The National Secular Society has awarded the staff of Charlie Hebdo the annual Secularist of the Year prize, for their courageous response to the terror attack on their Paris office.
Just one week after the attack on 7 January 2015, in which 12
people were killed, the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo published an edition of the magazine featuring a depiction of Mohammed and an editorial making a passionate defence of secularism and the right to free expression.
NSS president Terry
Since the events of 7 January in Paris, Charlie Hebdo has become more than a magazine -- it has become an ideal, a symbol of democracy, a rallying cry to those who value freedom and openness in public
The Charlie Hebdo horror has now joined the endless stream of other outrages committed in the name of Islam. The difference is that it prompted a commitment to free speech and secularism on the part of millions of people.
Looked at objectively, blasphemy is a ridiculous concept, transparently invented to protect eminently arguable ideas from challenge. Ridiculous it may be, but it is also lethal.
From the forty or so
nominations that we received, there was one that could not be ignored, that was the obvious and only possible winner.
In addition to the main Secularist of the Year award, the NSS also acknowledged a number of others for their work in
the past year.
Lord Avebury was recognised with a special award for his invaluable support of the NSS, and for being a tireless advocate for secularism. Lord Avebury recently tabled a Bill to abolish chancel repair liability and has spoken out in Parliament against
collective worship in schools and new legislation allowing prayers to be held as part of council meetings.
Maajid Nawaz, who couldn't attend the event, was recognised for his work at Quilliam, countering Islamic extremism and
Helen Bailey and Elaine Hession were acknowledged for their efforts in helping the National Secular Society campaign to abolish chancel repair liability.
Street preacher Michael Overd has been found guilty of using threatening or abusive words after making homophobic remarks during a sermon delivered in Taunton High Street.
Overd was ordered to pay £250 to a passer-by who had been
'offended' by the preacher's comments, and he initially refused, at which point judge Shamim Qureshi threatened the preacher with a prison sentence. He has been ordered to pay total costs of £1200.
Overd intends to appeal his conviction and said
I follow my Lord and leader, so I won't tone down.
The street preacher was charged with a public order offence, after complaints were made by members of the public that he had made homophobic and Islamophobic remarks. In particular
he quoted Leviticus 20:13 :
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (English Standard Bible)
The BBC reports that the judge told the preacher he seemed to enjoy testing the laws on free speech to their limits . Overd was also told that he should not have quoted from Leviticus 20:13 when speaking about homosexuality , according
to Christian Today, who also report that the judge suggested that there were other verses he could have chosen if he wanted to talk about what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Judge Qureshi also works as a judge for the Muslim
Arbitration Tribunal, which aims to help Muslims resolve disputes in accordance with Islamic Sacred Law.
Overd was found not guilty on two other charges, which included causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or
distress after he made critical remarks about the Muslim religious character Mohammed.
The National Secular Society has previously raised concerns about the trial's implications for free speech. Terry Sanderson, NSS president, said the ruling
appeared to make the quoting of certain passages of the Bible illegal:
Whilst we all want to encourage public civility, there is a higher principle at stake. As long as there is no incitement to violence, then people
should be allowed to speak freely without fearing legal repercussions.
A Rangers fan who was arrested for sectarian singing while on his way to attend a game against Celtic has been jailed for four months.
Scott Lamont was heard singing the words of the Billy Boys song on Cathcart Road on 1 February. He admitted the
charge at Glasgow Sheriff Court.
He was also given an 18-month football banning order. As part of the order he will be supervised for 18 months and must carry out 160 hours of unpaid work. Sheriff Paul Crozier said:
Glasgow has developed a good reputation in recent years. We had the Commonwealth Games last summer, we haven't had an Old Firm game in years. What happened at the first Old Firm game? People like him let Glasgow down. 'Ruin football'
A message has to be sent to those people who would choose to ruin football for the vast majority who want to go to these games, that you cannot behave like this. This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated, certainly not by me.
The sheriff described the words to the song as inflammatory an said it could have led to horrendous violence .
Your offer of commemorative badges in support of journalistic freedom highlighting Je suis Charlie , prompts me to suggest a degree of caution following my experience.
Tongue in cheek, I asked my helpful newsagents to
obtain a copy of the edition of Charlie Hebdo issued after the dreadful massacre in Paris, if indeed a copy was ever available in north Wiltshire.
To my surprise, a copy arrived last Wednesday week and although the standard of
content in no way matches that of the Guardian I will cherish it.
However, two days later a member of Her Majesty's police service visited said newsagent, requesting the names of the four customers who had purchased Charlie Hebdo.
So beware, your badges may attract police interest in your customers.
Update: Police admit that they were monitoring people who bought Charlie Hebdo
A British police force has apologised after a policeman told a newsagent to hand over details of customers who purchased copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Wiltshire police confirmed that a policeman visited a newsagent in
Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative survivors' issue of the magazine.
