March for Free Expression

The next phase

Monday, March 20, 2006


We have asked for suggestions about what concrete proposals we might campaign for in the aftermath of the rally on Saturday. The repeal of the blasphemy laws has been suggested several times.

This might be a simple, easily understood and communicated campaign target. It would also remove a bone of contention. Followers of other religions point to the blasphemy laws as an example of unfair treatment. This is perfectly reasonable; they are an example of unfair treatment. The only equitable alternatives would be to extend the same protection to all other religions, including Satanism and Scientology, or remove it completely. The latter is of course the only workable arrangement, and has the merit of being ethically right.

We invite comments. Should we campaign for the removal of blasphemy laws?


Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Yes. The USA manages just fine without them. We can blaspheme to our hearts' content.

12:18 am  
Anonymous alex said...

Oh why oh why aren't we as organized as that Global Civility lot? Such a shame. One look at their website shows a well presented argument, with information on British laws, values, and other things, which really do put our march to shame in comparison. And, all the banners they have made too. I fear we could be eclipsed (all the more reason to march). I am going anyway, but it's such a shame that our march isn't anywhere near as articulate and well thought out really.

2:02 am  
Blogger TheFriendlyInfidel said...


Oh why oh why aren't we as disorganized as that Global Civility lot? Such a shame. One look at their website shows a flawed argument, with misinformation on British laws, Islamic values, and other things, which really do put their march to shame in comparison. And, all the banners they have made too. I fear we could be beaten to a plup (all the more reason to march). I am going anyway, but it's such a shame that our march isn't anywhere near as fanatical and irresponsible really.

(Sod off Alex)

I propose that we demand for a end *all* religous schools.

8:27 am  
Anonymous man said...

And reform of the excessive UK libel laws.
And probably reform of the poorly-defined laws against race hatred, alhtough that is more controversial...

8:40 am  
Anonymous wnw said...

i'd assumed alex's post was ironic...

9:14 am  
Anonymous James Cole said...

Are the blasmphemy laws contentious? Are they not just unused throw backs to a different era? I think we should campaign for their revocation, but we should be careful not to make this the single biggest issue. Many, many people already oppose the blasphemy laws by default and they might regard their revocation as purely symbolic and of no real practical consequence. Symbolism is important, but we have concrete issues to deal with, as mentioned in the comment. This is what will give our campaign substance.

9:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1977 case against Gay News is still within living memory for most so they're hardly obscure and under-used.

It's simply a non-starter to argue that a campaign on free expression shouldn't take a view on them but as someone here said, it's only part of the bigger picture, not the picture itself.

We should also demand that debates around republicanism be free from state interference (the police currently have the right to close down any meeting for this purpose, probably only because no one's brought a case under the Human Rights Act).

9:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


can you add a site meter to your blog.

9:45 am  
Anonymous pausanias said...

The blasphemy laws only protect one religion in this country. They are disgraceful, discriminatory anachronisms that should be revoked immediately. Let's go for it !

10:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Repeal of the blasphemy law is a good start. Nobody can accuse you of being racist on that count.

Re Alex:

The global civility people may have a flash website, but they are blazing hypocrits. Having sent out a ridiculous 'questionnaire' intended to intimidate organizations supporting free speech, they have declined to reply to most of the organizations who challenged their twisted interpretation of what our march is about. Ignore the fcukers.

10:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should be explicit that we're not targeting religion per se, just anything codified that hinders free speech, be it laws or mob hysteria outside of theatres. In terms of religion, there's a few centuries of anti-Catholic legislation that could be interpreted this way. What we should be aiming for is a neutral stance from the state on matters of religion. It should be up to the courts and Parliament to decide on the legality of faith schools etc (which people do attend voluntarily, or at least their parents send them there voluntarily).

I'm not saying don't have a view on libel but it's a minefield that could occupy time best spent campaigning on more harmful laws. Libel is a different legal sphere.

10:57 am  
Anonymous Simon Jones said...

The biggest example of unfair treatment is the fact that we have an established state church. Disestablishment of the CofE would make more of a difference than the repeal of laws that aren't applied any longer (though I have no problem with their repeal as a by product of disestablishment).

11:00 am  
Anonymous Fash Harry said...

