We Few, We Fragile Few

Print This Post

You may also like...

73 Responses

  1. Grandy says:

    Growing up, I found tatteling to be the least effective response in the vast majority of situations.

    Today, we teach groups and bodies of all shapes, sizes, and visual patterns to turn to the government when something is a little off.

  2. Rich says:

    I'd love to know if a "Worship Jesus Or Go To Hell" sign would provoke a similar response.

    As an American citizen who was born in the UK, I'm truly grateful for the First Amendment!

  3. V says:

    a sign which is threatening or abusive or insultingmaybe insulting or abusive, but surely it's not threateningwith the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress.This section applies to all three (threatening/abusive/insulting) and I hope they'd have a hard time proving intent, let alone proving harassment, alarm or distress was a likely outcome.

  4. i love a good tale of ass-hattery says:

    can someone explain to me "negative rights" to free speech – cause that's what the UK citizenry has – not "positive rights" like us….

  5. C says:

    I've been lurking since darths and droids tipped me your way, just so we have the nerd demographic dealt with ^_^

    I live somewhere near Lincoln and, bearing in mind I would quite rather not get in trouble in terms of slander, I will disclaimer what I am saying with this is the opinion of other people who have been there and that I have no first hand experience (basically hearsay), but apparently it is one of those places that if your accent doesn't fit, it's something that has an impact on you socially which might explain the complaint over the sign in terms of there being people there who do not like something different from the norm, not that I am defending it.

    On the other hand, where I do live, there was a Polish store with a sign saying 'No English', whether that meant that they did not want English customers or no one in the store understood English or even that there was no packaging with English writing, they were asked to take the sign down under the same act, it was back up two days later, so it's a fairly toothless act so far as I am aware. I do wonder if something like that sign can colour interactions between different communities, however, as I was confronted by three rather intoxicated Polish people in that general area just walking to the bus stop from work. I wouldn't go as far as to say incitement and I certainly wouldn't sue over such a sign or any in someone's property, but just a thought.

  6. RogBoy says:

    Ooh, free speech here in the UK – as UK citizen that is a subject dear my heart.

    Sadly, its worse in the UK than you probably think it is. The balancing act being freedom of speech and "right" to not be offended is extremely flexible. It's certainly not the case that causing offence is always frowned on by the authorities.

    You could turn up at the repatriation of UK soldiers killed in Afghan with a sign that says "British soldiers burn in hell" and you won't be arrested. Make a criticism of a sub-population to whom our (i.e UK) leaders want to pander, and it could be a very different story.

    Generally, though, the UK currently promotes lack of offence over free expression. After all, free speech tends contain value judgements and that might lead to someone getting all butthurt over what was said, AND that is, of course, "bullying". (We have an epidemic of bullying in the UK, apparently. It is everywhere. An alternate view would be that we actually have an epidemic of delicate princesses that need to dry their tears and understand it is not always about them. But I would not recommend saying that out loud).

    Thanks for letting me rant on. Love the Popehat blog.

  7. egd says:

    I'm not going to pretend to be some sort of anti-free speech zealot, because I'm not. I think the UK law is poorly thought out and is an affront to principles of freedom. But Ken is the one who brought up character. So lets talk about character.

    What is the character of the person who puts a sign in their window "religions are fairy stories for adults"? The sign isn't an affirmation of his own faith, it is not a religious (or irreligious) affirmation of his faith; the primary audience is the public. He didn't make the sign to affirm his beliefs, he made the sign to proclaim his beliefs to the outside world. But more than that, he made the sign to confront and offend those who would read it.

    Is the character of the bully any more or less questionable than the character of the tattle-tale?

  8. SteveG says:

    Section 5 of the Public Order Act (which I imagine the officer had in mind) is an all purpose, low-level, "don't be too obnoxious in public" sort of offence. It's completely inapplicable here, and I cannot for one minute imagine that the CPS reviewing lawyer will let this go anywhere.

  9. C says:

    @RogBoy

    Not looking to cause an argument, but as someone who was bullied, at different times, for my ears, my name, my accent and because-the-girl-sitting-in-front-of-me-didn't-like-me, there are genuine cases of bullying out there, though 48% does seem to be a high number.

  10. Andrew Roth says:

    You forgot Parliament, Ken. Would such a sniveling little shit run to the police after having his feelings hurt during Prime Minister's Questions? Imagine such a person trying to respond to the following conversation:

    PM Harold McMillan: "The government has no plan to increase expenditures in Vietnam."
    Backbencher (interrupting McMillan): "That's rubbish!"
    McMillan: "I'll get to your special interest in a minute, sir."

