This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Freedom of speech for street preachers

Freedom of speech for street preachers - Comments

existance's Avatar Comment 1 by existance

We have lost our sense of humour unfortunately. I saw Jeremy Clarkson on the BBCs One Show. He was asked what he thought of the Public Sector strikers in London. His reply, which was obviously a joke, was (paraphrasing):

"I think it's great, there are no workers in London, the traffic is fantastic.", then he followed this up with. "Actually this is the BBC isn't it? I'd better be balanced (adopts a comic outraged tone): I think it's awful, how dare they! They should be taken out and shot in front of thier families!"

Now admittedly, that's a bit of a silly thing to say, but the outrage from some quarters of society was ridiculous. It was so obviously a joke. People are so over sensitive these days.

As for the couple in the article. It's unfortunate for them that this preacher has chosen to express his misguided views in the manner in which he has. Is his god so impotent that he requires some raving individual to harrass others in order to make his point?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 14:41:36 UTC | #916209

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 2 by Premiseless

It's this kind of thing which is utterly corrupt, but which this young child, in another dozen years from now, will be expected to answer for as a rational adult for the rest of his life. Perversion is too kind a word to my mind to express the contempt I feel, coupled to the impotence of societies inability to provide healthy alternatives.

Religion seems synonymous with organised crime in how it bribes itself a carte blanch advocacy to subvert all freedoms wherever it exists and in whatever ways it wishes.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 14:44:19 UTC | #916211

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 3 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

I fully agree that in principle anyone should be able to stand on a street and express their views, however depraved or disgusting or offensive they may be regarded by others.

What is difficult to legislate for is when such behaviour may be perceived as threatening or harrassing.

It's one thing, say, for a little old man to stand on a busy street yelling at a large crowd of passers-by that he hates gays, it's quite a different scenario if a well-built youth yells the same thing at a lone passer-by in a dark alleyway. In the latter situation, I don't think it is necessary to even mention violence, the passer-by may still feel very intimidated and suspect he/she is in danger.

I suppose the Law should be clear, if it isn't already, that you should be free to express your views provided that the circumstances don't cause anyone to feel immediately threatened or harrassed, and the courts ought to be able to make a common sense judgement. Simply being offended by someone else's views, though, should never be justification for complaint.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:08:16 UTC | #916215

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 4 by Rich Wiltshir

It's taken many years to gain the confidence to challenge street preachers and cold callers peddling to the public. I challenge them every time now: asking for evidence, disparaging the behaviours of religion, it's bigotries and deceit, it's self-embellished ignorance. The reason I do this is to show that it can be done.

No coincidence, is it (sounding like Yoda), that I confront litter bugs, graffiti artists, smokers in confined places, the bully and the rude.

Gone are the days when religion and politics were taboo topics. It's good that more and more people are challenging the ridiculous.

You're right to protect their entitlement to say this drivel: we need more people to stand up and challenge them when they do.

It's distressing to think that none of the witnesses challenged this incredulous little bigot for the invasive, destructive and contemptible diatribe he (allegedly) spat at these men.

Standing up to these people bring attention (some of which may be in their support) but the dominant result is entertainment for and approval from the crowd who see that they can't handle a reasoned challenge. When four preachers in my local town couldn't answer "what evidence do you have of prayer healing amputees" they gave several folk the pleasure of telling me "get thee behind me satan"

As Dara O'Briain may suggest; 'in the feckin sack.'

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:09:26 UTC | #916216

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 5 by Mr DArcy

Richard's quite right. Have we become so oversensitive that we are "threatened" or "offended" by opposing views. I'm sure Richard gets more hate mail than most, but at least he displays it here for all to see! Let the silly preachers spout their poison in the street, but not to children under the guise of education.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:14:38 UTC | #916221

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 6 by Premiseless

I think what this illustrates is how the logic agenda is more a chaos in a world cauterised to reason than it would be if the reverse were the case. Reversing this entropy was never going to be easy. Even if it were there is still a long way to go to get to a place that makes sense to everyone.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:36:28 UTC | #916232

potteryshard's Avatar Comment 7 by potteryshard

There was a case here in the US some years ago about a pair of obnoxiously amplified ranting preacher brothers who made a habit of haranguing passers-by. If I remember correctly, this case consisted of the brothers (of course as surrogates for organized crime, er, religion) suing the university on which the incident occurred on "freedom of speech' limitatiions for allowing students to bypass the location where the verbal abuse was to be inflicted.

I was struck then, and and am still convinced that religion views the "freedom of speech' as a) the right to abuse, and b) the right to force bystanders to listen. Apparently, freedom of speech does not include the right to ignore.

