Birmingham City Council promises “atheist websites are not blocked”

Responding to a letter of protest from the National Secular Society, Stephen Hughes, the Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council, says that the Council has never blocked websites dealing with atheism and nor does it intend to – even though it is installing the new Bluecoat filtering system from the USA.

The copy of the categories contained on the Bluecoat system that we have seen certainly lump atheism in with cannibalism and the occult as being sites that are to be blocked at all times. It also categorises it with other philosophical positions that it regards as “undesirable”.

Now Mr Hughes says: “The new software (Bluecoat) offers the opportunity to improve the control of access to web sites by producing reports on usage and by allowing more sophisticated access control – such as by time of day. This allows the council to place more of the responsibility of monitoring the use of the Internet on individual service managers and there is a project in place to achieve this. The City Council does not block sites for containing material on atheism, agnosticism, secularism, Wicca, witchcraft, the occult or any similar subjects. It never has done and no proposal has been made that it should.”

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, commented: “We are delighted that Birmingham has confirmed, as we very much hoped, that it has no intention of discriminating by blocking access to websites on atheism or Wicca, while allowing it for sites dealing with mainstream religion. This episode highlights that great care needs to be taken when setting up web filtering software that originates outside Europe where attitudes are much less accepting towards those without conventional religious belief and where European anti-discrimination laws do not apply.”

15 August 2008