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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Atheist sentencing creates a new and dangerous blasphemy law

The sentencing of Harry Taylor to six months in prison (suspended for two years) for leaving anti-religious cartoons in an airport prayer room has been condemned by the National Secular Society as “creating a new blasphemy law that will open the way for every religious extremist to persecute and prosecute their critics.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society said: “Regardless of the fact that this six month sentence has been suspended, it is still totally out of proportion for what Mr Taylor did. Nobody can deny that he was being deliberately provocative in leaving these rather mild cartoons, cut from Private Eye, in the prayer room, but in the end he didn’t harm anybody and was simply making a point about the existence of such a facility. The chaplain could quite easily have simply thrown the papers in the bin.

“Instead, she claims to have been hurt and offended by this material, which makes her ultra sensitivity a dangerous thing indeed. The professional ‘offence takers’ in religious communities will now feel that they have a strong new weapon to use against anyone who is critical or disapproving of them. It is, in effect, a blasphemy law that covers all religions and is much more powerful than the one that was abolished only two years ago.”

“Religiously aggravated offences represent a new kind of blasphemy law, and the professional offence takers in religious communities won’t be slow to exploit this new avenue of restricting criticism and comment about their beliefs. It is time for parliament to reconsider these provisions and remove them from the statute books.”

Mr Sanderson said that Mr Taylor describes himself as a “militant atheists” who wanted to challenge the existence of the “prayer room” particularly as it was situated on John Lennon Airport in Liverpool – he maintained that John Lennon was an atheist and would not have approved of the presence of the prayer room.

One of the images left by Harry Taylor

Also see: Blasphemy law returns with a vengeance

Published Fri, 23 Apr 2010