Harry Taylor sentenced for de facto blasphemy at Liverpool Crown Court, 23 April 2010

manicstreetpreacher reports on the fate of a “militant atheist” who took freedom of speech too far.

I commented a few weeks ago that a self-proclaimed “militant atheist”, 59 year old Harry Taylor from Salford, Manchester, had been convicted of causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress for leaving provocative and “offensive” religious images on three separate occasions at the multi-faith room at Liverpool John Lennon airport.

I received an email from one of the committee of Liverpool Humanist Group that he was being sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on 23 April 2010 and whether any of us would like to go along and show our support.  Since I was home from my job at the other end of the country and doing nothing of note that day, I decided to attend my very first protest / show of support for a complete stranger.

The Daily Telegraph reports on Mr Taylor’s sentencing:

Judge James told him: “Not only have you shown no remorse for what you did but even now you continue to maintain that you have done nothing wrong and say that whenever you feel like it you intend to do the same thing again in the future.”

Taylor’s Anti-Social Behaviour Order bans him from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place.

He was sentenced to six months in jail suspended for two years, ordered to perform 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £250 costs.

Aside from the bare facts of the sentencing, I would like to add that Mr Taylor seemed like a perfectly rational, intelligent and calm man who wanted to put his point across and was certainly not the “crackpot” that several bloggers, including myself to an extent, had presumed him to be.  He was clearly still deeply affected by his horrendous childhood experiences of a strict Catholic upbringing by the Christian Brotherhood and was so distressed by the prospect of receiving a custodial sentence that he had to leave the courtroom midway through the hearing after nearly fainting.

Following the hearing, Liverpool Humanist Group’s Peter McKenna told a reporter from Radio City that the Asbo sentence was absurd since it prevented Mr Taylor from purchasing copies of say, New Humanist or Private Eye in a newsagent since there was a risk that they would contain images of the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed or other “offensive” religious images similar to those he left in the prayer room!

While I am pleased that Mr Taylor did not receive an immediate custodial sentence, I am still appalled that the establishment has shown such favouritism in protecting religious views from criticism.

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15 Responses to “Harry Taylor sentenced for de facto blasphemy at Liverpool Crown Court, 23 April 2010”

  1. Ophelia Benson Says:

    Jeezis! The Independent didn’t even mention the £250 costs or the 100 hours of work. 100 hours of work is quite an enormous fine!

    Oh god this is just disgusting.

  2. It’s even more of an outrage than I thought - Butterflies and Wheels Says:

    […] street preacher reports that Mr Taylor seemed like a perfectly rational, intelligent and calm man who wanted to put his […]

  3. An Atheist Blogger Reports From The British Blasphemy Sentencing « Camels With Hammers Says:

    […] Ed The Manic Street Preacher, (the blogger, not to be confused with the band) offers us this firsthand account of attending Harry Taylor’s sentencing for leaving provocative anti-religious materials in an airport prayer room: Aside from the bare […]

  4. PaulJ Says:

    Two things we need: an agreed definition of religious offence (because at the moment even saying “I’m an atheist” is deemed offensive by some religious believers), and a clarification of an individual’s rights not to be offended.

    Personally I don’t think anyone has the right not to be offended by anything. Incitement to hatred, however, may be a different matter as it can lead to violence. That’s why definitions and clarification are important.

    I recall that Mr Taylor was particularly incensed that the multi-faith room is at John Lennon airport — he objected to such a room being present in a building named for someone who has become an icon of non-religion. Maybe his actions were precipitate, but even so, they don’t in my view warrant jail time, suspended or otherwise.

    Actually I think the whole idea of a “multi-faith” room is weird: designating a place where all the contradictory, mutually exclusive fantasies can be gathered together is tantamount to religious mockery in itself….

  5. Graham Martin-Royle Says:

    This is bringing back blasphemy laws. When will people understand that nobody has any right NOT to be offended. I find religion itself offensive. That’s my problem. I deal with it. Why can’t theists just deal with being offended instead of insisting that everyone else who disagrees with them should keep quiet? The police should never have been involved in this, at the very worst Mr. Taylor was guilty of leaving litter. Is that really a police matter?
    As for multi-faith rooms, there is a case in London where that’s not good enough for certain groups, they now demand their very own private space. Fine. Just so long as they pay for it themselves. Then they can ban who ever they like. Why should anyone be compelled to provide these spaces? Is the one at Liverpool airport paid for by faith groups or does the airport provide it free of charge? I’ll bet it’s the latter which means either retail or office space is being handed over free which costs every user of the airport. If theists want a place to practise their superstitions they should pay the going rate for the room.
    The conditions attached to the asbo make no sense either. Who is to say what is religiously offensive material? I know people who think the book “The God Delusion” is offensive. I’ve been told my RDF cap is offensive.

