No God, not even Allah

This is the first paragraph from an article published in The Economist titled Atheists and Islam - No God, not even Allah:

A MOB attacked Alexander Aan even before an Indonesian court in June jailed him for two and a half years for “inciting religious hatred”. His crime was to write “God does not exist” on a Facebook group he had founded for atheists in Minang, a province of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Like most non-believers in Islamic regions, he was brought up as a Muslim. And like many who profess godlessness openly, he has been punished.

Read the full article here.

Pressure on European Blasphemy Laws Threatens Freedom of Expression

In Europe there is a tension between those who support freedom of expression and those who claim that their freedom of religion extends to freedom from their religion being offended.  Laws protect both freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but recent events threaten to expand the scope of freedom of religion into freedom from religious insult.

Historically, Europe has sought to protect freedom of expression to a high degree.  The European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) issued a report  in October 2008 [1] concluding with these recommendations:

a) That incitement to hatred, including religious hatred, should be the object of criminal sanctions.
b) That it is neither necessary nor desirable to create an offence of religious insult (that is, insult to religious feelings), without the element of incitement to hatred as an essential component.
c) That the offence of blasphemy should be abolished where it still exists and should not be reintroduced. 

The report indicated that blasphemy remained an offence in some European countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and San Marino – and Ireland added blasphemy as a crime in 2009), with many others instead, or in addition, making it a crime to insult religion (Andorra, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine).  There is, however, no general definition of what counts as religious insult.

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Dismissal of teacher who removed crucifix from classroom was unlawful

Valentin Abottspon, the Swiss teacher who was fired for removing a crucifix from his classroom in 2010, has won his appeal against his dismissal.  The cantonal court in Valais ruled that Valentin's dismissal was unlawful, although did not conclude whether or not it is legal to display a crucifix in a public school in Switzerland. [1]

I was fortunate to meet Valentin last year at the launch of the International Association of Freethought in Oslo and again at the 2012 European Atheist Convention in Cologne, Germany, earlier this year.  He comes across as a dedicated teacher who did not ask for this particular fight, but found himself in it because he took a principled stance and refused to back down.  

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Broken Trust

Photo: http://www.stephenjones.org.au/opinion/a-royal-commission-into-child-abuse-and-systemic-cover-up/

On 12 November the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, announced that there would be a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, encompassing public and private organisations and institutions [1], including state care, residential homes, and religious organisations.

The news was met with elation and wary hope from victims, many of whom have waited for most of their lifetime to have their stories heard. Scouts Australia and Australia’s most senior Anglican Bishop released statements strongly supporting the Commission and condemning the abuse of children. [2] [3]

The organisation that was the major impetus for establishing the Commission was less welcoming about the announcement. Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, claimed the accusations against the Church were ‘exaggerated and historic’ [4] and part of a broader smear campaign.

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Zambia: The Christian Nation Debate

Zambia is currently in the process of developing a new constitution and one of the most controversial issues surrounding this process is whether the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble should be maintained. In 1991, President Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia a Christian nation and the current constitution was amended to reflect the declaration in 1996. This, by the way, is the same Chiluba who was convicted on corruption charges in a London court after stealing millions of dollars of public funds. [1]

Religion or non-religion should not be imposed on anyone but the Christian nation declaration does exactly this. The draft constitution acknowledges that Zambia is a multi-religious, multicultural and multi-racial society but then contradicts itself by only truly acknowledging the Christian majority. 

Another major problem with the Christian nation declaration is that it is not factual. Simply stating something does not make it true. The majority of Zambians are Christian but there are also minority religious groups such as Muslims and Hindus. Atheists and agnostics are virtually unheard of but we do exist. If you want to confuse a Zambian bring up atheism or agnosticism. The thought that there are people who do not believe in God or are unsure about the existence of a deity is difficult to comprehend even for the most liberal of Zambians. Zambia may generally be a tolerant nation but the deeply ingrained religious belief and the hostility towards non-religious people means that most of us are not open about our beliefs, or lack of beliefs. The preamble of the draft constitution states that “We, the people of Zambia, in exercise of our constituent power: Acknowledge the supremacy of God Almighty.” This is yet another lie. I am Zambian but I do not acknowledge the supremacy of God or any gods. Zambia needs a constitution that promotes the rights of women and other marginalised groups in society and one that promotes an equitable and just society. Declaring Zambia a Christian nation and declaring God supreme will not bring this about. These are just empty statements. 

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