum fine of 25,000 Euro. The Bill will now go to the Dail, where it seems the Green Party will have the deciding vote.

The Dail Committee members who voted in favour are

Dermot Ahern (Minister)
Sean Ardagh (substitute)
Bobby Aylward (substitute)
Thomas Byrne
Sean Connick
Brendan Kenneally (chairman)
Darragh O’Brien
Noel Treacy

UPDATE: (17:16) The Irish Times reports that Independent member of the seanad, David Norris, has branded the proposed legislation

a complete farce, a nonsense and an insult to the intelligence of the Irish people

The Bill has been drafted so as to make it virtually impossible to get a successful prosecution under it.

Censorship update

Two recent bits of news we missed, included today for completeness.

The Advertising Standards Authority received ten complaints about this ice-cream ad:

<b>Tongue-in-cheek</b>: not quite, but nearly

Tongue-in-cheek: not quite, but nearly

Antonio Fedirici Gelato Italiano said the ad was meant to be a “light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek portrayal celebrating forbidden Italian temptations.” The ASA concluded:

We considered that the portrayal of the priest and nun in a sexualised manner and the implication that they were considering whether or not to give in to temptation, was likely to cause serious offence to some readers.

And the good news – Glasgow has finally lifted the ban on Life of Brian, 29 years after the film’s release. The council’s decision was greeted positively by nearly everyone, including clergy who had previously been opposed to the film. In the words of one councillor, “The world, and people’s attitudes, have moved on in the past 30 year.”

Not so Stephen “Birdshit” Green of the bible-worshipping pressure group Stephen Green’s Voice (aka Christian Voice). His mind remains mired in 1st century superstition, as The Scotsman, keen to find a negative view to provide “balance”, revealed:

We know Glasgow was the last place in the country to keep the ban in place, as the only other area, Aberystwyth, had a screening a couple of months ago. It is a bit of a shame it’s now been granted a licence in Glasgow, but it shows how much we have let standards slip.

(Thanks to The Freethinker).