In a statement, Wiltshire police apologised to the members of the public who may be affected by this and said
they had deleted the details from their system. A spokeswoman said:
Following the terrorism incident in Paris, France on 7 January 2015, Wiltshire police undertook an assessment of community tensions across the county.
As part of this work, local sector policing teams were asked to be mindful of business premises, in particular newsagents who may be distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine and to consider that these shops may be vulnerable.
Several British police forces have questioned newsagents in an attempt to snoop into sales of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the Guardian has learned.
Officers in Wiltshire, Wales and Cheshire have approached retailers of the
magazine, it has emerged, as concerns grew about why police were attempting to trace UK-based readers of the French satirical magazine.
In at least two cases, in Wiltshire and in Presteigne, Wales, officers have requested that newsagents hand over
the names of customers who bought the magazine.
Paul Merrett the owner of a newsagent in Presteigne, Wales, said a detective and a police community support officer from Dyfed-Powys police spent half an hour asking his wife about the magazine
and who bought it. Merrett related:
My wife said, 'Am I in trouble?' because she thought she was in trouble for selling them. They said, 'No, you're not in trouble' but just continued with their questioning for
half an hour.
It was all about Charlie Hebdo. I guess they wanted names and addresses of people we sold them to, which we didn't tell them anything like that. We sold 30 copies.
In Warrington, Cheshire, a
police officer telephoned a newsagent seeking information about an issue of the magazine for a customer.
Update: Charlie Hebdo sellers should not be asked for readers' details, says top policeman
Police officers should not seek the names of law-abiding Charlie Hebdo readers following the Paris terror attacks, Britain's most senior counter-extremism officer has said.
Sir Peter Fahy, the national police lead for preventing
extremism, said he was urgently clarifying guidance to all forces in the UK and acknowledged that it appeared over-zealous and unnecessary for officers to ask newsagents to hand over details of the French satirical magazine's readers.
About a thousand Muslim protesters gathered outside the gates of Downing Street to protest against free speech and the depictions of the religious character Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine.
The protestors, many of whom were
segregated into groups of men and women, gathered near the Cenotaph.
The protest was organised by the Muslim Action Forum, which said that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons had helped sow the seeds of hatred and had damaged community relations.
Strangely not mentioning the fully grown hatred demonstrated by the muslim murderers in Paris that has damaged community relations far more than a few cartoons.
A welcome new direction of the protest were the appearance of some witty placards. One
young child stood next to a placard displaying the message: Charlie and the abuse factory . Another clever 'interfaith' message said: Insult my mum and I will punch you (Pope Francis)
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new legal guidance on freedom of expression.
Following the recent tragic deaths in Paris, there has been considerable debate both nationally and internationally about free speech. The
new guidance aims to help address 'muddle and misunderstanding' around specific areas of Britain's laws on freedom of expression.
It explains there are legitimate ways the state restrains what we can say but the test for curtailing freedom of
expression in law is a stringent one, and much that is offensive is still legal.
Freedom of expression can however be restricted in certain circumstances. For example, where it incites violence against others or promotes hatred based on the colour
of someone's skin or their sexual orientation or their religion.
Chief Executive Mark Hammond said:
The recent tragic events in Paris have again highlighted the importance of freedom of expression in our
society. We have a long history of debating free speech in this country and the law recognises its value and importance.
"oday's guidance aims to address any muddle and misunderstanding about the law. What goes beyond causing
offence and promotes hatred is sometimes a fine line and the source of intense debate. As an expert body and National Human Rights Institution, we hope we can play an important role in helping public bodies to understand and navigate this complex
The new guidance includes the following key points:-
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also a fundamental right under common law
Protection under Article 10 extends to the
expression of views that may shock, disturb or offend the deeply-held beliefs of others
Any restrictions on freedom of expression must always be clearly set out in law, necessary in a democratic society for a legitimate aim, and proportionate
...BUT...AREN'T CLEARLY SET OUT IN LAW...
The boundary between the expression of intolerant or offensive views and hate speech is not always an easy one to draw. However, a number of factors are likely to be relevant, including the intention of the person making the statement, the context
in which they are making it, the intended audience, and the particular words used
Freedom of expression is protected more strongly in some contexts than others. In particular, a wide degree of tolerance is accorded to political speech and
debate during election campaigns
Subject to these conditions, freedom of expression may be limited in certain circumstances, including in order to protect others from violence, hatred and discrimination
In particular, freedom of expression does not protect statements that
discriminate against or harass, or incite violence or hatred against, other persons and groups, particularly by reference to their race, religious belief, gender or sexual orientation
Kingsman: the Secret Service is a 2015 UK action crime comedy by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Taron Egerton.
A while ago the BBFC passed the film 15 for strong bloody violence, strong language
after BBFC advised pre-cuts for cinema release: The BBFC commented:
This film was originally seen for advice in an unfinished version. The company was informed the film was likely to be classified 18, but that their
requested 15 could be achieved by making some reductions in scenes of violence. When the finished version was submitted for formal classification, reductions had been made and the film was passed 15.