    Shit, for that matter, how would the average American president or congressman respond to any of that?

    And let's consider this script bit from "Inspector Lewis," which, fictional though it is, I think sheds some light on the traditional British character, the one that is now being undermined by official policy:

    Inspector Lewis: "Why didn't you tell us about that?"
    Oxford dormitory superintendent: "You buggers didn't ask."

    I strongly encourage Mr. Richards to place another, larger sign in his window discussing the fitness of the local constabulary. Maybe "Lincolnshire Police are censorious wankers," or "Lincolnshire Police: was the nursery not hiring?"

    Even if Mr. Richards has been cowed, I'll offer my own counsel for the Lincolnshire Police, phrased a bit more crudely and less wittily since I'm an American:

    You coppers can kiss my Yankee ass.

  11. Ken says:

    egd:

    1. I find the sign-maker's need to proseltyze distasteful. But how is it more distasteful than any other religious message that says "we have the one true way?"
    2. I think "bully" is vastly overstated and, with all respect, ridiculous. When an 89-year-old-man is called a bully for putting a piece of paper questioning religion in his window, the word has no meaning. Such rhetoric is exactly how such speech restrictions are justified.
    3. You say that the sign isn't an affirmation of his faith, but a proclamation of his beliefs to the outside world. How does that differ from any religious message, from a cross on a necklace to a bumper sticker about one's church?

  12. Tam says:

    *sniff*

    Those last couple paragraphs are just poetry, man.

  13. EvilSoupdragon says:

    The problem we have in the UK is that over the last 20 years or so people have become so afraid of causing offence that laws are being over-interpreted in the hope that someone won't be offended. In effect the vocal and over-sensitive minority of the population, that any culture have, have now been given the legal right to try and suppress anything that may "reasonably" cause offence, whether offence was intended or not. Whether they are successful then largely depends on how the legal system choose to interpret the laws. I don't mind the vocal minority having their say, all viewpoints should be heard in a true democracy, whether you like what they have to say or not. This poor man has been warned off by an overzealous constabulary, but complaints against The Humanist Societies' well-known atheism bus adverts were seemingly dismissed.
    Look up the Twitter joke trial if you want to see how seemingly well-meaning legislation in the hands of The Crown Prosecution Service can get out of hand.

  14. Dan Weber says:

    can someone explain to me "negative rights" to free speech – cause that's what the UK citizenry has – not "positive rights" like us….

    The US has, mostly, negative rights. These aren't worse than positive rights.

    Negative rights are things the government cannot do. These would be examples of negative rights: the government cannot stop you from talking. The government cannot stop you from having guns. The government cannot stop you from having abortions. The government cannot stop you from smoking marijuana.

    Positive rights are things the government has to do for you. Examples would be the government required to pay for your blog and/or printing press; required to buy you guns; required to pay for your abortions; required to buy you medical marijuana.

    IMNSHO negative rights are much better than positive rights, but there are people who disagree, and it might distract too much from the topic at hand to go into it so I'll merely state that each side has some points.

  15. C says:

    That does tend to be a problem here. I love that Britain is a multicultural country, I love that I know people who are jewish, hindu, sikh, muslim, christian and atheist as a whole there are nice people among all of them and there are douchebags. In regards to my first post, while I can't speak the language, I am half Polish myself because England took in my nan after she survived Auschwitz and my grandad after he survived being a POW in Russia, but at the same time the people in government don't help matters in people getting on when, so that no black people are offended, they ban baa baa black sheep (which I have heard black people sing, by the way) in schools. This does seem to be just something else that caters to, for the most part, the easily offended or looking for trouble.

  16. EdH says:

    There's a growing campaign for the repeal of Section 5, thankfully, supported by a very disparate array of groups, charities and political parties. I can't find an official petition, though, unfortunately, but with luck this should cease to be a problem over the next few years.

    I hope, anyway.

  17. Margaret says:

    To the person who complained about the sign, my reply would be: If your religious conviction is so flimsy as to be ruffled by a sign saying, "Religions are fairy stories for adults", then you need to take a serious look at your religion. Rather than be offended, whaa whaa where's my whambulance, stand up and argue for your religion! Prove the sign wrong! If you truly believe, you'd just say, "No, it's not, that person is very misguided" and move on.

    The most likely reason the sign causes hurt and offense is that it's true. (My opinion, of course.) And Truth usually hurts.

