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Respect for persons; no respect for ideas; Limerick school was right to let Charlie Hebdo in the classroom

While I would like to vote in a referendum to remove the sentence from Ireland’s Constitution that makes blasphemy a crime, I am writing now to help distinguish between (1) respect for humans and their rights, and (2) culture and ideas (including religious culture and ideas) having no rights to respect. Instead, ideas should be open to criticism, and people have rights to make criticism and to live in a society where other people make criticisms too.

Especially when you are a child, but also throughout all of life, a really good society is one where various people are making criticisms of various ideas and elements of culture and society, with no long intervals between such criticisms both in the public news and in your private life. In so far as I have a right to have a good society in which to live, I have a right to such criticisms going on all the time.

 

The Limerick Leader reported on 05 February 2015

that a teacher at Limerick Educate Together School recently asked pupils to bring in matter relevant to the French Revolution of 1789 and freedom of speech; and a pupil took in a copy of the Charlie Hebdo of 14 01 2015, which the teacher showed to the pupils, and this offended a pupil who is Muslim;
and –
that a parent of this second pupil, as well as complaining to the school, gave the following view to the Limerick Leader – that the cover picture has caused great insult within the Islam community in Ireland and the world; and that the child was “subjected” to seeing the magazine; and that parents teach children to have respect for all peoples and for their cultures and for their religions, of which educators should be mindful. This read as if the magazine being shown in the class took away from such respect.

I agree fully with respect for all people, but disagree entirely with the idea of an obligation to have respect for any culture.

1. I favour respect for all persons and their legal, constitutional, and human rights, and the special rights of children: and special rights means, because they are growing up, that children need both protection from dangers AND open availability of information so that they can grow into good citizens, which includes understanding the cultures of the society in which they live.

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Abolish All Blasphemy Laws! Humanists launch new campaign

The Mid West Humanists received this message recently from the European Humanist Federation. Atheist Ireland is one of the 200 supporting organisations.

It is good to see international support for our campaign to remove the law against Blasphemy from Ireland’s Constitution.

——————————————————————————–

The End Blasphemy Laws Campaign is thought to be the first campaign focusing solely on the issue of laws against “blasphemy” including “ridicule” and “insult” to religion or “hurting religious sentiments”.

The coalition behind the campaign, led by the European Humanist Federation (EHF), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and various national partners, represents around 200 Humanist and secular organizations globally.

Campaign’s website: end-blasphemy-laws.org

Sonja Eggerickx, President of the IHEU, said, “In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings there have been renewed calls to abolish ‘blasphemy’ and related laws in almost every country where they still exist. Our organizations have worked for many years to protect this important right: to question, criticise, and yes even ridicule religion. Given this new impetus to challenge these anachronistic laws, we believe that we can work together across national boundaries to support local voices calling for the repeal of all such laws.

The idea that it is wrong to satirize religion, lends false legitimacy to those who murder in the name of being offended. The idea that it is taboo to question or to criticise religious authorities is one reason why sexual abuse in the Catholic Church persisted so long. The idea that “insult” to religion is a crime, is why humanists like Asif Mohiuddin are jailed in Bangladesh, is why secularists like Raif Badawi are being lashed in Saudi Arabia, is why atheists and religious minorities are persecuted in places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and the list goes on!”

Pierre Galand, EHF President, explained: “Our campaign does not target laws against incitement to hatred, which are legitimate. What we are concerned about is laws which restrict freedom of expression about religion. As a first step, we want to see the remaining laws against blasphemy and religious insult in Europe repealed. There is an obvious double standard issue as the EU has taken a clear stand against blasphemy laws in the world. Now it must encourage its Members States to abolish existing blasphemy laws, as recommended by the Council of Europe.”

The campaign calls on transnational bodies and world leaders to look on “blasphemy” laws as they might look on law restricting press freedom: as a restriction on free expression and indicator of social harm.

