NSS: Government’s anti-extremism plans will have ‘chilling effect’ on free speech

The National Secular Society has expressed concern at the Government’s new proposals to challenge extremism and radicalisation.

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced renewed plans to introduce “extremism disruption orders” that would target those spreading extremist ideology.

David Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”

The Guardian reported in 2014 that the EDOs, then blocked by the Liberal Democrats under the Coalition Government, would include “a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or in print.”

NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: “The Government should have every tool possible to tackle extremism and terrorism, but there is a huge arsenal of laws already in place and a much better case needs to be made for introducing draconian measures such as Extremism Disruption Orders, which are almost unchallengeable and deprive individuals of their liberties.”

The NSS is concerned that the plans are currently very vague, and would have a chilling effect on free speech. The Society is calling for a stronger civil society response to counter extremism, and is critical of an approach that relies too much on new legislation.

The Christian Institute also criticised the proposed “Extremism Disruption Orders”. Simon Calvert, spokesperson for the Christian Institute, said: “While everyone applauds the principle of tackling Islamic extremism, comments by David Cameron and other senior members of the Government suggest EDO’s will exceed even Labour’s notorious religious hatred Bill or Section 5 of the Public Order Act.”

The NSS and the Christian Institute worked together, along with other civil liberties organisations to defeat the then-Labour Government’s proposals to criminalise “deliberately insulting a religion.”

Mr Calvert continued: “Last year the Government was forced to back down on proposals to outlaw ‘being annoying in a public place’. Now it looks like they are returning to their theme with a vengeance.

“The Christian Institute warns the Government not to rush through these measures, but to engage with groups with a track record of defending free speech.

“In the current climate, there is a real risk that EDOs will be used to clamp down on legitimate expressions of dissent.

“If the Government does not ensure that there are adequate safeguards, then, because of the low burden of proof, it is perfectly plausible that comedians, satirists, campaign groups, religious groups, secularist groups, and even journalists could find themselves subject to these draconian measures.”

A Telegraph editorial called on the Government to safeguard free speech, and argued that “In trying to protect democracy, the Government should be careful not to water down further our most precious value: freedom of expression.”

The Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank, was also critical of the Government’s plans.

Iranian blogger: ‘Why I Love Being an Atheist Even Though I Live in Iran’

Here in England, we tend to take religious freedom for granted. But it was not always so. Up to the 18th century, it could be very dangerous to be an atheist, and at the very least there were serious restrictions on non-members of the established church. Even up to the 19th century, you had to be an Anglican to go to university or (apart from Jews or Quakers) to get married.

We may forget that for many people their religion still requires that others should not be allowed to practise their own beliefs freely, and given a chance, they would force that on the rest of us.

In some parts of the world, not believing still can mean death at the hands of the state or of mobs. This is why we can be impressed at the courage of Iranian blogger Kaveh Mousavi (a pseudonym) who would certainly be murdered if he were known. He writes:

So this is what good atheism has done for me: atheism has enabled me to wage a war to liberate those “the few cubic centimeters inside my skull”. It is ultimately a war destined to be lost – I will never not be the child of my time and my place, and I will never be entirely free in my thought. But it is a worthy war to wage nevertheless, for every battle won is a great victory in itself.

Because of atheism I can support democracy, oppose theocracy, support the equal rights for women and LGBT+ people without having to hold sacred a book which embodies the opposite of all these values and I do not have to resolve the mental dissonance of such an intellectual contradiction.

Because of atheism I can easily accept science and not be forced to choose between my dogma and the facts on issues such as evolution or circumcision or masturbation or abortion.

Because of atheism I can laugh at Mohammad and all else that is sacred, and save my outrage for the real injustices in the world, instead of getting angry at harmless satire targeting warlords of the past.

Because of atheism I can indulge in my harmless desires and to consider the naked human body beautiful, not something to be covered in shame.