With this kind of background, the need to exert some control over the spewers may not be as much a lack of a sense of humor as it might be a necesssary supervision over whose who expolit applied harrassment and the power of technology to push the limits of 'free speech' into outright bullying.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:47:07 UTC | #916236

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 8 by SaganTheCat

My question is, why is our society becoming so lily-livered about protecting freedom of speech? Have we really lost our sense of humour to the extent that even street preachers are prosecuted for exercising it?

i think the fact there are laws against hate speech scare the authorities into prosecuting.

we have laws against incitement to hatered and violence and i really don't understand them. if i stand up in public and demand that infadels are killed, i can be prosecuted even if everyone boos at me. if i quietly suggest it to a local psychopath looking to kill someone it's not i won't be.

the silly laws we have assume individuals are not responsible for their own actions and that unrest is caused by speeches

as for telling someone they're going to hell, this goes beyond rediculous. it makes the assumption that hell exists (i assume if he'd shouted they were going to narnia it wouldn't have mattered).

if we follow this assumption it suggests the preacher did nothing wrong other than state an opinion, unless of course his assertion would be the cause of their damnation in which case it looks like he's being put on trial for inciting an act of god. acts of god of as we all know are no one's fault.

i would support this preacher and any other religious person being taken to court for speaking their beliefs. i utterly disagree with those beliefs but if freedom of speech is suppressed we're giving credence to those who hold such views. we have as much right to point and laugh or argue back or whatever. not to have him carted away

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:52:53 UTC | #916238

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 9 by Steve Zara

We should be expect to be able to walk in a public space without being harassed by others. There is a difference between freedom of speech and directed haranguing.

There is another aspect, which is that we gay people have been subject to bullying, threats and violence. And so our experience of being harassed in this way is not the same as for some random straight person subject to threats of Hell or whatever - there is not the same context. I have little doubt that if I were in the situation that these gay men were in, I would feel shocked and scared.

Free speech is one thing: targeted bullying is another. We shouldn't confuse the two.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:53:42 UTC | #916239

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 10 by Schrodinger's Cat

Some years ago when I used to manage a political forum, I caused quite a rumpus with the following observation.....

" Everyone has the right to freedom of speech......but, there is no such thing as a 'right to be heard'.

That is to say, the right of your mouth to speak what it likes is not also a right over my eardrums to hear what you have to say. Far more fundamental than your right to open your mouth and emit sounds is my own right to walk off, plug my ears, or just ignore.

No. Freedom of speech is NOT a right to impose whatever thoughts you have on others. The greater part of free speech is the freedom to listen, or choose not to. And if nobody wants to listen, then your so-called freedom does not extend to forcing them to. "

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 15:59:11 UTC | #916242

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 11 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 7 by potteryshard

I was struck then, and and am still convinced that religion views the "freedom of speech' as a) the right to abuse, and b) the right to force bystanders to listen. Apparently, freedom of speech does not include the right to ignore.

Or the right to shout rebuttals back....the eedjits on the Castle Green proselytising on a Sunday afternoon where I live "don't like it up 'em" ya know?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:01:23 UTC | #916243

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 12 by Steve Zara

Comment 10 by Schrodinger's Cat

Excellent observation in my view. It's the forcing aspect that is the issue here, particularly when aimed at individuals. No-one should be subjected to threats in the public space.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:04:58 UTC | #916244

evotruth's Avatar Comment 13 by evotruth

Lets change it from gays to black people. The preacher isn't homophobic but a racist and quotes verses from the bible advocating slavery. How would people react then?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:10:58 UTC | #916248

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 14 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 10 by Schrodinger's Cat :

Oddly enough, I find the content less offensive than the volume with which it is said. If somebody were to preach loudly outside my window I might complain to the Noise Abatement Society. If he directed insults at me I wouldn't mind if he did it quietly.

I completely agree that threats are another matter. Indeed I said so. My point was that telling people they are going to hell is not a threat (unless it is seriously believed, which seems unlikely).

Richard

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:14:09 UTC | #916249

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 15 by Steve Zara

comment 14 by Richard Dawkins

I completely agree that threats are another matter. Indeed I said so. My point was that telling people they are going to hell is not a threat (unless it is seriously believed, which seems unlikely).

The threat isn't about hell, but the attitude of the preacher. If I was walking down a street and some preacher yelled at me that I was evil because I was gay, it would shock me and scare me considerably. I would be looking out for that preacher for some time afterwards. I have no fear of hell, but I do have a fear of people yelling at me that they consider me evil. Who know what they might be thinking, or what they, or their friends, might do?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:20:29 UTC | #916254

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 16 by SaganTheCat

it's certainly a disturbance of the peace.

i sometimes feel threatened by people shouting in the street not because of what they believe but because of how much they've drunk. i've sometimes received threats from beggers when i've been unable to offer them money. when i was younger i used to receive many physical threats because of how i dressed. i'd want to know that the law would protect me but not from words

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:25:37 UTC | #916256

NealOKelly's Avatar Comment 17 by NealOKelly

Comment 12 by Steve Zara

No-one should be subjected to threats in the public space.