Contact information:

EHF (European Humanist Federation): Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty (Executive Director): T +32 4 84 18 35 35, p-a.perrouty@laicite.net

IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) : Bob Churchill (Director of Communications): T +44 7743971937, bob.churchill@iheu.org

 

EHF
Campus de la Plaine ULB
CP 236 1050 Brussels
Belgium

International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
39 Moreland Street
London EC1V 8BB
United Kingdom

Blasphemy outlawed in the Constitution – why we should remove this urgently

Pakistan quotes Ireland’s law against blasphemy to defend against democratic countries urging them to abolish it. Laws do maintain culture within a society, and the culture in Pakistan against blasphemy has resulted in the murder of – people released from a blasphemy charge, a lawyer who defended an accused, a judge who did not make the popular decision, and a state governor who had spoken in public of the problems with this law and favoured repealing it.

These murders contribute to views that to kill people who blaspheme (and anyone who favours the “blasphemers”) is right and reasonable. This contribution probably extends, at least indirectly, to those who did the murders on 07 01 2015 in Paris.

To prohibit blasphemy does not add to freedom of religion; it reduces it

Religions have rules. There are usually rules about what you will think or believe, mostly about the god and related people or things. A second set of rules tell you to do some things, and also not to do some other things.

Freedom of religion in democratic societies means you are free to join a religion, and also free not to join a religion; to choose which religion; and to leave the religion at any time.

When you choose a religion you can agree to follow its rules (otherwise, you are not bound by such rules.) If a thousand million people thereby undertake not to draw pictures of Mohammed, that does not create a right for any of those people to stop the other six thousand million people on earth drawing and publishing what they choose. A law against blasphemy is not about freedom of religion: rather it lets some people stop other people exercising freedom of religion and some other freedoms.

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Support Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech

We are Charlie Hebdo

Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo

Is sinn Charlie Hebdo

I and I hope most Mid West Humanists support the right to life of 10 staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris and of 2 officers of French police; and support their right to freedom of speech, and all people’s right to read any writing and any cartoon or other communication, whether or not it criticises or satirises any idea, whether religious, political, social, sporting, or scientific.

I praise Charlie Hebdo staff for publishing words and pictures without any respect for the ideas of several religions.

 

Are you powerless to do anything about some people murdering cartoonists and journalists who are doing their job (enabling you to read things that are prohibited in some countries)?

You are not powerless.

On TV I see that all the government of France and very many of the people support the right to speak, draw, and publish any matter, irrespective of any offence to any ideas.

France has a principle of secularism in the state (laicité) since 1905, now nearly half the time since the revolution in 1789. Ireland is weak in secularism, as the Constitution since 1937 states that blasphemy is an offence, and in 2009 our legislators continued a law to give effect to that article of the Constitution. Government and other people in Pakistan quote Ireland’s law to say that it is normal, including in Europe, for the law to prohibit criticism of religion. Our constitution and law fail to support the strong efforts of the constitution and law of France to maintain and defend freedom of speech. Today Thursday 08 January Dr Ali Salim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin said on RTE Radio 1 lunchtime news that it is correct that outraging many adherents of a religion is prohibited by law, and he said that if such outrage comes to his attention he will consult his lawyer as to what to do.

In 2013 the Constitutional Convention voted to suggest to the Government that they hold a referendum to let us choose to remove the law against blasphemy from the Constitution. The Government promised that it would hold this referendum, but at the end of 2014 they said that they will not let us vote on this.

 

You have power as a voter.

Visit all of the TDs in your constituency soon, and tell them that you demand that the Dáil and Senate vote for a bill to let us vote in a referendum on removing the sentence making blasphemy an offence from our Constitution. And tell them NOT to include substituting any sentence in its place.

I feel I owe this support to Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and cartoonists, and to all publishing staff there and in other parts of the world, and to the police who have been trying to protect them, as they are defending my right to freedom of speech.

 

Vive la liberté!