Because of atheism I can think about the great questions without a God vetoing certain areas and certain concepts. I am not aware of all my unconscious biases and failings of critical thinking, but at least religious ones are not among them.

Atheism is freedom. Atheism does not equal critical thinking, or tolerance, or a truly liberated mind. But atheism is an opportunity, an option, a potential blank slate. To me atheism means that on this Saganian speck of dust we inhabit I find my own destination and I walk my own road and all my accomplishments and all my failures are ultimately my own, no idol is my god and no lord is my shepherd.

And this is something I relish, something that makes all those traumas and abuses worth it.

Read his article in full here.

His blog is here.

Maajid Nawaaz talks about the flogged Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his jailed lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair (video)

Maajid Nawaaz talks about the flogged Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his jailed lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair.

Center for Inquiry on Pope Francis: About Your Mother

From the Center for Inquiry, by Ronald A. Lindsay:

Pope Francis has given his opinion on the controversy surrounding Charlie Hebdo’s continued sharp criticism and sarcasm regarding religious beliefs. The pope has stated that there should be limits to free expression. In particular, one should not “insult the faith of others.” He analogized criticism of religious beliefs to someone cursing his mother, saying that such a person “can expect a punch.”

Pope Francis is wrong.

There’s a world of difference between criticism of a religious belief and insulting someone’s loved one. Given that he is a tireless and effective evangelist for his own faith, the pope is well aware that religious beliefs are (usually) expressly and vigorously promoted. Members of the public are told repeatedly that these are important beliefs that they should accept. Accordingly, those who find flaws in these beliefs may, quite appropriately, point out these flaws. Religious claims should be treated like political claims or any other claims advanced in the public square. They should not be immune from criticism.

But what about ridicule? Isn’t that going too far? Ridicule should be used sparingly, for practical reasons if no other. It can become tiresome. But ridicule used judiciously can often be effective in puncturing inflated claims, again, whether these claims are political, religious, or otherwise. Kim Jong-un didn’t especially care for the ridicule he received in The Interview, and he delivered a digital punch as a result, but presumably this is not an example the pope would endorse. Those loyal to Kim regard him as sacred as the prophets revered by various religions. We can’t say ridicule is permissible in one instance, but not the other.

Perhaps the pope needs to be reminded that most faiths, including Christianity, have themselves resorted to ridicule to disparage rival beliefs. St. Augustine devoted much of his monumental City of God to merciless and relentless ridicule of pagan religious beliefs. If Augustine can mock Zeus, why should the Trinity be off limits?

Of course, ridicule can be excessive or mean-spirited. The remedy for truly outrageous ridicule, however, is supplied by the marketplace. We are free to shun those who we think have gone too far, or decline to buy their magazines or listen to their programs. The remedy is not, as the pope suggests, violence, whether it is violence carried out by the state or private individuals who are offended by the ridicule.

If Pope Francis does not want religious beliefs criticized, then he should advise all believers to keep their views private—as private as his relationship with his mother. Undoubtedly, though, he will not do that, and when he does continue to make claims in public about the truths of Christianity, these claims are properly subject to criticism, whether that criticism takes the form of a scholarly rebuttal or a satirical cartoon.

IHEU: “call it what it is — Saudi Arabia’s flogging of Raif Badawi is barbarity and torture, plain and simple”

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU):

It is reported that officials have carried out the first 50 lashes of a 1000-lashes sentence against Saudi liberal, Raif Badawi. The charges related to his running of a Liberal Saudi website, focused on advocating greater religious freedom, which was deemed “insulting to Islam” and a threat to the state.

The order papers indicated that the lashings should be “severe”. Witnesses said that despite the severity of the beating today, Raif Badawi “did not flinch; he held the victory symbol and [a] guard had to hold his hand down“.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has consistently protested the prosecution and detention of Raif Badawi, and today unreservedly condemns the punishment. (See also our recent call to action page.)