Now Director Matthew Vaughn has
denied that changes were made to obtain the 15 rating. From an interview with Den of Geek:
Den of Geek: I should ask you just to clarify the certification of the film in the UK ...
I haven't changed a fucking frame!
Den of Geek: Absolutely nothing? The BBFC posted that certain changes were made prior to submission to get a 15 certificate in the UK ?
Vaughn: Nothing. You've seen it! They're pretty intelligent people, the BBFC. And I think they get it right most of the time. They watched it, and I sat down with them. The violence is fun. You don't see people grimacing. They're laughing with it. It's like Tom & Jerry. It's over the top and colourful and playful.
Perhaps the inference from this conversation is that there is no uncut 18 version and the 15 rated version will be final.
The British cut of the movie clocks in at 128:34 minutes while the
German release has a duration of 129:25 minutes. The difference of 51 seconds is quite large and isn't due to rounding up. Also, logos can most likely be ignored since the film's sole distributor is 20th Century Fox. Therefore, it's quite possible that
the film's UK pre-cuts won't affect other markets.
The Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty has written to the British culture secretary inferring that Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf should be banned.
He is calling for a national debate on whether the sale of the book should be banned in the UK.
Docherty has written to culture secretary Sajid Javid about the text, pointing out that it is currently rated as an Amazon bestseller . An edition of Mein Kampf is currently in fifth place on Amazon's history of Germany chart, in
fourth place in its history references chart, and in 665th place overall. He wrote:
I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression.
And of course the inevitable '...BUT...' He said i n his letter there are:
Many who would argue that the publication of books as repulsive as Mein Kampf is the price of living in a democracy,
and that by allowing academic study of books such as this, we ensure that our society understands better the causes of fascism and the origins of Nazism.
there are also many who
would argue that such a book, which sought to incite racial hatred and fuel antisemitism, is too offensive to be made available.
And of course he doesn't want to be as vulgar as actually calling for a ban, he would much rather find
somebody else to utter those words:
I'm not saying it should be banned, I am saying we should absolutely have a debate about whether or not it should be banned,
Could you have for argument's
sake a system of academic licensing, a system in which institutes of learning were permitted to publish and teach it? Let's have the debate. Let's ask, in the 21st century, are there limits to free speech?
Nick Clegg has spoken of the irony of politicians who defend free speech and press freedom yet advocate a huge encroachment on the freedom of all British citizens.
In a key passage from his speech at the Journalists' Charity, Clegg said:
The irony appears to be lost on some politicians who say in one breath that they will defend freedom of expression and then in the next advocate a huge encroachment on the freedom of all British citizens.
Let me be really clear , we have every right to invade the privacy of terrorists and those we think want to do us harm, but we should not equate that with invading the privacy of every single person in the UK. They are not the same
The so-called snoopers' charter is not targeted. It's not proportionate. It's not harmless. It would be a new and dramatic shift in the relationship between the state and the individual.
blithely say they are happy for their communications to be open to scrutiny because they have 'nothing to hide' have failed to grasp something fundamental about open democratic societies:
We do not make ourselves safer by making
ourselves less free. Free speech means bad ideas can be exposed and good ones promoted.
But how is the marketplace of ideas supposed to work if law-abiding people can't communicate freely about our ideas with others, free from
How can we test our assumptions about the world and discover new ideas if our web browsing is being monitored? Free speech and privacy therefore go hand in hand.
Roy Greenslade of the Guardian
noted: I am surprised that this speech has not been given greater media coverage and I'm grateful to the report on the News Media Association for bringing it to my attention.
And right on cue, David Cameron has spouted off about the right for British people to offend religions.
This is the same politician that has presided over a police regime where people are regularly being jailed for trivial bad jokes on twitter.
This is the same politician that has championed the PC lynch mob in its crusade to destroy people's lives over minor PC transgressions.
This is the same politician that has brought in new censorship decrees without consulting the people or
parliament that has destroyed the British adult internet industry.
This is the same politician that has championed shoddy internet filtering that simply isn't fit for purpose.
This the same politician that wants to strip away every last
vestige of people's privacy and to leave them prey to hackers, scammers and criminals.
Cameron has been speaking to CBS News about the right to publish material that was offensive to some. He rightfully disagreed with a comment made by Pope
Francis, who warned that people who mock religion are asking for a punch. He said:
I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion. I'm a Christian - if someone says something
offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society I don't have a right to, sort of, wreak my vengeance on them.
All would have been well and good if he hadn't already created/interpreted laws that have seen
people jailed and punished for offending religions.
He also said as long as publications acted within the law, they had the right to publish any material, even if it was offensive to some. But then again the leaders of Russia, China, Iran, Saudi
Arabia and North Korea could all make the same statement. It all rather depends on how repressive the law is.