Scientology is a cult…

…according to this court judgement from Judge Latey, who repeatedly describes Scientology as a cult:

In Re: T Minors (Transcript of judgments given on 10th December 1975) the Court of Appeal was concerned with children one of whose parents was a member of another and very different sect. In the course of his judgement Lord Justice Scarman (as he then was) stressed that “it is conceded that there is nothing immoral or socially obnoxious in the beliefs and practices of this sect”. Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. Mr. Kennedy did not exaggerate when he termed it “pernicious”. In my judgement it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr.

Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it. It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships
with others.

Also, here is the definition of the word “cult” from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary online:


• noun 1 a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object. 2 a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members. 3 something popular or fashionable among a particular section of society.

It seems to me, from reading Judge Latey’s judgement, that Scientology falls under the second definition above. Why am I saying this now? Because there are those seeking to prevent people from being able to describe Scientology as a cult, including the City of London Police, according to the Register:

His sign read: “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Within five minutes of arriving, the teenager was approached by a female police officer and told he was not allowed to use the word “cult” to describe Scientology, and that the Inspector in charge would make a decision. Soon afterwards officers again approached, read Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and handed him this notice.

The Act makes it an offence to display “any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”.

The Register article also states:

City of London Police gave us this statement:

City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words ‘cult’ and ‘Scientology kills’ during protests against the Church of Scientology on Saturday 10 May.

Following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service some demonstrators were warned verbally and in writing that their signs breached section five of the Public Order Act 1986.

One demonstrator, a juvenile, continued to display a placard despite police warnings and was reported for an offence under section five. A file on the case will be sent to the CPS.

I hope this case gets thrown out, otherwise people’s ability to say what they believe to be true, and engage in peaceful protest, will have been seriously undermined.

Does being non-Muslim entail holding blasphemous beliefs? (Part Two)

In my previous post, I argued that Steve Edwards’ argument (that being a non-Muslim entailed holding certain beliefs the expression of which a proposed law against “gratuitous insults” against a religion would necessarily proscribe) falls down because it relied on believing that Muhammad was evil when this was not entailed by disbelieving that Muhammad received instruction and revelation directly from God and not entailed by believing Muhammad lied when he claimed to have received such word from God.

However, it seems to me that a version of the argument can be constructed that does hold water.

I, as an atheistically/agnostically inclined non-Muslim, hold the belief that Muhammad did not receive instruction/revelation from God. Logically speaking, I thereby believe that, unless he’s been misrepresented, Muhammad was a false prophet who was, at best, mistaken.

To someone who believes that Muhammad was God’s Prophet on earth and that his revelations are the unerring word of God, my belief is blasphemous and an insult to their religion. Ergo a law against blasphemy directed at Islam (or at religion in general) would proscribe my expression of this view.

However one could argue that the proposed law was actually against gratuitous insults against a religion and thus my ability to express my beliefs was not threatened. For example, if I state that belief as part of a defence of my position of being a non-Muslim, surely that is not gratuitous, because my purpose is to explain/defend myself, not to insult Muslims?

One problem here is who is to judge whether my statement is a “gratuitous” insult or not? If a law against gratuitous insults is in place, then my mere expression of a belief that a particular Muslim regards as insulting to his religion would be grounds for suspicion that I may have committed the offence. I.e. the police might arrest me, even if they later drop charges or I’m able to persuade the court it wasn’t gratuitous. The point is that the existence of such a law will deter expression of any views that some vocal Muslims find insulting, because of the risk of arrest and prosecution.

Whether you’ve broken the law or not depends on whether the court decides you’ve been gratuitous or not. The police may therefore decide that it is better to arrest you (and thereby appease an angry mob?) and let the court decide (so the police can say to the mob it wasn’t their decision?), lest they let you get away with an insult that would have been found to be gratuitous by the court.

Also, surely, we should be allowed to express our sincerely held views without them needing to pass a test of “gratuitousness”?

The only restriction on this right is that I do so using only those resources I have legitimate access to (e.g. my blog or a newspaper where the editor has agreed to publish) and only to people willing to listen (anyone who reads my blog or the newspaper, all of whom have a choice not to read either the blog or the newspaper and to ignore the article concerned even if they read other things).

I do not have a right to harass/intrude upon Muslims (or anyone else) going about their daily lives by e.g. walking up to them in the street and telling them what I think, or worse, bursting into their mosques or homes to do the same.

But I do, and should, have the right to express such a view in privacy to friends, in debates about the issue where I’m invited to speak, or in any medium where readers can choose whether they read/listen and what they read/listen to and where the owners of the medium give me permission.

Otherwise, we allow people to silence those they do not like via giving them a veto over what people are allowed to say. All they need to do to exercise the veto is raise hell and act “outraged” at the offence/insult they claim is caused to them. Such an approach is unlikely to be beneficial to social harmony, unless people give up on the idea of being able to freely express sincerely held views!

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Why freedom of speech must include the right to offend

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the publication, last year, by Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten of some cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (in Islam, depicting the Prophet is apparently forbidden). See for example coverage at Samizdata and The Pub Philosopher. The reaction of Muslims has ranged from street protests and boycotts of Danish products, through to death threats, threats of terrorist attacks in Denmark, warnings to Scandinavians not to enter Palestine, withdrawal of diplomatic relations from Denmark by Arab states, and Islamic countries lobbying the UN to pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs. See my usenet article on uk.politics.misc for details.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at those who have published the cartoons is that by publishing the cartoons they were offending/insulting Muslims. I have, for example, seen (via a comment at Samizdata — a comment robustly responded to by other commenters and the editors of Samizadata, e.g. see the link above) the newspapers’ actions compared with shouting insults at someone in the street and freedom of speech described as the freedom to insult.

It is worth considering why freedom of speech is important, including considering why even the right to cause offence should be protected. Fundamentally, in a society where you have freedom of speech, it means that you can say what you believe to be true without reprisal.

It is no good to say, “you are allowed to express yourself so long as you do not offend or insult anyone” for one simple reason: those who would feel (or claim to feel) insulted or offended by the truth would be able to suppress the truth if mere offence or insult was a sufficient reason to prosecute someone. A society which prohibits mere offence, stifles freedom of expression.

Of course this is not an excuse, e.g. to harangue people in the street. However freedom of speech is not the right to force people to listen to you, but rather the right to express your views to anyone willing to listen. Thus when a newspaper publishes a cartoon, only those who chose to read the paper will view the cartoon and they’d be choosing to do so. Many of those who are angry at these cartoons may never have read the paper and may not even have viewed the cartoons themselves. Certainly they won’t have been forced to view them, and they are entirely free to ignore the issue if they so wish.

Freedom of speech, including the freedom to ridicule beliefs we disagree with, is crucial to both scientific inquiry, open debate and a functioning democracy. If I cannot express my political beliefs without fear of reprisal, then democracy is thereby diminished as one view of how society should be run has thereby been cut off from the debate. It seems to me that this freedom has been a major factor in the advance of Western society over the last few centuries.

We should value freedom of speech and defend it against those who’d rather we all submitted to The Truth they believe they’ve had handed down to them from ancient prophets.

Many European newspapers have, in solidarity, published the cartoons, or even published their own cartoons of Mohammed. However not one British newspaper is amongst them, so far, though various British blogs have provided links or published them as well.

To see what all the fuss is about, you can view the cartoons here.

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