It's not clear what the threat actually was. Even if hell did exist, it'd be up to Him upstairs (and not the preacher) to decide whether the couple in question were headed that way. Yes, it's annoying to be accosted in the street, but someone telling you they think you'll end up in hell is hardly a threat.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:31:17 UTC | #916260

green and dying's Avatar Comment 18 by green and dying

Harassment can make someone feel unsafe even without explicit threats.

I'm not sure whether making someone feel "angry, embarrassed and ashamed" is enough to make something illegal, though.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:31:29 UTC | #916261

Callinectes's Avatar Comment 19 by Callinectes

I follow Christopher Hitchens' example of being a First Amendment absolutist. I am completely in favour of all speech, whether or not I agree with it. Words cannot hut like actions can, with one exception.

Bullying can be done entirely through words. Kids can be driven to suicide by them, and I could not say that adults cannot be bullied in the same way. I have yet to satisfactorily resolve this apparent contradiction, and it would seem to be relevant here. I wonder if anyone has any suggestions?

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:32:50 UTC | #916263

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 20 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 16 by Daniel Clear :

i sometimes feel threatened by people shouting in the street not because of what they believe but because of how much they've drunk. i've sometimes received threats from beggers when i've been unable to offer them money.

Yes. A former Goldsmith's Professor of English at Oxford, accosted by such a beggar, had no money and turned his pockets inside out to prove it. This caused great consternation among the beggars in the street, who all gathered around to witness the spectacle: "Paddy, Seamus, come here, this poor fellow's got no money. Sure and we'll have a whip-round for him."

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:33:53 UTC | #916264

Paul the Pretentious's Avatar Comment 21 by Paul the Pretentious

Hmph.

I ran into a fellow like that a few weeks ago in a gas station. He came in and started preaching--no other word for it, I suppose. He was telling anybody who would listen about how "knowing Jesus" would save them from hell. The cashiers both looked queasy. The other people in line looked annoyed.

He looked ready to unleash another volley of scripture, so I interrupted him thus: "I heard when you get to hell, the Devil gives you a Ferrari and a guitar. What's Jesus give you? A dress and a silly harp?"

This guy looked shocked.

"Son... son, hell ain't nothin' to fool around with. The Lord ain't nothin' to laugh at. You...you actin' like that, you gonna get sent to hell."

"Good, because the Devil likes all the things I like. Drinking, sinning, boozing, whoring..."

He ignored me and went back to his sermon, but this time, he said it outside the station. I'm pretty sure he was ousted for panhandling eventually.

The only way to counter this kind of nonsense is with irreverence. There's no difference between taunting Trekkies and taunting fundies.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:37:11 UTC | #916266

Sample's Avatar Comment 22 by Sample

Prof. Dawkins,

You've got a great subject to explore for your talk.

Prosecution would of course be appropriate if he had physically attacked the men, or seriously threatened them with violence, or incited others to attack them violently.

It's quite telling that, by and large, secular and religious populations comprising society easily dismisses threats of hell or comparable after-death punishments. While "only" speech, it clearly has a physical component for true believers. Just goes to show the underlying contempt by believers for the civilization that protects their wicked actions under free speech laws. If people of faith had any integrity, they would turn themselves in for serious jail time after making such threats.

Mike

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:40:53 UTC | #916268

Kilian's Avatar Comment 23 by Kilian

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster."

Here in spain happened something similar or I say that something worst:

There was a book that describes homosexuality as a psychological disorder and the autor of the book tried to "help" people with advices and therapies to cure such "disease".

A lot of people made a movement and achieved to ban the book from some stores and libraries, including from an important franchise.

Most of people talk about that like some kind of victory for the progress, for me is just censorship.

Act only when they try to impose it in schools systems or in kids who can't defend themselves.

The same goes with the bigot who yelled to the couple. Ignore him like we ignore all the assholes and bigots that we encounter in the streets over our life.

This is sometimes the "elephant in the room" when we try to fight the unreason, is like the same effects thats happen with people who enjoy when bullfighters are killed or heavily wounded by bulls. They care much about pain and suffering that they are happy when the roles are reversed.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:45:44 UTC | #916271

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

Comment 17 by NealOKelly

It's not clear what the threat actually was. Even if hell did exist, it'd be up to Him upstairs (and not the preacher) to decide whether the couple in question were headed that way. Yes, it's annoying to be accosted in the street, but someone telling you they think you'll end up in hell is hardly a threat.

