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I have a cunning plan
December 7, 2004 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Blackadder goes forth. Criticising religion is a "fundamental freedom of society", a leading international comedian affirmed last night, as he headed a coalition opposing measures to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred. Rowan Atkinson, the star of Blackadder, gave an impassioned defence of the right to lampoon religion as he joined Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour backbenchers, lawyers, and academics opposed to part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill - which today gets its second reading. There was, he said, a fundamental difference between race - already covered by legislation - and religion. [more inside]
posted by psmealey (41 comments total)

 
Says Atkinson:

To criticise a person for their race is a manifestly irrational and ridiculous. But to criticise their religion - that is a right. That is a freedom. And a law that attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas, as long as they are not religious ideas, is a very peculiar law indeed.

It all points to the promotion of the idea there should be a right not to be offended... In my view, the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended.


Further to the point, isn't all the best humor, from Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Bill Hicks, based on religion?
posted by psmealey at 12:40 PM on December 7, 2004


/me wishes Atkinson success with his cunning plan...
posted by rushmc at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2004


Why should the excellent Mr. Atkinson get all sappy and poopy about race? Is he a comedian or official U.N. undersecretary for human decency? Race, nationality, religion, physical handicaps, personality flaws... it's all fair game. Let the jokes begin.
posted by Faze at 12:53 PM on December 7, 2004


To criticise a person for their race is a manifestly irrational and ridiculous...

In other words, funny.
posted by Faze at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2004


Religion is a choice. Race is not.
posted by wadefranklin at 12:56 PM on December 7, 2004


Good call on George Carlin. If only he'd thought of doing a joke or two about religion in his four decades as a comic, maybe the Guardian would've included him in their pantheon at the bottom of the page.

And of course Rowan Atkinson is, how you say, spot-on. I love Blackadder, but even if I didn't, he makes an excellent point about bad derivatives of good intentions.
posted by soyjoy at 12:56 PM on December 7, 2004


If they outlaw religious hatred then won't it mean that only outlaws get to hate religion?

What is religious hatred anyway? One religion hating another like a footbal rivalry? Or does it refer to people who hate but only once a week on their respective days of worship? Or is it people who say they hate publicaly but privately love?

Seriously though would this prevent people like Hitchens calling the Catholic church an organized pedophilic institution? Or would he avoid prosecution because he is a comic?
posted by srboisvert at 12:57 PM on December 7, 2004 [1 favorite]


Bravo Rowan Atkinson. This law sounds like a terrible idea, and I say that as a Christian who has seen his religion get some pretty harsh treatment at the hands of George Carlin and company. Criticizing something like race is bigotry. Criticizing religion can be bigotry, but it can also be a matter of philosophical inquiry, which is one of the cornerstones of Western civilization. Where would Western civilization be if Chaucer and others had not mocked the flaws of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, eventually leading to the reformation? Freedom of speech means freedom to say things that will upset and challenge people.
posted by unreason at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2004


Rowan Atkinson has done some wonderful religious humor. Here are a couple of sketches from a fan website:

And now from Nazareth, the Amazing...

The Devil Sketch

Both from his hilarious (mostly) one man stageshow which is available to buy on video.
posted by Kattullus at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2004


Is it just me, or are many people in this thread, including the FPposter, implicitly condoning censorship of racist speech?

This very question led me to wonder if there are places where "hate speech" is illegal. According to this Wikipedia entry, it is in fact illegal in the UK (as suggested by the FPP). Fortunately, citizens of the USA still have freedom of speech.

/not a racist
posted by knave at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2004


Religion is a choice. Race is not.

Religion is a choice. Slipping on a banana peel is not. Therefore, it is "manifestly irrational and ridiculous" to laugh at a man who slips on a banana peel.
posted by Faze at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2004


Instead of all this prissy preaching about rights, Mr. Atkinson should be giving us a scabrous, insulting, manifestly unfair comedy bit about Muslims -- skewering everything they hold sacred, leaving their most cherished beliefs in rags, and dropping us all to the floor in paroxysms of pants-wetting laughter. Instead, he gives us a lecture! What a stiff he's become.
posted by Faze at 1:23 PM on December 7, 2004


Making fun of anything is your right (legally speaking), as long as your willing to accept the shit that comes your way in response.
posted by jonmc at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2004


Making fun of anything is your right (legally speaking), as long as your willing to accept the shit that comes your way in response.

jonmc spelled "you're" wrong! Bwaaaahaaahaa! What a maroon! What a nincompoop!
posted by papercake at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2004


...as long as your willing to accept the shit that comes your way in response.

