June 3, 2010

Blasphemy Laws in the UK

I missed this story completely until one of my co-authors at Mississippi Atheists brought it to my attention in response to a brief post I wrote there about Draw Mohammed Day.

According to the BBC News, a 59 year-old "militant atheist" received a six-month suspended sentence for leaving posters of religious figures in sexual poses in a prayer room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. He left these images on three different occasions in 2008, causing great distress in the airport chaplain (Yeah, I'm not sure why an airport would have a chaplain either).

What I find most significant about this case, aside from the fact that it occurred in the UK are the following:
  • The man was found guilty by a jury of his peers "of causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress."
  • The posters were cartoon drawings, the content of which, as described in the BBC report, sounds almost exactly like the sorts of images I've seen on atheist t-shirts for sale at countless websites. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that the drawing above was one of them.

Here was the Judge's assessment of the defendant as he passed sentence:
Not only have you shown no remorse for what you did, but even now you continue to maintain that you have done nothing wrong and say that whenever you feel like it you intend to do the same thing again in the future.
Why would he be expected to show remorse when there was nothing wrong with what he did? I just don't get it.

Evidently, posting cartoons that someone in Liverpool considers "religiously offensive" in public can earn one a six-month prison sentence (suspended for two years), 100 hours of community service, and a small fine. And to think that I've always wanted to visit that part of the UK!