This event is run by our friends Ginny and Adrian at LAAG, their previous debates have been very interesting and informative and we highly recommend them to you. Several of our members are now members of both groups so you are likely to see some familiar faces there and meet some friendly new ones too.
The Lawyers secular society (LSS) and the National secular society (NSS) recently ran a campaign to 'Reform section 5'; to change the law with regards to the penalty for 'causing offence', and we're delighted to have Stephen Evans, Campaigns Manager, giving us a presentation about their work on the (successful) campaign, & to talk about religious threats to free speech more generally, followed by a Q & A.
As the law still stands (until the reform is enacted), if someone decides to take offence at something you say, YOU can be charged! Clearly this is ludicrous and contravenes the concept of free speech - and yet even the qualification for what can be deemed an insult is very unclear. Rowan Atkinson was amongst the people who supported the bill, and here he explains why for him " the right to free expression comes a close second only to food in importance".
Although blasphemy is now not an offence in the UK, internationally it remains a big problem, including in democratic countries such as Denmark and Ireland, the latter recently enacted a new blasphemy law, and at the UN where the Islamic states have been seeking to impose serious restrictions on criticising of religious beliefs.
Possible questions and issues:
- What will the reform to section 5 mean to the concept of free speech in the UK?
- Will the onelawforall campaign still be needed?
- The current attempt to make 'defamation of religion' a crime would prevent and punish any criticism or questioning of religious belief and practices - even those that contravene current Human Rights.
- In 2009 the NSS objected to the ban on Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the UK. The point then that vigorously criticising Islamism is not racism and nor is it hate-mongering.
- If religion — any religion — is off-limits for open debate we are in a very dangerous situation. And if it is off-limits because of perceived threats from radicals, then it is even more dangerous. It is capitulation to terrorism.
- Everyone should be allowed to speak freely, whatever their beliefs as only in the public arena can contentious ideas be debated and, if necessary, exposed and countered.
- Feel free to add any specific issues you'd like to discuss on the night in the comments box below e.g wearing of Niqabs? Ok, so it's not about free speech as such, but related. Discussions are better held on our discussions boards e.g. Here's the thread where we discussed the RS5 campaign.
We meet upstairs (through door marked 'Restaurant') from 19:00, for those who want to have a little social drink beforehand. Though these Wednesday events are usually structured debates/discussions, they are nevertheless fairly informal; so the bar is usually open upstairs and feel free to order food (it's simple but pretty good we've been told).
We aim to start the discussion promptly at 19:30. So as a courtesy to others please try to turn up well BEFORE 19:30 so we can be ready to start on time, if at all possible :-). If a late arrival can't be helped, no worries, just grab a chair and come in quietly :-)
'Official' end time for discussion is 9pm, but this is flexible if people want to continue with the discussion; usually we have some social time afterwards (until the pub throws us out!)
The £2 fee either goes towards costs of running the group, or towards specific campaigns and causes.