 

We are Charlie Hebdo

Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo

Is sinn Charlie Hebdo

Mid West Humanists send submission to the Constitutional Convention on a Secular Constitution

At meetings in March, April, and May 2013 we have discussed a submission to go to the Constitutional Convention, on removing the parts of the Constitution that are biased  against people of no religion; and thereby making the Constitution secular.

The Constitutional Convention is due to discuss other aspects of the Constitution, which the Government did not put on its agenda, at its meeting on Saturday 30 November and Sunday 01 December 2013.

We are hoping that a Secular Constitution will be discussed then.

The Mid West Humanists have sent a submission, as detailed further below.

The more people who ask the Convention to discuss an issue, the more likely it will be that the Convention will deal with it.

So we suggest that every person who thinks the Constitution should  be secular should send their own personal submission to the Convention. You do not need to make a case with detailed arguments.

Go to the Constitutional Convention website, which has a button marked “Make a Submission” which will lead you to the submission page.

You can write “Secular Constitution” as the title of your submission. The site has a “Comment” box, in which you can write your views, up to 1000 characters (this 1000 includes the spaces between words). You can attach a file but you do not have to do so.

You will have to give your name, address, email, and phone number: but only your name and your County will be shown on the Convention’s website. Several submitters with titles that are clearly not real names have managed to get submissions in.

The Constitutional Convention website will lead you to the Mid West Humanists’  submission.

The page for an individual submission shows comment of not more than 9 lines, and a link to download the submission’s larger file. Our submission is in a Word file.

When you press that link the download box may say that the file is “AttachmentDownload.ashx” (rather than the name of our submission).
You can download the file – with the Save option (do not choose to open it immediately). When you see your own computer’s dialog box about where to save the file, you can rename this file. If your computer is not set up to open this dialog box, find where the saved file is and rename it.
Put any name you choose, but make its extension (suffix) .doc – “MidWestHumanistsSecular.doc”.
Microsoft Word will open the file – it remained a Word file but the Convention’s website renames it.

How the Mid West Humanists would like the various Articles of the Constitution to be after the changes is in a Meeting Report.

Here is what we sent to the Convention: –

from Mid West Humanists 22 May 2013

The Mid West Humanists are people with no religion (people meeting monthly since 2008), in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary.

To the Constitutional Convention

Making the Constitution of Ireland secular

Reason to make this Submission to the Convention

The Convention has already considered issues outside the list that the Government set. Accordingly the Mid West Humanists propose changes to make the Constitution secular, in addition to their proposal to delete the criminalisation of blasphemy.

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Changes the Mid West Humanists seek to the Constitution summer 2012

The meetings in June and July 2012 decided in favour of a list of changes to the Constitution of Ireland.

The Mid West Humanists seek these changes in order to make the Constitution fit with a secular state. People should have freedom to have a religion, or not have a religion. The State should not show different levels of favour to people or organisations of different religions, or different levels of favour between those with religions and those with no religion.

The State should not put any value on people having a religion. It should be indifferent to this. The State’s concern is that people should obey the law.

The list of the changes that the Mid West Humanists favour is on the Meetings Report page.

The next meeting of the Mid West Humanists is on the Next Meeting page. At the meeting on 15 August 2012, we will discuss the plan to take the list of changes to the TDs in the Mid West region of Ireland, that is, Limerick city and the counties of Limerick, Clare, and North Tipperary. We hope to make these visits in the remaining months of 2012.

Freedom Includes the Freedom to Offend

Geert Wilders is to be tried for making the film Fitna.

A European politician is to be tried for making a film.

I’m tempted to say “Has the world gone mad?” but I don’t want to sound like a Daily Telegraph reader. The most telling line in the judgement handed down by the Dutch court is, “[Wilders’ statements are] so insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute”. This seems to suggest that the reason for the prosecution is fear of a Muslim backlash. Exactly the sort of violent tendencies Fitna criticises.