Director of Communications at IHEU, Bob Churchill, said:

“We bitterly regret and weep for the violence against Raif Badawi.

“Only yesterday it was reported that Saudi Arabia condemned the Charlie Hebdo shootings, and yet the authorities choose this week to brutalize a young man because he had the audacity to stand up and say that his countrymen should have greater liberty. The Saudi state’s condemnation of terror in Paris is hypocrisy of the highest order.

“Around the world for many months, human rights groups have been calling for reprieve, for justice. Saudi’s Western allies have largely held their tongues, calling widely for a pardon only at the eleventh hour. They failed him. We must, all together, call it what is is —Saudi Arabia’s flogging of Raif Badawi is barbarity and torture, plain and simple.

“Raif Badawi was whipped in front of a mosque in public after Friday prayers. Not only is the sentence savage, and an absolute violation of human rights and dignity, but its execution is designed for maximum humiliation, for vengeance. It is a naked attempt to intimidate all those who question authority into silence.

“King Abdullah has branded liberal values and atheist thought as acts of ‘terror’. The reality is abundantly clear today: Through corporal and capital punishment against all those branded “dissidents”, it is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself that acts as a terrorist. To all those who call for freedom of thought and expression, the state of Saudi Arabia is terrorist, no less than the murderers of journalists in Paris.

“Our thoughts and deeds today are focused on Raif, on his family and young children, and on his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair who is likewise jailed merely for his defence of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia was criticised by IHEU and many others in the past year for new “terror” regulations, which labelled the advocacy of liberal values or of “atheist thought in any form” as acts of “terrorism” against the state. Executions have been on the rise and the judiciary appears to have been increasingly keen to recent months to harshly punish anyone branded a “dissident”.

As the attack on Charlie Hebdo has proved this week, images can be powerful…

Systematic discrimination against the non-religious is happening all over the world. And Britain faces a crossroads.

British Humanist Association ‘Systematic discrimination; in flux.’

From Humanist Life:

That is how the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) described the United Kingdom in its annual Freedom of Thought Report, which arrived last week for Human Rights Day on 10 December. It is the authoritative annual report into the legal status of and discrimination against the non-religious around the world.

In Saudi Arabia, atheism is now ‘terrorism’; in Malaysia, ‘humanism and secularism as well as liberalism’ have been singled out by the leader of the nation as prime causes of moral degradation. In 13 countries, atheism is punishable by death. This represents one end of the spectrum, and it would be tempting on the basis of this comparison to view Britain as a paradise for non-believers. But the reality isn’t quite so; only nine countries support full legal equality for religious and non-religious alike, IHEU finds.

As in previous years, the UK has been given an amber rating, signifying ‘Systemic Discrimination’, because of entrenched problems such as discrimination in admissions and employment by state-funded ‘faith’ schools, the presence of established churches in England and Scotland, and reserved seats for bishops in the House of Lords.

The UK was also one of only a handful countries this year to receive the special ‘In Flux’ rating because of conflicting signs about the future of discrimination against the non-religious in Britain. Despite the distance we’ve travelled to ensure that most non-religious people can live happily, confidently, and without harassment in their everyday lives, systemic problems remain, and 2014 was a year of marked attempts to politicise issues around religion or belief, as well as for claiming special significance for Christianity in Britain. And in parts of the country such as Northern Ireland, religious influence over politicians still remains the primary roadblock to sexual health rights for women and marriage rights for gay people.

The BHA will of course continue to work towards a secular state ensuring equal treatment of everyone, regardless of religion or belief. You can help this work by becoming a member, if you haven’t done so already, or by encouraging your friends to sign up. Your membership directly empowers our work financially – running campaigns can be expensive – just as your support infuses our work with energy and vitality.

Simon Nightingale on the thought crime of not having a religion

Available until Saturday. Listen from 1:19:00 to 1:25:00 on the time line.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p024zyxp

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