Considering we are sharing a platform with BNP activists, and the far-right UKIP and Libertarian Alliance shouldn't we skip the minor blasphemy issue and go for the important stuff, like ending immigration and deporting everyone who will pollute our precious body fluids with inferior genes?

Decency demands it!

11:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh har-har, very fucking witty. Must have took you all of a minute to come up with that.

Though, it does lead to a good point... action around blasphemy, the right to stage plays critical of religion etc is pretty likely to alienate the likes of the Freedom Assoc. and for that I am grateful.

12:11 pm  
Anonymous Baphomet said...

Satanists would never demand any such legal protection - the Church of Satan in the USA pays taxes and objects to the favourable tax status of churches as a matter of principle, for instance.

12:48 pm  
Anonymous P.J. Denyer said...

Repeal of blaphemy laws, removal of tax exempt status for religious organisations and 'education, education, education' ie repeal of mandatory religious assemblies, opposition to faith schools, removal of pro religious bias in setting of regional RE syllabuses, improved teaching (and emphisis) on science, logic and debate. Opposition to the teaching of myths and fables as fact to children too young to differentiate between the two. Removal of religious selection criteria from state funded faith schools.

1:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that this seems to be replicating the work done by the National Secular Society, of which there is no doubt. What I am looking for is an organisation that does what the likes of Liberty, Article 19 and Index on Censorship should be doing but don't - basically a broad front to defend freedom of expression.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

Friendlyinfidel said "Sod off Alex"

Wonderful. Is this how I'm going to be received as a fellow Brit considering going to the march this Saturday? I would be travelling from the other end of the country. If my concerns are going to be met with this, then I am really in two minds whether to go. I simply have concerns, and those are that those other folks seem to be much better organized and united on what they are marching for, whereas most of us seem to have very different ideas what we are marching for, and there are reports of alliance with right wing groups on ours. Reports are that Right Wing donators are part of our march, and that concerns me. Sure, we cannot sift through and check out each person joining a march. But that does concern me and I don't want to be associated with them. Part of me wants to go, to challenge the nationwide marches of this Global civility group. Yet, I still want to know more about who is organizing our march, and what the clear goals are. That's why I had to admire the pre-planning of that other group. I am unsure if the proposed march of the Global Civility group on the same day nationwide was already planned, or if they are in direct protest again our march. Can somebody tell me? If their idea came much later, then we must admit that they have been considerably better organized.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous publicansdecoy said...

It is my understanding that they are marching in direct response to the MFE.

The point of this march is surely to stand up for peaceful and free debate, encompassing a very wide range of political views. It's no surprise that people from both the right and left are in favour of this aim. Just because you agree with, say, UKIP on defending the right to free expression in no way signifies that you agree with them on anything else. Defending free expression is precisely about standing up for the rights of people to say things you don't like, surely? The crucial point is that (as far s I know) none of those who have offered support for this march advocate the use of violence and threats to achieve their political aims, unlike the BNP and far-right Islamist groups.

1:22 pm  
Anonymous Rastaman said...

What are you still doing with blasphemy laws? Since I've been blogging on Brit sites I've been getting a real education on your legal system.

'Tis true, we in the USA get along great with no blasphemy laws. Man, what a mess that would make of things, to have something like that conflicting with Freedom of Speech. There are very few things we can't say without getting into trouble. We can't threaten to kill the President, overthrow the gov't by force, or conspire with others to commit a crime. But we can say anything we like about pretty much anything else as long as it's either satire or true. There's always libel if we lie and commit character assassination, but that's civil, not a jail offense. All we can be is sued.

By all means, go for the blasphemy laws. Have no laws regarding any religious establishment. We don't and as the first post says, it works fine here.

I read Alex's post as sarcasm, as well. Have you been to their website? It is to larf. Oh and hey, you can sign up to join them on it. I did, it's fun and anyone can do it. You all should. I signed on as Laffmy Assoff, address is 3000 Murdered, N.Y.. Now it's your turn.

1:23 pm  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Yes, they are an anacronism whose existance can be used to justify further supression of freedom of expression by faith groups other than the C of E. They don't ever get used anyway so it would be a good tidying up of outdated law, like those ones about it being ok to shoot scotsmen in york with a bow and arrow after dark on a thursday (or something along those lines anyway!)

1:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex, if Global Civility are really better organized then this is because they belong to one camp. We don't - we come from a spectrum of viewpoints and beliefs.
It may be that the only idea that unites many of us is that "if we do not hang together, we will hang separately" so please take your red bucket or blue spade and come back to our sandpit.

Polish Solidarity with Denmark

1:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The law you refer to is the right to dunk your wife's head in the River Ouse if she dares to contradict you or answer back.

I can think of certain regimes where that would be considered quite mild!

Maybe Galloway et al could bid to have this law extended across the UK, in the name of good community relations/getting Muslim votes.

2:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One word answer.


2:06 pm  
Anonymous aeneas said...

We should work to repeal the blasphemy laws. Also, whenever there are protests against productions like ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’ we should organise counter protests to protect free speech. If we need any extra laws then surely there should be one specifically there to STOP religious bigotry (e.g. religiously inspired violence designed to intimidate and inhibit free speech).

Alex, I thought you made some useful points, don't let anyone put you off going to the rally. I'll be travelling down to it from Yorkshire.

2:09 pm  
Anonymous Andrew said...


Me and my partner will also be travelling from oop north so you'll not be alone in making a journey.

I understand your concerns, I got in touch when the campaign was in its early stages and did have private concerns that such a grass roots rally would end up small and thus easilly hijacked by the "send 'em all back, the only language they understand is too good for them" mob.

However, consider the facts now:-

1. Peter and Patrick have done a fantastic job in getting the message out to many varied organisations from all across the sane political spectrum so turnout should be broadbased and reasonably high

2. The BNP have been told in no uncertain terms they are not welcome

3. On account of 1. even if a few nutters turn up they will be a very small part of the rally and if they try to hijack the event with fascist slogans etc they can be turfed out by the stewards.

4. BNP members seem to be calling for a boycott anyway (I would have thought listening to Muslim intellectuals and Lib Dem human rights spokesmen is not exactly their idea of a fun Saturday anyway) so they probably won't show up.

So the odds of me and thee finding ourselves the only normal people among a sea of 10,000 jackbooted fascists Seig Heiling a bemused Peter Tatchell and Evan Harris ain't really that likely are they fella? ;)

With regards to the fact that the MAC people are organised "better", they have a one-point agenda, to ban expression they don't like with regard to their faith, whereas we are a hugely diverse bunch (I'm centre-right, you're centre left by the sound of it, vive la difference and all that!) so we don't have a fixed agenda, other than we should all be able to express ourselves freely, be that by renting the Life of Brian from a video shop without being stoned by an angry Christian mob or by drawing cartoons of Jesus, Mohammed or anyone else without death threats and all that malarky.

Hope to see you down there on the day fella.

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about adding T-Shirts and posters with good Jesus-Cartoons, Buddha-cartoons, and others? That way no-one can say its incitement against Ms, and the difference in the reactions of the church, the jews and the muslims can be pointed out afterwards.

3:00 pm  
Anonymous man said...

Yes, repeal the daft blasphemy laws. Perhaps a positive demand: such as a clear definition in English law of free expression: that no authority or executive decision can take away the right to speak your mind or express your feelings. Like the human rights act, or bill of rights perhaps.

3:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a different age (ie. pre-9/11) the Muslim lobby were quite vocal in demanding that the blasphemy law be extended to cover all faiths, not just Anglicanism (the law itself stems from the monarch's role as Surpreme Governor of that church). This is quite common in continental Europe. Post-9/11, it took on a new form, the so-called 'incitement to religious hatred' (an aggressively illiberal law that disappointed Islamphobia Watch).

The continuance of the blasphemy law therefore allows for a situation whereby the Anglican church feels obliged to 'speak up' for other religions.

3:38 pm  
Anonymous marchorbedamned said...

use the blashemy laws to outlaw islam the only truely devilish belief system

3:00 am  
Blogger Juan Golblado said...

There are so many reasons to campaign against the blasphemy law. I fully agree it is the best single target.

Two things, though:

1. it shouldn't be tied in with the anti-monarchy movement or too closely with the campaign against religious schools.
2. nontheless, it shouldn't be the only target

If played right, a campaign against the blasphemy law could garner the full support of the anti-monarchy movement and also get support from those who find the anti-monarchy lot a bunch of eccentrics.