  18. darius404 says:

    In my opinion, "positive" rights (as described by Dan Weber) aren't true rights, as they are not things you can do that others aren't allowed to interfere in (which would be the "negative" rights described by Dan Weber). Rather, "positive" rights entail things that other people have to do FOR you. Those aren't "rights" at all, but are in fact violations of OTHER people's rights (all of which are part of the virtue we call Freedom). To say that people have a right to make people do things for you isn't something inherent in the people themselves (while rights are), but rather only exist insofar as people have the force necessary to make other people do them.

  19. Jason says:

    @Margaret I was wondering when somebody would insist on trying to make religion the issue here. Well done. Do you feel superior yet?

  20. RogBoy says:

    @ C,

    Of course I accept there are instances of genuine harassment that are called "bullying". At the very least, what happened to you sounds like harassment and the perpetrators deserved a kick in the 'nads (metaphorically speaking).

    But someone's sense of offence at hearing an idea they dislike is not the result of harassment. They aren't being bullied and there is no need for the authorities to step in. Especially as the degree of offence taken is often a matter of choice for the offendee.

    That authorities do step in is highly significant. If anything, I wanted to illustrate the snide way a state arms itself "not only with weapons to suppress speech it doesn't like, but with ambiguous standards allowing it selectively to harass enemies". In the UK, that is often done by conflating, for ideological reasons, the notions of harassment and of taking offence, and the result is given an emotive cover story by callling it bullying. Everyone is against bullying, right?

  21. Turk says:

    So much for that famous stiff upper lip.

    Winston Churchill quote:

    You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

  22. EvilSoupdragon says:

    I do hope this demonstrates to Americans why your freedom of speech is so important and why it must always be defended. A nation doesn't lose it's rights in one swoop it loses them by tiny degrees, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes demanded by the indignant public; but each little chip you allow weakens your rights until that day you realise that your rights are just pale shadows of themselves, and you no longer have the right to even complain about that.

  23. C says:

    Yeah I understand where you are coming from, RogBoy and I didn't mean to sound like I was being snippy, so I apologise for anything that sounded such and yes I agree with the points you make, I believe that the only way that society advances is through the people with different ideas actually talking and coming to common ground where they can and accepting where they cannot, this seems to be a case where people don't seem to be able to do that, and siccing the constabulary on a pensioner over being butthurt is pretty much as low as you can get.

  24. SPQR says:

    Ken, now you've got Tam admiring you.

    I hate you, you know. With a hot, intense hatred born of jealousy.

  25. egd says:

    @Ken (in order of appearance):
    #1: The difference is that the speaker isn't advocating positively for his "one true way." He's advocating against the alternatives. Religions (including atheism) succeed (in the modern age at least) by persuading adherents that they are better – usually intellectually or spiritually – than the alternatives.

    Christians should likewise be criticized for saying "Islam is evil" instead of "Christianity is good".

    #2: You're right, I shouldn't have said "bully". It's an overused and overhyped word. Maybe douche would've been more appropriate.

    Anyone who goes out of their way to insult others based on their religion deserves at least be ignored.

    #3: a number of religions "require" some sort of outward signal of religious belief. I'm pretty sure atheism does not. But even if it does, that signal certainly isn't broadcasting a negative message to your opponents (although I'm reminded of a "Not A Republican" bumper sticker I recently saw), it should be a positive affirmation of your beliefs, or lack thereof.

    Civil society is based on respect for others, not coersion. The speaker here lacked respect for others, just like the tattler. The tattler resorted to use of force making him the worse actor, but that doesn't excuse the speaker.

  26. Margaret says:

    @Jason:

    Yes, infinitely superior.

    Here, I'll generalize it. If I say, "Your ideas are dumb," you have (at least) two possible courses of action. You can either find someone to complain to ("She said my ideas are dumb!"), or you can say, "No, they're not dumb, and here's why."

  27. P Smith says:

    One of the earliest authorities on the interaction between section 5 and Article 10 of the ECHR is Percy v DPP [2001] EWHC Admin 1125, a case which concerns a charge under section 5 in relation to the desecration of an American flag in the face of American servicemen:

