Blessed are the ASBOs for they protect us from distress
I missed this story in April but it is worth returning to.
In November and December 2008 Harry Taylor, an activist philosopher, left home made posters in the "prayer room" of John Lennon Airport in Liverpool. His posters made fun of various religions. I think this is an example of one.
Love your neighbour...Not gays, obviously
Good old fashion satire! Others included a No Nails Advert with the addition of a smiling Jesus and in another Suicide Bombers arriving at the gates of Heaven were given the tragic news that they had run out of virgins.
Taylor is an atheist, a survivor of sexual abuse (by a Catholic Priest) and suffers from depression. He was in my humble opinion making a legitimate point.
Enter the Law
The Airport Chaplain reported his posters to the police claiming she was 'insulted' and 'deeply offended'. The Police investigated, identified Taylor as the author and sent a file of to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Taylor found himself charged with three counts of causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress. He was convicted and sentenced to to six months in jail suspended for two years, ordered to perform 100 hours' of unpaid work and pay £250 costs. In addition he was issued with an ASBO banning him from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place.
Distress free or Liberated?
I find many things distressing, poverty, religious bigotry, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the treatment of refugees, MacDonald's, racism, child abuse, the abuse of corporate crime, the death penalty ... I could go on. But these are real and substantial problems which require political and social action to resolve. My distress motivates me to change them.
The distress Harry Taylor was convicted of causing was about the sensibilities of people of faith. Obviously people have the right to religious belief, but we must also be conscious of the damage caused by organised religions. John Lennon, whom the airport in which these 'crimes' took place is named after was aware of this and in his classic Utopian song Imagineit is significant his opening line challenged his listener to 'Imagine there is no Heaven' before calling for 'a world with no religion'. Are those people who have 'faith' so insecure that they need legal protection from satire?
There is evidence that societies are worse off 'when they have God on their side' and whilst I oppose the oppression of any group I think this is very different to offending or causing distress to people's sensibilities. Liberation, equality and justice are in danger of being eclipsed by the avoidance of causing someone offence. This emphasis suggest that inequality, discrimination and oppression are fine if we get the language right. In fact honest and at times brutal language are essential parts of these struggles. Satire hurts when it hits it target. It causes alarm and distress. That is worth celebrating. Highlighting certain aspects of religions, particular those that oppress others, is legitimate and progressive.
Meanwhile if Taylor was to pop into his local book shop and buy Richard Dawkin's God Delusion he would, by 'carrying religiously offensive material in a public place', clearly be in breach of his ASBO and if caught and prosecuted could go to jail for five years. Maybe even a copy of Imagine would be enough to have him locked away - for public protection!