That's not really my point.

It's not someone saying you will end up in hell. I have heard that said to me and others quite politely, and it's easy to laugh it off.

But there are situations where being preached at could feel very threatening. I have no idea what things are like where this incident took place, but imagine it was somewhere where there had been attacks on gay men. If I were there, walking along a street, and someone singled me out and ranted at me that I would be going to hell because I was gay (quite how they would know I was gay, I have no idea, I don't mince), I would be pretty scared. Firstly, this kind of behaviour doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the sanity of the preacher, and being attacked by a nutcase in the street doesn't appeal. Secondly, I would be scared because of the threat from others in that place if this gays-are-evil attitude was present.

This isn't threatening because of the words, it's threatening because of the hatred behind the words. Hatred is frightening.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:50:27 UTC | #916275

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 25 by SaganTheCat

Comment 20 by Richard Dawkins :

Comment 16 by Daniel Clear :

i sometimes feel threatened by people shouting in the street not because of what they believe but because of how much they've drunk. i've sometimes received threats from beggers when i've been unable to offer them money.

Yes. A former Goldsmith's Professor of English at Oxford, accosted by such a beggar, had no money and turned his pockets inside out to prove it. This caused great consternation among the beggars in the street, who all gathered around to witness the spectacle: "Paddy, Seamus, come here, this poor fellow's got no money. Sure and we'll have a whip-round for him."

bless!

working in oxford i wish i could say all my encounters were as nice although i did buy a copy of the big issue once from a lovely chap who works st giles and dropped all my change. he was imediately on his knees picking it up for me stating "you need it just as much"

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:55:25 UTC | #916277

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 26 by Tyler Durden

Comment 23 by Kilian :

There was a book that describes homosexuality as a psychological disorder and the autor of the book tried to "help" people with advices and therapies to cure such "disease".

A lot of people made a movement and achieved to ban the book from some stores and libraries, including from an important franchise.

Most of people talk about that like some kind of victory for the progress, for me is just censorship.

Act only when they try to impose it in schools systems or in kids who can't defend themselves.

Or in libraries, which has limited space, where people go to learn facts, not falsehoods.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 16:59:56 UTC | #916281

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 27 by Steve Zara

comment 23 by Kilian

The same goes with the bigot who yelled to the couple. Ignore him like we ignore all the assholes and bigots that we encounter in the streets over our life.

That's easy to say unless you are part of a group that had been subject to threats because of bigotry. Then the situation looks different.

If, in an area where there is racial tensions, and racism had led to violence, some preacher had stood in the street and harassed a black couple, shouting how evil black people where, and that they would go to hell, then I have little doubt that this would have not been laughed off, but considered a situation with real menace.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:00:17 UTC | #916282

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan4discussion

Comment 21 by Paul the Pretentious

The only way to counter this kind of nonsense is with irreverence. There's no difference between taunting Trekkies and taunting fundies.

Actually that would make a good topic for a discussion and a collection of quips could be built up to laugh at the ridiculous preachings:

Could I suggest a couple of old ones for starters-

Jesus saves:

Well he must still trust the bankers!

Jesus saves:

But Rooney scores on the rebound!

I'm sure others could add to this collection for street use!

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:00:49 UTC | #916283

NealOKelly's Avatar Comment 29 by NealOKelly

Comment 24 by Steve Zara

If I were there, walking along a street, and someone singled me out and ranted at me that I would be going to hell because I was gay (quite how they would know I was gay, I have no idea, I don't mince),

Actually, I wondered precisely that question about the incident.

Hatred is very frightening. But, unless a specific (non-supernatural) threat was made, I don't see that the law should (or can) intervene here.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:01:04 UTC | #916284

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 30 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 14 by Richard Dawkins

Well, the whole issue is clearly tied up also with the fact that we can't mock the 'offended' pleas of certain religious groups if we show every bit as much prone-ness to offence ourselves.

But the difference is that editors publishing cartoons of Mohammed, or any of a number of other such examples, are not forcing anyone to hear what they have to say. Neither was there anyone standing outside Friday prayer meetings handing out said cartoons.

A preacher shouting out his spew in some high street is clearly trying to impose his views on a gay couple who would otherwise do their best to avoid him and his ideas. It is the forced imposition that I object to.....as an issue in itself quite apart from what was said.

I don't see this as being in the same sort of category as something like political marches.....a fundamental right we must stand by. A political march or rally is not aimed at one specific member of society and shouting at them as they walk down the street. It's the one-on-one 'in your face' imposition that is objectionable.

Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:02:31 UTC | #916285