    "[2] The convictions arose from the appellant's behaviour at an American air base at RAF Feltwell. The appellant is a co-ordinator of an organisation called the "Campaign for Accountability of American Bases" and has experience over many years of protesting against the use of weapons of mass destruction and against American military policy, including the Star Wars National Missile Defence System. She believed that the base at Feltwell would have a part to play in such a system. She defaced the American flag by putting a stripe across the stars and by writing the words "Stop Star Wars" across the stripes. She stepped in front of a vehicle and she placed the flag down in front of it and stood upon it. Those affected by her behaviour were mostly American service personnel or their families, five of whom gave evidence of their distress to varying degrees. They regarded her acts as a desecration of their national flag to which they attach considerable importance. The District Judge rejected the appellant's evidence that she was unaware of the effect of her conduct upon those present. He relied upon various passages of her evidence which, in his judgment, indicated that she understood the importance that many Americans, particularly military personnel, attach to their national flag as a symbol of freedom and democracy. The court concluded from her failure to offer any explanation save that "it was a spontaneous protest" to place the flag on the floor and stand upon it, that her actions were calculated to offend. The court found that the appellant's behaviour with the flag was insulting to American citizens at whom it was directed." (emphasis added)

    The court below attempted to balance the appellant's Article 10 right to freedom of expression against "the rights of American service personnel and their families occupying the base to be free from gratuitously insulting behaviour in the ordinary course of their professional and private lives and their right to have their national flag, of significant symbolic importance to them, protected from disrespectful treatment" and came down on the side of the latter.

    The appeal court held that, in the circumstances, this "right" must yield to Article 10 and so quashed the conviction.

    Interestingly, appellant's counsel is now serving as Director of Public Prosecutions.

  28. lofi says:

    I'm British and a non-believer, and I'm kind of proud of this law because it is sensible.

    Freedom of speech as a principle still exists in the UK – its just that we give it sensible limits. Expressing atheist thoughts is not illegal in nearly all contexts, but oppressing others in public spaces is normally catchable under some or other law. The sentiment behind putting up a sign like that is pathetic and provocative in the first place – it encourages escalation by equivalent small-minded members of the Christian community reciprocating in kind with e.g. posters about burning in hell. This just isn't sensible.

    If you want to hold atheist opinion or seriously exercise your right to expression then do that in a civilized manner. Being abusive, or provocative in a public space isn't a right.

    There is no slippery slope argument here because we are british and we are properly sensible.

  29. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    It is becoming less and less easy to see any difference between the punishments levied for offending some hypersensitive twerp, and the punishment levied for braining him with a 9 iron. I forsee a day when there is no longer any difference at all, and those of us who are sick of the little crybabies all snap at once.

    I hope somebody saves the video.

  30. Scott Jacobs says:

    If you want to hold atheist opinion or seriously exercise your right to expression then do that in a civilized manner. Being abusive, or provocative in a public space isn't a right.

    Oh yes. Indeed, so long as you don't say anything that offends anyone, you're perfectly free to say whatever you want…

    You don't even see the problem with that, do you?

  31. Chris R. says:

    So would it okay to place a notice proclaiming your faith but not your lack thereof?

  32. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    lofi,

    That's just it; being provocative IS a right. At least in the United States. The first amendment protects provocative speech, because no protection would be needed for non-provocative speech. Anybody who whines about somebody's speech offending them needs to grit their teeth and deal with it. They have absolutely no right to prevent any speech simply because it offends them.

    If you can't live with this kind of free-wheeling freedom of speech, then by all means don't come to the United States, or if you are already here, leave.

  33. nlp says:

    G.K. Chesterton wrote a book called "The Ball and the Cross" in which one man was speaking (or pamphleteering) about how several early religions had beliefs relating to virgin births (I think it was virgin births; it's been a long time since I read the book) and most people simply walked by, but one man stopped to argue, and they fought a duel, only they had to keep moving because dueling was forbidden. In the end they became friends because they shared something. They both cared passionately about something.

    I wonder if the person who complained ever thought of going to the door and disagreeing, rather than going to the police.

  34. Dan Weber says:

    The sentiment behind putting up a sign like that is pathetic and provocative in the first place – it encourages escalation by equivalent small-minded members of the Christian community reciprocating in kind with e.g. posters about burning in hell. This just isn't sensible.

    Geeze, you mean someone might respond to speech they don't like with even more speech?

    Good things someone nipped this all in the bud!

  35. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Dan Weber,

    I, myself, have never been nipped in the bud. Sound like it would HURT, though.

  36. Jack says:

    The last paragraph of this post is going up on a sign in my window.

  37. Jack says:

    As an Englishman (and an atheist) I am not particularly shocked, offended or worried about this particular incident. This is due to the fact that religion isn't as important here as some would lead you to believe and so although it could be thought that he was putting notice up to express his world believe it is more likely that he put it up to offend a particular individual(s), and I on no grounds can condone a personal assault based on someones religious views.

  38. fred zeppelin says:

    UK folk- Is the truth a defense against having the sign removed?

    If I put up a sign saying "Christians have killed thousands of people throughout the course of history." Could it be removed for causing offence, even if it is factually true?