  6. Stuart Says:

    Yes, this is blasphemy laws in through the back door.

    As a Christian I’m appalled and was from the beginning of this ‘episode’

    Philosophy tutor and atheist Harry Taylor in court for leaving anti-religious cartoons in John Lennon airport

    Well done for attending.

  7. TheTrueScotsman Says:

    What can we do to protest this?

    What about anyone who passes through the airport – indeed any public building, especially one provided by taxpayers – leaves literature in the prayer room that argues against a religious POV or promotes a humanist or secular outlook? (assuming groups do leave literature there)

    There are many essays and blog-posts that could be printed off and I am sure that authors would give permission for these if asked.

    No cartoons, nothing inflamatory, but simply essays and arguments widely available in print, on the internet and in the public record.

    Clearly some people will still take offence at this but I fail to see how such material could be construed as “religiously offensive” when it is widely available. If anything it will keep this in the public eye.

    Another idea would be for people to sit in the prayer room when waiting for flights. Why not? Sure beats spending money in the shops or buying overpriced food. Again, nothing “disrespectful” just sitting reading (something like TGD ideally) or having discussions about religion.

    I’m sure we can come up with something.

  8. Andrew Coates Says:

    This is an outrage. Hope there are protests against the Court decision.

  9. DavidMWW Says:

    I don’t think there is any risk of The New Humanist containing any images of the Danish cartoons.

  10. Rich Wiltshir Says:

    Hats off to Mr Taylor.

    Religion asserts that it is worthy of respect but, after thousands of years, has failed to deliver ANY supporting evidence for its’ claims of a self-existent super-being, let alone a drop of credibility to represent that being to the world.

    Taylor expresses the concerns and frustrations of many; he may have upset a few in the process (including the judge, it seems), but he’s not killed or tortured anyne or taking a different view; just sought to open their eyes to an alternative perspective.

    Good man, Harry, good man.

  11. Oli Lea Says:

    I don’t get it. OK so some people find religion offensive, but leaving this material in a prayer room is not just “practicing one’s own religion of reason and rationality”. It’s not even trying to provoke debate, or offer criticism of religion. It’s going out of one’s way to offend people.

    The law is quite right to call this man to account. It WAS an act of religious victimisation. Religion is not being given special treatment here. This man did a nasty, schoolboyish prank which was likely to cause unnecessary offense. If he wants to challenge religious people, let him to do it in a legitimate, adult fashion.

  12. Oli Lea Says:

    The point all you guys are missing is that this was NOT simply an expression of the man’s faith or lack thereof. I daresay he would not be in any trouble at all if he’d left a copy of TGD in the prayer room, or even a well-balanced atheist pamphlet. But childish, fun-poking cartoons are not serious expressions of protest, neither are they legitimate ways of provoking meaningful discussion. This guy got what he deserved.

  13. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Oli – I’m not saying that I condone Mr Taylor’s actions or would do the same thing myself. But this was clearly a heavy-handed response from the courts, especially compared to the unacceptably lenient reaction to a Muslim a few weeks later who vandalised a war memorial with Islamist hatred, but was let off after his actions were not judged to be hate speech.

  14. Oli Says:

    Perhaps a hundred hours of community service does seem a little draconian, and yes the book should clearly have been thrown much, much harder at the Islamist. I can only assume the severity of the sentence is related to the high profile of the location; an airport.

    I guess I just get a little hot under the collar when certain antireligious representatives think that the best way to respond to what they see as assinine beliefs by behaving in an assinine way and then when they get told of complaining “But look, THEY’RE getting away with it!”

    And of course religious people don’t always get away with it. There was that elderly couple who pinned up some Bible literature which alluded to Christian teaching on homosexuality (albeit in very moderate and unhateful terms) in a local city hall, and had a three hour visit from the police who warned them that if they did it again they could be on charges for inciting hatred.

    As for getting people to “people to sit in the prayer room when waiting for flights…reading (something like TGD ideally) or having discussions about religion” … it hardly portrays atheists as “the bigger man” does it? Someone comes into the prayer room to harmlessly seek solace or fulfil their own devotional obligations, and instead walks in on Philosophy 101?

    Whatever happened to promising not to think in our churches? 😉

  15. Joyce Willis Says:

    His hate towards theists and theism is disgusting and his hateful actions of anti-theism reminds me of the Soviet and Chinese propaganda against religion under communism that lead to millions of tortures and murders.

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