Although I oppose religious schools at least as much as I oppose the blasphemy law, the two things attract slightly different opponents and it seems we will do better by not exciting all our possible opponents against any one campaign. (Getting rid of faith schools would cost real money, too, even if not as much as their supporters threaten us with.)

Which brings me to the second point. The blasphemy law shouldn't be the only target so we don't become a single-issue group. But the other issues should be lighter-weight so as to help people see us in a more easygoing way. Not sure what would fit that bill, though. Ideas?

4:33 am  
Blogger Dan said...

use the blashemy laws to outlaw islam the only truely devilish belief system

Calm down.

There've been some pretty horrific belief systems over the course of time - I'm not sure the Aztecs were too nice. If you can't describe them or the likes of the Lord's Resistance Army as "truely devilish", your moral compass is badly screwed.

If you can, well there goes your "islam, the only truely devilish belief system" argument.

Comments like this suggest that you're a Moby: someone who pretends to support the March but in fact is doing their best to discredit it.

4:37 am  
Blogger kaytee said...

Good luck with the march, and I hope it is peaceful and successful in meeting its goals.

I hadn't realized that Britain had "blaspheme laws" and similar restrictions on freedom of expression-- somehow, I guess I figured that this was something changed in the aftermath of "US" getting in a tiff with Mother England and leaving home, as it were, since most of the other stuff the 1776 war was (supposedly) about did get repealed or modified.


3:46 pm  
Blogger kaytee said...

P.S: I don't think having religious schools, per se, should be a problem. Our religious schools, for the most part, are beneficial to the community as a whole. In many cases, they are the only decent education available-- public schools have a lot of problems.... Most are non-discriminatory re:admissions, at least in terms of religion, race, ethnicity, etc. Any that accept public money must be, and even ones that do not accept public money have to be very careful to comply with our Equal Opportunity Laws.

The Catholic Church has the most schools-- non-Catholic enrollment is almost as high as Catholic at many of them. Church members (paid memberships) get a discount on tuition, and the member's kids have to attend religion classes, but those are about the only differences. There is also a "preference" given to members when enrolling, if there aren't enough spaces for all that apply. And... they can spend money on "classrooms" and kick out troublemakers with fewer restrictions than the public schools-- a major "plus" in the minds of a lot of parents. Quite a few members of our temple (Buddhist) send their kids to Catholic schools... and quite a few end up going to the local Catholic university (and none have converted, either).

4:01 pm  
Anonymous polemicist said...

kaytee said "I don't think having religious schools, per se, should be a problem. Our religious schools, for the most part, are beneficial to the community as a whole. "

Have we learnt nothing from the lessons of Northern Ireland where religious segregation in schools meant that children of one community had never met a member of the other community?

The success of any education system is not to be measured purely in terms of academic achievement, but more importantly whether it can produce socially integrated citizens who are not irrationally hostile towards everybody that does share the same background.

6:40 pm  
Blogger kaytee said...

>>...Northern Ireland where religious segregation in schools meant that children of one community had never met a member of the other community?<<

Not the situation in the US. The "Catholic Schools" are almost as diverse as the public schools, ethnically and religious creed-wise. Language is more likely to be a segregating factor than religion-- other than the fact that kids attending with a "member discount" have to attend the religion classes.

>>The success of any education system is not to be measured purely in terms of academic achievement, but more importantly whether it can produce socially integrated citizens who are not irrationally hostile towards everybody that does share the same background. <<

Catholic Schools often do a better job in both--they kick out troublemakers, whereas many public secondary schools have gang problems-- and gang members tend to be hostile, sometimes extremely hostile, to anybody not part of their "posse"/ a "homeboy"/etc.

Lots of "zero tolerance" rules now in the public schools, but they tend to cause more problems than they cause.

11:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear talk of blasphemy laws being repealed, lets remember though that free speach and expression has allowed for our multi faith society. If we had used our blasphemy laws this would never have happened, since Islam denounces Jesus as Christ and that was considerd im sure blasphemous to the majority christians of Britain and Europe

2:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There should be no such laws. Muslims can call for the death of homosexuals becasue it says so in the Koran, but we cannot condemn their barbarity as it would offend their religious sensibilities?

What next? We are not allowed to condemn paedophiles because the prophet mohammed had sex with a 9 year old girl and they might take offence?

7:08 pm  

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