    This sign (religions are fairy stories for adults) may not be provably true, but neither is it demonstrably false. I'm amazed that something so vague could be removed under the law. It's completely in the viewers mind that the association is a negative one, not a positive one.

    I guess I could see fairy-tale enthusiasts being upset. :)

  39. VPJ says:

    …encourages escalation by equivalent small-minded members of the Christian community reciprocating in kind with e.g. posters about burning in hell.

    So?

  40. Dan Weber says:

    VPJ, let that happen and pretty soon we'll have dogs sleeping with cats.

  41. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    fred zeppelin,

    Why is it that people want to charge Christians will killing thousands, as if that made them different? When I was in my 20's I had a friend who was all hot for Buddhism. He was SURE that Buddhists were far and away superior to Christians. Or he was until I told him, "Get a Japanese/English dictionary and look up the word 'yamabushi'. Then get back to me."

    For the record; if it were up to me, nobody would get to have the State stifle somebody else's speech unless they could demonstrate that is was factually false. It isn't up to me. It's up to the kind of idiot that thinks that making the school bully shake hands with his victim accomplishes something. The kind of idiot who believes that Pacifism is a viable philosophy in a world that produces little tinpot mnadmen/dictators with revolting regularity. The kind of idiot whose reaction to being told "So and so said something that hurt my feelings" is to pass a law.

  42. darius404 says:

    The kind of idiot who believes that Pacifism is a viable philosophy in a world that produces little tinpot mnadmen/dictators with revolting regularity. The kind of idiot whose reaction to being told "So and so said something that hurt my feelings" is to pass a law.

    It's ironic that someone could hold both of those beliefs without thinking they contradict each other. If a person abhors violence, why would they be ok with using the threat of violence by the state to stifle people they disagree with?

  43. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    darius404,

    I don't know. I've never really felt that I could understand the thought processes of the Western Intellectual Eliteists. My God, they were and are capable of watching every Communist revolution in history choose liquidating the Intellectual class as one of its first priorities, and still being fans of communist revolutionaries.

    It has occurred to me recently that there might be something important in the fact that so many of the self-styled intellectuals are not scholars, are bad at scholarship and uncomfortable with it. Maybe deep seated feelings of fraudulance have something to say about how these nitwits think. I'm still kicking this around, though.

  44. Xenocles says:

    "Christians should likewise be criticized for saying "Islam is evil" instead of "Christianity is good"."

    I disagree in the abstract. If a hypothetical religion (not Islam for the purposes of this argument) has doctrine or practices that are evil, it is completely acceptable to denounce it without offering a good alternative.

  45. egd:
    "The difference is that the speaker isn't advocating positively for his "one true way." He's advocating against the alternatives. Religions (including atheism) succeed (in the modern age at least) by persuading adherents that they are better – usually intellectually or spiritually – than the alternatives."

    Perhaps he is persuading that atheism is better than theism. After all, most adults think fairy tales are silly and for children. Wouldn't you say that adults who don't believe in fairy tales are better off than adults who do?

  46. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Xenocles,

    Hell, as long as all participants limit themselves to slanging each-other in print or speech, and don't actually tell demonstrable untruths, I don't give a good goddamn WHAT they say about each-other. And anybody who wants to whine about their feelings getting hurt should be told "Go home and pull the covers up over your head until you're ready to play with the adults."

  47. Xenocles says:

    I don't much care either, as being offended is the price of liberty. That said, I was responding to what I took as an argument on the intellectual merits of a particular way of saying something.

  48. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Xenocles,

    Well said!

  49. TJIC says:

    @Dan Weber • Jun 20, 2012 @10:21 am

    > The US has, mostly, negative rights.

    Yep.

    Like government can't take your property for a public purpose. …unless they want to create a parking lot for a private company.

    Like government can't interfere with your free speech. …unless you want to make factually accurate claims on a food label.

    Like government can't make a law that infringes on your right to keep and bear arms…unless they want to.

    Like government can't engage in cruel and unusual punishment…unless the idea of letting you die from untreated penis cancer is just too hilarious to pass up.

    Like government can't punish you without a trial…unless a bunch of cops all decide to do it together.

    Like government can't pass ex post facto laws…unless they're tax laws.

    Like all laws have to be voted on by Congress and signed by the president…unless a bunch of unelected bureaucrats write them and call them "regulations".

    and so on and so forth.

    In a true Platonic sense, we Americans (and people everywhere in the world) have negative rights.

