manicstreetpreacher reports on the latest case of religious views receiving special treatment.
I bet you thought that the UK finally did away with blasphemy in 2008? The National Secular Society held a party featuring gay actor Ian McKellen reading aloud James Kirkup’s poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which was the subject of “Scary” Mary Whitehouse’s prosecution for blasphemous libel against Denis Lemon, the editor of Gay News in 1977. A ridiculous anachronism finally buried in these progressive times, right?
Well, think again. Harry Taylor, 59, from Manchester was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court on 3 March 2010 of causing “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress”, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, by leaving obscene material depicting figures from Christianity and Islam in the multi-faith room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport on 2, 26 November and 12 December 2008.
Taylor, who labelled himself a “militant atheist” admitted placing the items in the prayer room on three separate occasions, but insisted he was simply practising his own religion of “reason and rationality”.
Taylor told jurors he had left the items in the room in memory of “his hero” John Lennon before reciting the words from the song Imagine.
He said: “The airport is named after one of my heroes and his view on religion was pretty much the same as mine. I thought it was an insult to his memory to have a prayer room in his airport.”
Giving evidence in his own defence, Taylor admitted being “strongly anti-religious” after being treated badly by the Catholic brothers as a boy growing up in Dublin.
The first reaction of the airport chaplain, Nicky Lees, was to call the duty manager and the airport police, saying that she was “insulted, deeply offended and alarmed” after seeing one of the cartoons Taylor left:
Taylor, who is due to be sentenced on 23 April 2010, also left some of the infamous Danish cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed and one of a pig excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”.
The story has been very well publicised in secular circles, with entries appearing on the websites of the NSS, the New Humanist, MediaWatchWatch, The Freethinker and the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society. Comments have been decidedly mixed. Many agree with NSS president, Terry Sanderson, who said:
This is a disgraceful verdict, but an inevitable one under this pernicious law. It seems incredible in the 21st century that you might be sent to prison because someone is ‘offended’ by your views on their religion. The blasphemy law was abolished three years ago, but it lives on under the guise of religiously aggravated offences and is several times more dangerous.
However, plenty of bloggers who have disowned Taylor as a fringe lunatic. Paul Sims on New Humanist concluded:
If free speech has its limits at the point where it becomes something like harassment, surely Taylor’s behaviour was fairly close to that line? But at the same time, it hardly seems like something worthy of a jail sentence. Certainly at the age of 59 he should have known better (and for that matter have better things to be doing with his time). If he had an objection to the airport prayer room on account of his own “religion of reason and rationality”, why didn’t he express it rationally and write a letter?
I was in two minds on whether I should support Taylor. On the one hand, he seems to be a bit of a crank. There is a time and place for talking people out of their faith and there are ways and means of doing it. Perhaps leaving deliberately provocative cartoons in a prayer room is not the best way to go about it.
But then again, I’ve spoken about Wahhabi extremists brainwashing their children into becoming suicide bombers at a university Islamic society hosted event in front of a crowd mostly wearing headscarves and was very nearly lynched for it, so what do I know?
While I don’t agree with Taylor’s methods, I think this is an appalling infringement of free speech. Taylor didn’t kill anybody or even threaten violence. That’s a vast improvement on what happens when religious people get annoyed straight off. He expressed a view. He made his true feelings known. He challenged presupposition and dogma. As the controversial film director Ken Russell once pointed out, subtly does not work on people these days; if you kick them in the balls, you’ll find you have their complete attention.
Cartoons of pigs excreting sausages labelled “Qur’an”? I’ve read the book for myself and quite frankly, “excremental” is rather kind. I am insulted and offended every time someone tries to tell me that these books are miraculous and can only be explained by the authorship of the all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Know Maker. Is anyone going to demand a criminal prosecution for “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” to remedy my hurt feelings?
…slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush…
– Koran 9: 5
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