You can always run away, look back over your shoulder, and give a loud raspberry. Imagine a mob of enraged mullahs, waving their scimtars, babbling incoherantly, as they chase you, laughing hysterically, up the stairs of a minaret...
posted by Faze at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2004


Knave: Fortunately, citizens of the USA still have freedom of speech.
Oh no, not that old chestnut again.
I don't know of any country with absolute "freedom of speech". In the USA as well, if you make violent threats, racketeer or induce to a crime you may face jail. Same if you defraud somebody or make false statements in a court of law. And I guess we all heard about the cases of foreign tourists and pilots who were arrested after joking about having bombs in their luggage in the months after 9/11. Those would also be forms of speech, after all, but they are definitely not protected by your First Amendment.
Not only that, but your free speech is also restricted in many other ways, and not only by the government. Corporations are pretty bloody mindful of what their employees say, for instance. The kind of gag clauses you see in American contracts would be highly unacceptable elsewhere (we Europeans tend to be at least as suspicious of corporations as of governments).
You see, freedom of speech is enshrined in all the constitutions of democratic countries (and even in the UK, without a written constitution, it is now explicitly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act). The problem is, your rights are only valid as long as they don't infringe other people's rights, and one can always argue at what point "hate speech" infringes other people's rights to life, liberty and security. Fact is, most governments and courts in democratic countries are extremely careful before taking that view.
posted by Skeptic at 1:43 PM on December 7, 2004


It's a shame that no-one here is arguing against the proposed law, but then again Rowan Atkinson doesn't seem to be either.

There is an imbalance in UK law at the moment, whereby (for example) it is illegal at a public meeting to say "All Jews should be killed", but it is legal to say "All Muslims should be killed". If the people protesting were willing to stand up and state that they want the current racial discrimination laws (which provide protection for Jews and Sikhs) repealed then I would have some respect for them, but they aren't.

If their claims were true then Jewish jokes would be illegal in the UK, which they are evidently not. I'm not sure how Mr Atkinson has been drawn into this crusade.
posted by daveg at 1:47 PM on December 7, 2004


jonmc spelled "you're" wrong! Bwaaaahaaahaa! What a maroon! What a nincompoop!

spelink iz fer luzors.
posted by jonmc at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2004


jonmc spelled "you're" wrong! Bwaaaahaaahaa! What a maroon! What a nincompoop!

Heh, papercake spelled "moron" wrong! What sort of Ambesol™ would do something like that?
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2004


I don't know of any country with absolute "freedom of speech".

We won't even get into commercial speech, which is regulated to the outer limits of the universe. In any case, you should be able to get up and shout "Kill all ... " anybody, if you want. In fact, it might help get the anger out of your system.
posted by Faze at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2004


What sort of Ambesol™ would do something like that?

Bugs Bunny?
posted by papercake at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2004


You see, freedom of speech is enshrined in all the constitutions of democratic countries (and even in the UK, without a written constitution, it is now explicitly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, through the Human Rights Act)

Slightly tangential point but it is virtually inconceivable that a court in the UK would rule that the proposed offence in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill was incompatible with the Human Rights Act, although they can do so. There would be too much bleating from the politicians about the 'democratic will of the people being frustrated'. Compare that with the US where (for better and worse) the Supreme Court has real power and has used that power to stand up to the executive.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 2:04 PM on December 7, 2004


Adding nothing to the discussion:












Mr. Bean sucks.
posted by E_B_A at 2:16 PM on December 7, 2004


Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

As opposed to the "Rather Silly Organised Crime and Police Bill" co-sponsored by MPs John Cleese and Eric Idle.

Oh, and Smart Dalek, you spelled Anbesol? wrong, and it's also a registered trademark.

Bwahahaha!!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:18 PM on December 7, 2004


Damn, it said Anbesol? on preview, I swear.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:19 PM on December 7, 2004


Gah. Damn, it said Anbesol® on preview, I swear. on preview, I swear.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:21 PM on December 7, 2004


I'm going home now...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:21 PM on December 7, 2004


Ugandan Discussions: It's not as if UK courts haven't turned over government decisions previously under the human rights act. Why wouldn't they in this case?
posted by biffa at 2:28 PM on December 7, 2004


Thinking about it, I am being unfair. I mean, while Mr. Bean, the series, sucks, The Black Adder and the bulk of Rowan's work (films aside) is genius and I have a great deal of respect for it.

Still, Mr. Bean... Mr. Bean...

Sorry... should I be portraying a political opinion like the rest of you?
posted by E_B_A at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2004


I'm suprised that nobody has mentioned The General Synod's "Life of Christ". Atkinson must have played at least one of the characters here, and it seems pretty relevant.
BISHOP: No. No, absolutely not. If I may try and explain. The Christ figure is not meant to be Cleese, he's just an ordinary person who happens to have been born in Weston-super-Mare at the same time as Mr Cleese.
posted by seanyboy at 3:09 PM on December 7, 2004


Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatever. Religious belief is without reason and without dignity, and its record is near-universally dreadful. —V.S. Naipaul
posted by rushmc at 3:26 PM on December 7, 2004


I'm suprised that nobody has mentioned The General Synod's "Life of Christ"

I want to see General Zod's "Life of Christ".
posted by ozomatli at 3:38 PM on December 7, 2004


I hate religion, does that make me an outlaw?
posted by krisjohn at 4:50 PM on December 7, 2004


Actually my personal favourite Rowan Atkinson is the 'Are You A Gay Christian?' sketch from 'Not the Nine o'clock News'. For some reason I can't imagine, it keeps coming to mind...