    In practice, they're infringed day in and day out by government employees that need to have nooses tossed around their necks and be strung up from the nearest lamppost.

  50. darius404 says:

    In a true Platonic sense, we Americans (and people everywhere in the world) have negative rights.

    That is absolutely correct. Rights are inherent in people themselves, not granted by a government or force of arms.

  51. SPQR says:

    Jack writes: "As an Englishman (and an atheist) I am not particularly shocked, offended or worried about this particular incident. "

    And yet, those of us who admired the Great Britain of old are shocked. There was a time you could count on the British to show some backbone.

    Sadly, no longer. As you prove.

  52. Lofi says:

    > If you can't live with this kind of free-wheeling freedom of speech, then by all means don't come to the United States, or if you are already here, leave.

    haha, I see I have rustled your jimmies. You don't get to instruct me about where I do or do not go – I've been to the states many times and when I'm there, I jaywalk.

    Anyway, the point is you do have a right to be provocative as a side-effect of civilized discourse in the UK – we have a political party that is essentially pro-racism (the BNP) and they are allowed to say what they like and get tv coverage etc..

    The line is blurry but it comes somewhere when the speech act's prime aim is provocation rather than an actual putting forward of opinion or fact – so if you are targeting individuals to harrass or bully or offend then thats not ok.

    Your government uses freedom of speech and freedom and patriotism as political devices. These things are all valuable and right but the moment they start to be put forward as absolutes with no limits or unbreakable principles then your ears should prick up.

    This is where some in the US seem to have fetishized the principle beyond what is sensible. You already have limits on the extent of your freedom of speech. The difference is that in the UK we take that a bit further to include forms of abuse or harrassment. Again, this isn't a slippery slope anymore than the limitations of your freedom of speech are a slippery slope – the population still has the underlying cultural values that would be outraged if someone wanted to say something and was stopped, in nearly all contexts.

  53. Linus says:

    I salute Ken's use of the word "mewling", and not just because it calls to mind Loki's use of it in the Avengers (paired with a not-nice Britsh slang word). And then "Lofi" comes along and shows us what "mewling" really is.

    People saying offensive things may frighten and confuse you, but that doesn't make a love of free speech a "fetish". Plus, you keep using the term "slippery slope" but I don't think that term means what you think it means. Who needs a "slippery slope" when you are already claiming that provocative speech is a "fetish"?

    By the way, love the stones necessary to claim that the British have nothing to worry about, sensible race that they are, because (if I'm understanding you correctly) things in the Empire have never gotten progressively worse. Heh. Classic.

  54. SPQR says:

    Lofi, we haven't "fetishized" it. We just know that when "the line is blurry" you get petty little tyrants abusing that "blurry" to suppress the speech of people they don't like.

    Claiming "abuse and harrassment" does not protect people from bullies and thugs, it just empowers bullies and thugs.

  55. NotAProphet says:

    I am minded of a couple of quote from others more eloquent than I:

    "Offence is never given, only taken."

    and @egd:

    "Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position."

    The spirit of this act must surely have been more to give legal force with which to prevent the mid-afternoon drunk shouting obscenities at passers-by than protecting people from having to see things they don't like.

    I am both alarmed and distressed by ad breaks in news shows which portray children starving and dying of preventable disease, juxtaposed with news reports detailing how many tens of millions of pounds the executives of failing companies are being paid. The only question has to be whether I should angle my Section 5 blinkers towards the charity or the news reporters.

  56. egd says:

    @Brad Warbiany:

    I didn't make that comment based on the truth or falsity of the statement in question. I made that comment based on the character of an individual who would go out of his way to insult others' religion.

    If atheism is such a great thing, why must you convert others by demeaning their beliefs? Shouldn't you try to convert them by convincing them of the value of your own beliefs?

    "Atheists are immoral" – does this speak to advancing theism? After all, most adults think morality is a good thing. Wouldn't you say that adults having morality are better than those not having morality?

  57. Andy S says:

    If I might offer an alternative British viewpoint to Lofi:

    I think the argument that the British legal position on free speech is better than the American one is pretty much untenable; libel tourism is a fairly well-recognised term at this juncture and not one that I'm particularly happy about.

    (In case someone intends to ask me why I haven't emigrated thus, there are other legal issues where I do feel the British handle better than the Americans, and I don't think the ongoing Americanisation of the British culture is a particularly good thing; but this doesn't relate to the issues at hand so I don't intend to elaborate here.)

