Friday, April 15, 2011
British Easter walk banned on "health" grounds
Every year the Christians from different churches get together to march a 400-yard route to celebrate Easter. But this year their Good Friday parade has been banned – because it breaches health and safety laws.
Church leaders say town hall bureaucrats are refusing Christians rights routinely afforded to minority groups, and have vowed to defy them.
Previously organisers of the parade in Willesden, north London, had only needed to inform police of their route. But new red tape means they now need permission from Brent Council. Officials said they banned the procession because they were contacted too late to carry out a ‘consultation’ to close the roads.
Father Hugh MacKenzie, of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, said: ‘The rights of Christians are being overlooked in favour of the rights of Islamic groups and gay rights organisations. ‘One does wonder whether if it was a homosexual rights or Islamic group the council would have been more flexible, as it doesn’t seem like rocket science to permit us to walk 400 metres. ‘The rights of Christians are just not respected in Britain.’
Church leaders have vowed to walk in the road anyway carrying a cross, a painting of Jesus washing followers’ feet and other religious symbols.
Brent Council hosts a Diwali [Hindu] street celebration every year. Last November it boasted it had held the biggest Diwali event in the country, after more than 60,000 people turned out. And in July last year the council appealed to the Muslim community to notify it of any Eid events so it could promote them free of charge. But it did not do the same for other religious festivals.
Last night former Home Office minister – and devout Christian – Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Don’t Brent Council know about Easter? These processions will be taking place all over the country on Good Friday, it’s part of our tradition. ‘It’s ridiculous and petty that a group cannot walk 400 yards. Why should they need special permission to do that?’
Every Easter for 13 years, about 200 worshippers from four churches – the New Testament Church of God, St Andrew’s Church of England, St Mary Magdalen and Willesden Green Baptist Church – have marched before celebrating communion together.
Father MacKenzie said: ‘It is a long-standing tradition in the area. It is a chance for us to get together. ‘The idea of tolerating the major religions, particularly the Christian religion which has been at the heart of our civilisation, and our right to express ourselves in this moderate way is a very basic aspect of religious freedom.’
Last night Brent Council told the worshippers to walk on the pavement. A spokesman added: ‘Brent Council was not contacted about the march until around a week ago. ‘There is a strict legal procedure we have to follow to issue a traffic order closing roads so people can march in the highway, which includes advertising and consultation, and this takes about five weeks. ‘We are very sorry to say there is now not enough time for us to legally facilitate this march.’
British liberal newspaper reveals the liberal distrust of the people
Why did one of Britain’s oldest liberal papers collude with the state in the arrest of a man for expressing an idea?
Something very odd happened at the weekend. A 40-year-old member of the far-right British National Party (BNP) was arrested for burning a copy of the Koran in his own back garden. Yes, it is apparently now a crime to express your disdain for a certain religious faith in the privacy of your own home. But that’s not the end of it. What makes this case especially odd is that the man in question - Sion Owens - was reported to the police by a broadsheet newspaper that claims to be liberal: the Observer. Since when has it been the job of the respectable, left-leaning press to grass people up to the cops for alleged speech crimes?
When spiked looked into this strange story, we discovered that there are some major disagreements at the Observer in relation to it. The crime correspondent defended the Observer’s actions, but one of the paper’s top columnists questioned the wisdom of reporting a private expression of ideas to the authorities.
Owens, a senior member of the BNP who lives in south Wales, does seem to be an odd individual. Going into his garden, placing a Koran in a metal Quality Street box, dousing it with flammable liquid and then setting it alight while a colleague filmed him - it was a stupid and childish act. However, it was done in a private garden. So regardless of the fact that it was videoed, this was a form of private expression, and therefore none of the state’s business.
The Observer clearly didn’t think so. When the film of the Koran-burning incident was leaked to the paper, it decided to inform the police ‘immediately’; it sent them the offending video. It also got the Home Office to chide Owens. ‘The government absolutely condemns the burning of the Koran. It is fundamentally offensive to the values of our pluralist and tolerant society’, a Home Office spokesman said. The Observer seems almost boastful about its actions. ‘A video clip of the act, leaked to the Observer and passed immediately to South Wales police, provoked fierce criticism from the government’, it said in Sunday’s paper.
Owens, the paper proudly informs us, was ‘arrested following an investigation by the Observer’. The Crown Prosecution Service is now withdrawing the case against Owens, thankfully, but the chief prosecutor says an investigation is ongoing and ‘almost certainly other proceedings will ensue’.
