Morning News (In)digest(ion)

Every morning I work flat out the minute I sit at my desk, until about 11:30. This is about the time my brain cries for mercy, and I go make a cup of brown joy and read my RSS feed for 5 minutes.

(There is a point, I’m getting to it.)

This habit means I get a rough sketch of the world’s science news, political snippets from here in the UK and from the US (which matters here in Europe because, let’s face it, they are the ones with all the guns), as well as a couple of comic pages a day (I’ll do a recommendation post one day).

The eclectic mix means I pick up some odd stories, and in the past couple of weeks there has been a bit of a trend developing. Various groups are getting pissed off over minor slights and threatening some horrid things in defence of their beloved myths (sorry, enlightened faith in an all-loving god).

A) Cranston, Rhode Island, 2011. A 16 year old student informs the board of Cranston High School that a school banner containing a Christian prayer is illegal because it signifies federal endorsement of a religion (the establishment clause in the first amendment of the constitution prohibits this). The school decide to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting a lost case rather than remove the overt religious language and keep the sentiments which can be summarised as ‘grow up well, do the right thing and be awesome to each other’. Apparently honouring Jeezus is more important.

Well, last week they lose the case hands down. So, some of the more moronic students and adults in the community set about attacking the student who initially brought the illegality to the schools attention. She is threatened with rape, beatings, death and ostracism. Way to show the love of Jesus, there, guys.

The school is now deciding whether to be ‘heroes’ and appeal, at the cost of many more thousands of dollars, and with zero chance of success. Their case appears to hinge on the banners moral message and its presence being a tradition. The fact that they refused to alter the banner to be non-denominational while maintaining the moral message immediately disproves the first argument. The appalling behaviour from some of the citizens of Cranston, and even their congressmen, aimed squarely at the student’s lack of faith handily disproves the latter.

‘We are offended, because you want to impose atheism on us, and we want religious freedom!”
NO, you are pissed because you cannot have religious privilege. What is being imposed on you is neutrality, because that the fucking law. You do not have the right to be offended by a removal of privilege.

B) University College London‘s Atheist society offended Muslims by placing a Jesus & Mo cartoon on its Facebook page. The UCL Union’s kneejerk reaction was to ask the group to pull it, citing ‘cultural sensitivity’ and ‘discrimination’. The society refused, citing freedom of speech. The picture was of a pair of robed men sat at a bar, one with a pint, and another with an unidentified drink. Where the offense lies I fail to see, honestly.

While this saga was playing out, blogger (and all round sceptical ninja) Rhys Morgan put up a similar picture on Facebook in solidarity with the UCL group. His sixth form college found out and threatened him with expulsion, blaming him for inciting trouble within school (i.e., some students are offended, and if they try to beat you up well have to defend you, which would be politically inconvenient). This forced him to take the picture down – I guess he wisely decided that it was not worth risking his education over.

Look people, you are entitled to your opinions and beliefs, and let no one tell you different. I respect them, I will not force my beliefs upon you, and I will protect you from others trying to force their beliefs upon you. Respect has to be mutual though – let others have their beliefs and opinions without fear of being harmed because of them. Otherwise, your cries for “respect” and “sensitivity” are the same as requests for special privilege, and you have no right whatsoever to be “offended” because someone doesn’t grant you that privilege.

I know special privilege is what your little book demands, but then again so does theirs, and theirs, so let’s have a little compromise for the sake of humanity, shall we?

C) Queen Mary College played host to an event organised by the Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society, and more specifically to a talk by Anne Marie Walters (of One Law For All) on sharia law and human rights. A group of young men stood outside while one of their members entered the hall, and filmed everyone present, threatening to ‘hunt them down and kill them’ if anyone said anything about negative about Islam or Mohammed. They also made reference to the UCL/Jesus & Mo debacle.

Due to security concerns the talk was cancelled. One security guard was even heard to say “well, what do you expect?” in reference to the talks criticism of Islam. Really? Is it really the organisers’ fault that someone threatens attendees with death due to the content? Or is that the religious should be pandered to?

It’s worth mentioning that the publicity, while not national (why the hell not?), has allowed the society to organise a bigger talk, and properly police it this time. Whoever the arse was, he’s done little to help his cause.

The world is a market place of ideas – the only way to discover the best ideas for you is to question and enquire. By putting your ideas on that market place in the form of a religion, you should expect people to point out the inconsistencies and bigotry, and praise the valuable messages. Criticism is one of the things that drives us to improve and progress, individually and as a society. If you define respecting your beliefs as “no one is allowed to say mean things about them” then you are demonstrating how little faith you have that your beliefs can stand up to honest criticism. Claiming ‘offense’ in cases such as these is just another way of telling people to ‘shut up’, and belittles occasions and cases where real offense should be taken, and acted upon to the full extent of the law – cases of real and harmful discrimination.

As I said, you are entitled to your opinion and belief, and I will respect them. I will not force my beliefs upon you, and I will protect you from others trying to force their beliefs upon you. What I will not protect you from is criticism, because honest criticism is the hallmark of a free society.

I leave you with this quote from Somali-Dutch activist and politician Ayaan Hirsi Aliss.

“Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.”

EDIT: 17:00

London School of Economics Atheist, Humanist and Secular society are having similar problems with their own students union. Their statement is pretty much bang on, in my humble view. Ye olde linke below.


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