15 June meeting: Blasphemy and freedom of expression – a matter of life and death, by Paul Sturges

Professor Paul Sturges OBE, Emeritus Professor of Library Studies at Loughborough University

Professor Sturges’ talk will range over the history of the offence of blasphemy in relation to freedom of expression, with examples from some different parts of the world. The examples of blasphemy will include some that would seriously offend religious believers. There will also be accounts of hangings, lashings and horrible murders by people enraged by blasphemy. He will contrast blasphemy laws and their consequences, with laws and international statements on freedom of expression.  In the process he will attempt to draw useful distinctions between critical comment, satire, offensive speech and publication, and incitement to hatred, whilst stressing the value of good manners and consideration for others.

University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ, at 7.30 pm on Thursday 15 June.

BHA: Please, help us fight blasphemy laws

From the British Humanist Association:

The news that our patron Stephen Fry is under criminal investigation in Ireland for allegedly committing ‘blasphemy’ is enough to send chills down your spine. We’re urging the Irish Government to repeal its blasphemy law (passed in 2009), and we remain extremely concerned by a growing trend of European countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, re-activating ‘dormant’ blasphemy laws to silence criticism of religion.

This trend has to stop, and we need to grow and scale up our campaigns against blasphemy laws – everywhere in the world. Please, if you haven’t joined us already, will you join the BHA today?

We also have reason to be concerned by a startling letter published by the Church of England at the weekend, which urged even greater influence for religion in UK politics, claiming Christianity as an exclusive ‘wellspring’ of moral values, and condemning secularism – the very best guarantee we all have of being treated fairly, whatever your religion or belief.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the religious lobbies were trying to drag us back decades and erase the social progress we’ve all fought for, tooth and nail, in spite of religious lobbying. As Stephen Fry once said, in times like these, ‘it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist.’ If you haven’t joined us already, please, don’t put it off.

BHA defends its patron Stephen Fry in face of Irish blasphemy probe

BHA responds to Archbishops’ general election letter

Man sentenced to death for apostasy as violence against non-religious across Islamic states continues

Drop blasphemy charges against Sanal Edamaruku

Read the full story at the New Humanist blog.

One year after blasphemy complaints were filed against him, Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku remains at risk of imprisonment. We now call on the Indian Prime Minister to intervene in his case.

Sanal Edamaruku at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni, Mumbai, March 2012

It is now one year since blasphemy complaints were filed against the Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, by Catholic organisations unhappy with his debunking of a supposed miracle in a Mumbai church. (Water was dripping from a crucifix statue in the church, and Edamaruku traced the source of the water to faulty plumbing nearby.)

Having been denied “anticipatory bail”, Edamaruku would face imprisonment upon arrest, a fact which has forced him to remain away from his home in Delhi for much of the last year.

Last summer, we launched a petition calling on India’s Catholic authorities to use their influence to encourage the Mumbai-based Catholic organisations to drop their complaints. The petition attracted more than 12,000 signatures from concerned individuals across the globe. Despite this international pressure, the Catholic Church in India has ignored the call to intervene in the interests of Indian free expression.

With Edamaruku remaining at risk of arrest and imprisonment, a new approach is required. This is why we have launched a new petition calling on India’s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to do all he can to have the charges dropped.

Freedom of speech and the duty to develop “the Scientific Temper” are enshrined in the Indian constitution, and we are now calling upon Dr, Singh as well as Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of the State of Maharashtra, to protect these values and ensure that Edamaruku can go about his important work without harassment.

Please sign the petition and pass it on to friends and colleagues.

Upcoming events from the BHA

Saturday 14 Jan 2012 – Beyond the Veil day conference
Saturday 28 January – Blasphemy day conference
Wednesday 8 February – Darwin Day Lecture featuring Adam Rutherford (chaired by Richard Dawkins)

Details below:

Beyond the Veil – a closer look at spirits, mediums and ghosts

A day conference presented by the Centre for Inquiry UK and the British Humanist Association taking a closer look at spirits, mediums and ghosts.
Date: Saturday 14 th January 2012
Time: Registration: 10.30am Start: 11am – Finish 16.00pm
Address: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
Nearest tube: Holborn

Information and tickets: http://www.humanism.org.uk/meet-up/events/view/168?page=1
Tickets: General: £10 general public, Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID, Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK – please register online.
***Special offer*** Joint ticket for both this event and the Blasphemy! event on the 28th January: £16 for a general ticket, and £12 for members and students.
CHRIS FRENCH – Spirits on the brain: Insights from psychology and neuroscience

Chris French is a Professor of Psychology and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and former editor of the Skeptic.

HAYLEY STEVENS – ‘Is there anybody there?’
A ghost hunter that doesn’t hunt for ghosts, Hayley Stevens has been researching paranormal reports since 2005. She is the co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, blogs at ‘Hayley is a Ghost’, occasionally writes for numerous publications, and has spoken internationally about ghosts and critical thinking.

PAUL ZENON – Mediums at Large
Paul has been a professional trickster for almost thirty years during that period has appeared countless times as performer, presenter and pundit on numerous TV shows across many genres.

RICHARD WISEMAN – Paranormality
Richard Wiseman is the Professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He has been active in the skeptical movement for many a year, does Twitter stuff, has recently written ‘Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there’, and likes dogs.

IAN ROWLAND – You Are The Magic
Ian Rowland is a writer and entertainer with an interest in various aspects of how the mind works or sometimes doesn’t. He taught FBI agents how to be persuasive, and taught Derren Brown how to read fortunes. In America, in front of 10 million TV viewers, he proved that he could talk to dead people – or at least fake it well enough to convince complete strangers. He knows an awful lot about cold reading (look it up), but tries not to drone on about it at parties. He is good at drinking tea and waiting for interesting invitations to come his way.

‘Blasphemy!’ – blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights: who speaks for the sacred?
A day conference focusing on the criminalization of religious hatred, defamation, and insult under European human rights, and how this functions as a de facto blasphemy law.
Date: Saturday  28th January 2012
Time:  Registration 10.30am for a 11.00am start – Finish -16.30 pm
Address: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL
Nearest tube: Holborn
Tickets and informationhttp://www.humanism.org.uk/meet-up/events/view/169?page=1
PricesGeneral: £10 general public, Members and students: £8 BHA, AHS and SPES members and students with valid ID, Free to members of the Centre for Inquiry UK.
***Special offer*** Joint tickets to this event and the Beyond the Veil event on the 14th January: £16 general public and £12 members and student ticket offer
Description/ details of the event– Introduced by Dr Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London and Editor of Think, and featuring writer, lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik , Andrew Copson on Blasphemy laws by the back door, Austin Dacey, representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union; Jacob Mchangama, director of legal affairs in the independent think tank Center for Political Studies (CEPOS) based in Copenhagen and others.

Creation: synthetic biology and the origin of life
BHA 2012 Darwin Day Lecture
Chaired by Richard Dawkins, the 2012 Darwin Day lecture will be presented by renowned author, broadcaster, scientist, and geek Adam Rutherford.
Date: 8th February 2012
Time: 7:00 for a 7:30pm start – 9:30pm
Venue: Congress Hall, Congress Centre 28 Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LS
Dr Adam Rutherford is a geneticist, author and broadcaster, as well as an editor at the science journal Nature. He presents television and radio programmes and is a writer for The Guardian newspaper.
Tickets General public: £12
Members and students: £7 (BHA, AHS, CFI and UKAFHA members and students)

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