So why did the Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper and a proud upholder of liberal values, collude with the state in the arrest of a man for expressing his thoughts in his own garden? Such behaviour seems to contradict the views of CP Scott, a former editor of the Guardian, the sister paper of the Observer, after whom the trust that currently owns the Guardian Media Group is named. ‘Comment is free’, said Scott, and ‘the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard’. What would he think of his successors effectively policing their opponents’ private speech?
Mark Townsend, the crime, defence and legal affairs correspondent at the Observer, who penned Sunday’s piece about the Koran incident, told spiked that he stands by the paper’s decision to inform the police. ‘On top of the free speech debate, this is clearly a security issue that had to be dealt with sensitively’, he says. ‘The issue isn’t just one of freedom of expression as there could be very serious violent repercussions.’
But this view isn’t shared by all at the paper. Henry Porter, a long-time columnist for the Observer and well-known commentator on civil liberties, told spiked: ‘I am not in the loop on the thinking that went into this decision: there may be all sorts of concerns about which I am unaware. On the face of it, though, it would seem a doubtful decision because handing over the video, which appears to have been made for private use and was in a sense a private expression of this individual’s views, is likely to inflame feelings more than if the matter was simply ignored. That is the practical aspect.’
‘The second worrying part’, he continues, ‘is that this does indeed seem to sanction an invasion of the private sphere, in which, of course, all manner of reprehensible thoughts and actions are concealed’.
However, he says, ‘If there is evidence that the individual was about to publish the video, then I think there is perhaps cause for police action because of what happened a few days ago in Afghanistan where several people lost their lives. It is a delicate issue and by no means clear cut. However, it is the case that prohibition of an act, whether in public or private, often makes that act more likely to occur. That is why I am against the ban on the burqa in France.’
Unlike Porter, I believe that Sion Owens should also have had the freedom to release the film into the public domain, if he so chose. Freedom of speech, the cornerstone of all our freedoms, is too often compromised on the grounds that people might be harmed as a result of it. But people should be trusted to make up their own minds about whether to act upon footage of some idiot burning the Koran, rather than prevented by the state from seeing such footage in case it drives them crazy. To censor is to treat the public as a pogrom-in-waiting, whose eyes must be protected from offensive words and imagery. It is an updated, perhaps slightly more PC version of the same patronising assumptions that were exposed in the Lady Chatterley Trial: ‘Would you let your wife or servant read it?’ The question some are implicitly asking in relation to the BNP Koran video is: ‘Would you let the white working classes watch it?’ or ‘Would you let angry Muslims watch it?’. Perhaps that is what Townsend was getting at when he said the video could have ‘serious violent repercussions’.
The denigration of free speech through the idea that sections of the public are volatile and unpredictable is captured in the way that, in recent years, the category of ‘incitement’ has been replaced by the looser term ‘stirring up hatred’. As spiked has previously observed: ‘There was a time when, in legal terms, to incite meant to be in a close relationship with another person or group of people and to try to convince them or cajole them, face-to-face and intensively, to commit a crime. Today the term “incitement” is used far more promiscuously so that everything from a speech at a rally to a Jamaican dancehall song playing at a disco to a placard saying “I hate Islam and you should hate it too” can be said to incite hatred or violence.’ The treatment of all sorts of words and images as forms of ‘incitement’ speaks to a new degraded view of people as fundamentally incapable of enjoying full freedom of speech.
To my mind, the Observer/BNP affair could have some potentially quite Orwellian consequences. It seems that even within journalism - the fourth estate – some no longer understand how crucially important freedom of speech is. Some even seem to think it acceptable to play a part in having someone arrested for the ‘crime’ of expressing his views in a private arena. It will be a very sad day when people are not at liberty to give voice to their inner feelings without the threat of criminal charges. That would be bad for us all – for the public, for freedom, and for journalism.
Junk Science Smites Craigslist
Freedom rests on a flimsy foundation
Craigslist.org took its Adult Services section offline permanently last September as a result of pressure from Congress and at least 17 state attorney generals. The most damning accusation leveled at the classified advertising network was that its adult section facilitated child prostitution.
Child prostitution of course is something to be concerned about, but hysteria about it, in the absence of real evidence, should not be allowed to limit adults’ free-speech rights.
One study was particularly influential. In early 2007 the Atlanta-based anti-prostitution group, A Future Not A Past, asked the Georgia legislature for money to track juvenile prostitution in the state. The group’s campaign director, Kaffie McCullough, admitted, “We had no research, no nothing. The legislators didn’t even know about it.” Nevertheless, the group received 20 percent of what they requested. The group then asked the Georgia-based Schapiro Group to construct a study on juvenile prostitution.
McCullough provided statistics during the legislature’s next session. “It gave us traction — night and day,” she said. “That year, we got all the rest of that money, plus we got a study commission.” (You can listen to the Village Voice interview with McCullough here.)