    It used to be the case that the other side of the rights coin was responsibilities, and the responsibility in this case is "don't set out to deliberately antagonise people". Note that I said deliberately – offending someone whilst making a valid point is perfectly acceptable in my book. I'm not sure what point John Richards was trying to make with his sign. That said, my response to being offended by such a sign would be to roll my eyes and keep walking, not to demand legal intevention simply because someone had hurt my feelings.

    PS: having landed here following the Oatmeal saga and having read back a bit, I'd just like to thank Ken for restoring some of my faith in humanity :)

  58. flip says:

    @egd • Jun 20, 2012 @1:08 pm

    Atheism is not a religion, the same way not stamp collecting is not a hobby.

    I'm not entirely sure it is activism: it could just be a way of telling door-to-door religious groups to not bother knocking. The same way one puts up a sign saying you don't want junk mail in your letterbox. Do junk mail leafletters get offended by "no junk mail" signs?

    Anyone who goes out of their way to insult others based on their religion deserves at least be ignored.

    Within the secular/atheist movement is a feeling that one should not be allowed to criticise everything; except in society free speech does not include religion, where it is indeed self-censored out of a fear of being insensitive. Although I don't particularly agree with putting up the sign, I do think that it's his house (and if someone put up a sign that was racist, I would certainly be offended) and that you really shouldn't be able to prevent someone for doing something in his own house – what next, preventing homosexual activity in the privacy of one's own home? Be offended, criticise it if you want, but don't have it pulled down by the police.

    But even if it does, that signal certainly isn't broadcasting a negative message to your opponents (although I'm reminded of a "Not A Republican" bumper sticker I recently saw), it should be a positive affirmation of your beliefs, or lack thereof.

    But plenty of religious people go around telling people they're going to hell for not believing X. It's rude, but it's not worthy of censoring.

    And why does any message about someone's religion have to be positive affirmation? Does that mean we have to back off the Catholic church for their particular problems with paedophelia? Why is it important that we don't point out issues with a religion or its followers? (Points of 'style' or differences in beliefs are not the same as points where religious people do bad things. Ie. Islam is evil is not the same as saying Islamic fundamentalists who support terrorism are bad)

    I'm a great believer of the idea that you have a right to swing your fist up until it hits someone's nose, but in this case a person has every opportunity to walk away and ignore the sign. I've overheard more offensive conversations about my views on religion last week and didn't do anything but do exactly that: walked away. I would consider a different position in this case had the sign been placed somewhere outside of someone's own home. Personally I think this is an interesting question on the issue of free speech and it's made me think about what I put up in my windows and how it might affect people who come to visit.

    @egd • Jun 21, 2012 @4:39 am

    If atheism is such a great thing, why must you convert others by demeaning their beliefs? Shouldn't you try to convert them by convincing them of the value of your own beliefs?

    As an atheist, I don't understand why followers of Christianity, etc try to convert me by saying my beliefs are full of crap. Many evangelicals may use positives to try to attract followers, but I've seen and heard plenty where they insist the negatives of my beliefs are good points for conversion. I've seen numerous signs inside people's homes, etc, but I've never been offended by it. I've been offended by people telling me to convert, but I've not gone to the police for it. I can both understand why someone would be annoyed at the sign, and why someone would want to put it up. But I do dislike people telling me that I'm going to hell because I don't believe: and if you think no one is doing it, then you're not spending enough time reading religious stuff on the net.

    PS. No one is trying to 'covert' people to atheism. This is a popular canard from people who think new atheism is about getting rid of religion altogether. It's not, it's about secularism and keeping religion private and not allowing it to interfere with politics or laws or education. Further to that, any demeaning I've seen has been towards acts in the name of religion (ie terrorism) or using religion to excuse behaviour (see above, re: Catholic church), rather than religion itself.

  59. S. Weasel says:

    If I were a betting weasel, I'd say the person who filed the complaint does not descend from anyone who was at Agincourt, if you get my drift. Atheism isn't the kind of thing that rattles your typical attendee of the CofE.

  60. SPQR says:

    "Atheism isn't the kind of thing that rattles your typical attendee of the CofE."

    Given how much is prevalent among the clergy of the CofE …

  61. mojo says:

    Yeah, I think I'd replace it with a sign saying "The Lincolnshire Police are a bunch of poopy-heads."

  62. Hasdrubal says:

    Isn't provocative speech the most important to protect? When I hear something like "religion is fairy tales for adults," it makes me ask questions like "Why do I have faith in my religion? Do I believe everything in the Bible is the literal truth? Do I understand my religion well enough to explain why it isn't a fairy tale to someone who thinks it is?"

    These kinds of questions are actually pretty important. They're also the kind of question you want people asking themselves if you want to convert them to atheism. Is missionary work forbidden in the UK as well?