Don’t get me wrong I understand that Fitna offers a simplistic explanation of a complex problem. Muslim violence isn’t just religious in origin, there are political, economic and historical reasons too. I do think that Islam makes these problems worse though. It makes finding solutions harder and shapes the nature of the violence. The fairy tales of divine sanction and eternal reward make actions like suicide bombing possible.

I don’t want to rhapsodise Western values or to pretend our culture doesn’t have problems but it’s time for the West, in particular Europe, to stop compromising. We need to stand up for what we believe in. With the rapid advance of technology the next 50 years could be a Golden age for mankind but only progressive secular values can make this happen. Isn’t it time to leave the darkness of religion behind?

Edit – I’m not sure how much good these things really do but there is an online petition here.

Atheists and Free Speech Advocates on YouTube

As some of you may know Creationists and other Christians have been using false DMCA notices to stop free debate on YouTube for some time now. Now a group of the most vocal and popular pro-reason contributers on YouTube have banded together to fight back.

It’s wonderful to see this sort of spontaneous organisation. If you’re a YouTube user please do anything you can to support this effort.

Edit – An excellent background to all of this can be found here.

Islamic Censorship and the Growing Threat to Western Values

The below is taken from a Wall Street Journal article on the upcoming Durban II conference.

The draft declaration… goes after the West’s freedom of speech and antiterror laws under the guise of protecting religion (read: Islam) from “defamation.” The entire West will be in the dock for allegedly persecuting Muslims. “The most serious manifestations of defamation of religions are the increase in Islamophobia and the worsening of the situation of Muslim minorities around the world,” the draft reads. “Islamophobia” is a term used to brand any criticism of Islam as a hate crime.

The Islamic terrorists who have killed hundreds of thousands of their co-religionists get a free pass. Instead, the draft calls for a media code of conduct and “internationally binding normative standards . . . that can provide adequate guarantees against defamation of religions.” If this sounds like censorship, that’s because it is.

If the Durban II drafters have their way, any challenge of Islamic teachings, including teachings used to justify violence, would be taboo. Reprinting the Danish Muhammad cartoons, exploited by Muslim agitators in 2006 to incite riots around the world, would be a criminal offense. Even gross human-rights violations in Islamic countries — such as stoning adulterers in Iran — could be immune from criticism.

It seems pretty clear that this is just another attempt at special pleading by the religious, in this case Islam. The Canadian government has already said it will not participate in this farce and it seems likely that the US will follow suit. It’s probably too much to hope that the EU will take a similar stand.

Free speech is a core western value and we cannot accept any erosion. My advice to Muslims (or anyone else) is simple, if you can’t deal with open debate, if your faith is so weak that it cannot stand up to any criticism, then you need to seriously examine the validity of that faith. The future has no place for ancient magical superstitions.

Edit: I take the point made by commenters below. What I should have said is I hope the future has no place for ancient magical superstitions, but people will have to embrace reality on their own and in their own time. It certainly isn’t something I could or would force on them.

via Butterflies and Wheels

What are the limits of free speech?

The below is from the Guardian

An Australian teacher accused of denying the Holocaust was arrested in transit through Heathrow yesterday and held facing extradition to Germany.

Gerald Frederick Töben, 64, who was en route from the US to Dubai when he was seized, was sentenced to nine months in prison in 1999 by a German court under a law that prohibits “defaming the dead”.

He was held under a German arrest warrant, issued in 2004, which alleges that he had carried out “worldwide internet publication” of material that was antisemitic, and denied, approved or played down the mass murder of Jews perpetrated by the Nazis during the second world war. The warrant stated that he had committed the offences in “Australia, Germany and other countries”.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this. My default position is that free speech is a good thing and that we have nothing to fear from fringe ideas. In an open marketplace of ideas surely bad ideas will be criticised and disproven, but that doesn’t seem to be how the world really works. For example take a look at the below video –

– it seems that for many people they’re happy to believe things that fit their worldview without analysing it more deeply.

So my question is are there ideas that are too dangerous to be freely debated? Put differently can we trust people to take the time to investigate for themselves?