Eventually several Atlanta groups banded together, most prominently the Women’s Funding Network, which financed similar studies in New York, Michigan, and Minnesota. It was the Network’s chief program officer, Deborah Richardson, who revealed the bombshell data to a September congressional hearing into Craigslist: Child prostitution had “risen exponentially in three diverse states.” She offered exact figures, “Michigan: a 39.2 percent increase; New York: a 20.7 percent increase; and Minnesota: a staggering 64.7 percent increase.”
Craigslist had been one of the prime data sources for researchers. The methodology of the state studies can be illustrated by the Minnesota one. Before a full study began, researchers asked a group of 100 observers to judge the ages of young women in photographs. (The observers are described both as a “random sample” and as “balanced by race and gender.”) The accuracy rate was 38 percent. The same people were then shown similar online ads of young women seeking sexual partners and answered the same question about age. (It was assumed the online photos were current and matched the person advertising.) Researchers multiplied the resulting number of allegedly under-aged photos by 0.38 to arrive at a total number of presumed child prostitutes.
Full statewide studies treated the 38 percent success rate as a constant even though they assigned a handful of new observers to count presumed child prostitutes on advertising sites like Craigslist and Backpage.
The claim of an exponential rise came from the estimate of presumed under-aged girls: In February the count was 68; in May, 90; and in August, 112. (The rise was attributed to increased prostitution rather than increased advertising.)
On March 23 the Village Voice ran an exposé titled “Women’s Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science: Schapiro Group Data Wasn’t Questioned by Mainstream Media.” Quoting experts on research methodology, the article concluded, “[T]he numbers are all guesses. The data are based merely on looking at photos on the Internet. There is no science…. In fact, the group behind the study admits as much. It’s now clear they used fake data to deceive the media and lie to Congress. And it was all done to score free publicity and a wealth of public funding.”
Indeed, after Craigslist surrendered its Adult Section, Richardson and the Women’s Funding Network did a celebratory cross-country tour to make the most of the uncritical media coverage.
Those who used the flawed child-prostitution studies as supporting evidence dismissed the Village Voice critique on the grounds that the newspaper is financed by the same group that supports Backpage. But the list of critics within academia and the alternate media grows daily.
Nevertheless, Women’s Funding Network and similar groups seem to have political will and media sensationalism.
In announcing the permanent closure of its Adult section, William Clinton Powell, a director at Craigslist warned that the ads would simply migrate elsewhere. Accordingly, 21 state attorneys general have set their sights on Backpage.com. Anti-Backpage articles are beginning to appear in the mainstream media; a headline in the Seattle Times declared, “State should join effort to put backpage.com’s sex-trafficking ads on the front burner.”
The Women’s Funding Network has announced its intention to have the study conducted in all 50 states.
Will hysteria or science prevail? I am rooting for science but betting on hysteria. After all, both children and illicit sex have been thrown into the mix, and it is an election year. It doesn’t take much to assault First Amendment freedom’s these days.
City Tells Tea Party Group “No Free Speech Here!”
Four Corners Park in Coldwater, Mich., is home to Memorial Day festivities, bands in the summer, and monuments to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend the American way of life. Now it’s also home to a blanket prohibition on the freedom of speech following a local Tea Party’s request to hang a banner announcing a rally last July.
First Amendment, anyone?
Here’s where the trouble began. The Tea Party group, known as the Common Sense Patriots of Branch County, informed the city that they were going to display a red, white and blue banner that simply stated, “Branch County Tea Party … July 31st … 1:00 pm” to announce its upcoming event. City manager Jeffrey Budd rejected the request “because he considers the TEA Party to be too political and too controversial,” according to a lawsuit the organization filed against the city in U.S. District Court. The Patriots responded that the decision was an unconstitutional restriction on their right to free speech, the city relented, and the group could hang its sign. But it was only a temporary victory.
At Budd’s recommendation, the city council enacted a blanket ban on ”banners or other signs of any type or description whatsoever.” And according to the Patriots’ complaint, Budd justified the ban by citing to “administrative headaches” and “comments about the banners affecting the natural beauty of the park” that the signs would provoke. But As the Patriots argue, such a ban would prohibit the display of any kind of sign, banner, or poster — even the American flag. The attorney who filed the suit, Robert Muise, told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that the ban is too broad:
Instead of using a scalpel, they used a sledgehammer,” Muise said. “They didn’t mind when they had people put up banners for some innocuous event, but when the tea party put up their sign, they said, ‘Wait a minute. This is too controversial.’ “There is a problem when you ban everything in a traditional public forum.”
The city says its working on an amendment to its policy.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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