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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

For God's sake

More about what you can say. The British Humanist Association was not allowed  by companies owning advertising space in railway stations to run an advertisement that said: "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so." This relates to the UK census - BHA is campaigning for people who are not religious to put down "No religion", rather than their cultural religion.

This was a decision by private companies, not a government agency, but the reason given was that ads worded that way would "cause widespread and serious offence"; this kind of reasoning is underpinned by a legal, political, and social climate in which offending religious sensibilities in the slightest has become taboo. Yes, there may be limits to how in-your-face advertisements in these sorts of public places should be ... but for God's sake that wording was nowhere near the limit.

Once again, we need a culture that looks far more favourably on robust freedom of speech.

5 comments:

David M said...

heh, I was going to mention it earlier, I figured you'd get to it. (As I assume you saw it on B&W too.)

Kel said...

This is what bugs me about the whole "don't be a dick" thing. When the merest utterance is treated as taboo, what can we possibly do? Surely it goes without saying not to be over-the-top...

Mike said...

We had the same issue in Australia two years ago when a secular group was forbidden by a private company to put ads on government buses.

I wrote to my local member about it, but they kept saying that the Advertising Standards Board were the place to go. Even though the ASB says "Your complaint falls outside the scope of the Advertising Standards Board's responsibility because it concerns an editorial comment which is not an advertisement."

It's also unable to do anything about advertisements that are NOT made.

However the Attorney General's department got stuck in a loop of referring people to the ASB and refused to comment further.

Russell Blackford said...

Mike, I doubt that there's a lot of redress in some of these specific cases. It's more a matter of fighting in whatever ways we can, individually and collectively, against the whole social/political drift away from freedom of speech.

Mike said...

I wrote to my local member not for redress, but to protest that a private company (with significant religious ties as it turned out) could gate freedom of speech on public property.