    Provoking people to think about their beliefs is pretty damned important, in religion but triply so in politics. To say this sign was provocative (and I think it was) is to say that it deserves protection.

    As an aside, what's with the attitude that you're acting in bad faith or aren't being productive if you don't offer an alternative when you disagree with something. I've seen it here, but also in everything from global warming arguments to news coverage of the US budget process and health care law. Why isn't pointing out the flaws in something a valuable contribution in itself?

  63. En Passant says:

    flip wrote Jun 21, 2012 @6:36 am:

    Atheism is not a religion, the same way not stamp collecting is not a hobby.

    I'm not entirely sure it is activism: it could just be a way of telling door-to-door religious groups to not bother knocking. The same way one puts up a sign saying you don't want junk mail in your letterbox. Do junk mail leafletters get offended by "no junk mail" signs?

    In the USA, it is a federal crime to place into an mailbox intended for receiving US mail, any material upon which postage has not been paid.

    See http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1725

    Putting up a sign that says "no junk mail" will not stop or prevent the USPS from delivering actual postage-paid junk mail, of course. Our friends at the Direct Marketing Association have boughtinfluenced enough congressmen to make it almost impossible to stop that. But at least they pay nominal postage on the junk the USPS carries for them.

  64. Dan Weber says:

    But you can (according to JunkBusters) get someone's dry goods catalog described as obscene to you and stop receipt in your mailbox. Your local postmaster may not care as much as you do, however.

    See Rowan v. U.S. Post Office Dept.

  65. perlhaqr says:

    I was going to comment about how a lot of Brits these days seem to have as much backbone as a rotting mushroom, but I couldn't possibly demonstrate that as well as some of the Brits who have come here defending this crap have. *shrug*

  66. Lizard says:

    The assertion that someone is "bullied" or "harassed" merely by being confronted by the fact that there exists someone who does not share their opinion about something is so self-evidently moronic that I simply refuse to accept anyone would put it forth with any kind of sincerity.

    By that logic, any businessman could claim that someone wearing a t-shirt that promoted Communism was "bullying" and "harassing" him; a vegetarian could complain a sign advertising steaks (or even someone eating a hamburger where they could see him) was "bullying" and "harassing"; a member of any religion could assert that anything which demonstrated someone believed in another religion, whether a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, or a piece of jewelery, was a form of "bullying", and so on. After all, if I believe in God A as the only God, and you walk around proudly proclaiming God B is the only God (even if such 'proclamation' consists only of displaying a symbol of your faith prominently, or hanging a sign in your window),then, you are just as guilty of "harassing" and "bullying" me as the person in the news story, for you are making the same claim: My religion is false. It doesn't matter if you believe some other religion is true, or if you believe no religions are true; if it's "harassment" to be told you don't share my beliefs, then, you're harassing me by any declaration of any faith, on unfaith, which is not mine.

    As to the ultimate effect of these idiotic laws, well, as Kipling wrote:

    "Whence public strife and naked crime
    And-deadlier than the cup you shun–
    A people schooled to mock, in time,
    All law–not one.

    Cease, then, to fashion State-made sin,
    Nor give thy children cause to doubt
    That Virtue springs from Iron within–
    Not lead without."

  67. flip says:

    @En Passant • Jun 21, 2012 @9:17 am

    Well thank you – you learn something new every day! Not being American, I didn't know about this law. Wish it existed here…

  1. June 20, 2012

    [...] act (or a social reaction). It should be addressed through social means, not legal.Embedded Link John Richards of Boston Threatened With Arrest Over "Religions Are Fairy Tales" Sign | Pop… John Richards of Boston (the one in Lincolnshire, not the one in Massachusetts) is an atheist. He [...]

  2. June 21, 2012

    [...] British law's continued descent into an Orwellian twighlight zone, the consistently fantastic Ken over at Popehat asks an even scarier question: What is the character of a person who sees a sign like that in a [...]

  3. June 21, 2012

    [...] at Popehat asks: What is the character of a person who sees a sign like that in a pensioner's window, [...]

  4. July 4, 2012

    [...] promoting atheism, on the grounds that it might cause distress to passersby [Boston Standard via Popehat] Relatedly, we need not worry that NYU law prof Jeremy Waldron, advocate of "hate [...]

  5. July 7, 2012

    [...] promoting atheism, on the grounds that it might cause distress to passersby [Boston Standard via Popehat] Relatedly, we need not worry that NYU law prof Jeremy Waldron, advocate of “hate speech” bans, [...]