And...you may even decide after much prayer to, er... enter into a committed and...emmm... tempted relationship with a member of the same, er... genital group. And if you do, and you feel you can do nothing about it, and you've been to a psychiatrist, and you've had aversion therapy, and you've tried tying metal weights to your private parts, and you still, er... feel these tendencies then, um... I'm afraid it means that God just wants you to have a rotten life. God's like that - He hates poofs.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2004


Canada has a very similar law, and it has been abused to prevent what would clearly be classed as freedom of speech countless numbers of times. For example, it has caused books to be banned, it has caused (admittedly hateful and completely chock full of misinformation -- so don't click it and blame me) websites to be banned from Canada, and has stopped religious groups from expressing their beliefs (oh, I do enjoy the irony). The icing on the cake is that four passages from the Bible itself are now officially banned as hate speech in Canada. Not having purchased a bible recently I haven't checked to see if they have been removed yet or not.

During the time Ernst Zundel was tried in Canada for violating our hate speech laws I think many people found it odd just how much irony it is in making people hate haters, and creating laws that are intolerant of the intolerant. Oddly enough that terrible man is rotting in prison here for his crimes.

The law itself is so poorly worded it actually does cover private conversations. I know this because I had to read the section of Martin's Criminal Code on the issue. I'd tell you why that is, but that's a long story that best left for me to explain when it comes to its conclusion.

That being said, there have been odd cases where the law has been used to good. For example, I do believe this law makes it a felony to draw swastikas on jewish temples, which some crazed white supremacists decided to do in Canada for a short while.

Hopefully the UK won't enact this law, or else it will be a slippery slope towards Canadian limitations on freedom of speech, which, including the above, also limit:

- Crime Comics
- The contents of a person's private diaries if such contents would be illegal if acted upon.
- "Obscene" matter (yes, that general), including banning phrases like "Reform Party leader Preston Manning lovingly licked Jean Chretien's boots during question period.". Seriously, you can't make that stuff up.
- The use of signs of any type written in the English language
- The right to choose to speak (yes, truly, Canada has taken 'freedom of speech' to its ultimate) to others in the English language

( . ) in advance for UK and freedom of speech.
posted by shepd at 5:46 PM on December 7, 2004


Thaks, shepd, you just gave me one more good reason to move to Canada... :)

Although, if all those "limitations on free speech" were actually being enforced where you live, how is MetaFilter getting across the border? (Or, as you Canadiennes call it, MetreFiltre)
posted by wendell at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2004


LOLOLOL Faze. Ten teh arabs slip on the stairs and stab each other up the bottom with their scimtars
posted by Tuatara at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2004


"In my view, the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended."

Just reading this statement made my opinion of him skyrocket. More people need to realize this fundamental aspect of free speech.
posted by nightchrome at 6:41 PM on December 7, 2004


Interestingly, Atkinson's sketches are mostly making fun of the Church of England - I wonder if he was raised Anglican?

It is important that we able to criticise each other on important issues, but there is a level of respect necessary. And yet, most humour (and all of the examples from the Guardian article) is self-directed. There is a difference there - I don't make Jewish jokes, and Woody Allen doesn't make Methodist jokes.

So why don't Methodists like sex?

It might lead to dancing.

Sorry, it's old, but it's my only Methodist joke - it's just not a very funny religion. They need to drink more.

posted by jb at 10:25 PM on December 7, 2004


most humour (and all of the examples from the Guardian article) is self-directed

I might qualify that: most of the best religious humor is self-directed. Bill Hick's riffs on Christian Fundamentalists are among the most hilarious bits I have ever heard. Bill Maher on the other hand, is a committed agnostic that rips on religion frequently. I don't know if that's what makes him not as funny, or if it's that he's just a mediocre stand-up talent.
posted by psmealey at 8:01 AM on December 8, 2004


Biffa: the number of declarations of incompatibility which the courts have given re: acts past after 2000 are very few see here. After 2000 a government minister has to make a statement of compatibility when introducing a new act to parliament.

Also this is extremely political. The debate is thought by judges to be more properly conducted by politicians and sociologists. After all the real issue here is mollifying moderate Muslim public opinion and to avoid a radicalisation of the community in general.

A good test of the willingness of the judges to wade into these areas will be the judgment in a challenge now being considered by nine law lords to the lawfulness of Britain's opt-out from the convention allowing it to lock up foreign detainees suspected of terrorism indefinitely without trial.

For the record I think the Guardian journalist is probably wrong in thinking that the House of Lords will declare the Terrorism Act opt-out unlawful.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 4:10 PM on December 8, 2004


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