Category Archives: Odinism

Lords approve abolition of blasphemy (after 140yrs!)

After an acrimonious debate in which the bogeyman of secularism was repeatedly invoked, the House of Lords on Wednesday accepted the amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that abolishes the common law of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

The amendment had originally been introduced by Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris in the House of Commons, but the Government had persuaded him to withdraw it after promising to introduce its own amendment later in the Lords. This it has now done, although — if Baroness Andrews’ speech was anything to go by — with something less than enthusiasm.

The Bishops in the House were divided, some saying that the abolition was unnecessary and undesirable and others saying that it was inevitable and that the Church should therefore concede. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, had agreed to the Government’s amendment during a consultation, but expressed strong reservations about the timing of the move.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O’Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O’Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury pressurised the Government into keeping its word by tabling his own abolition amendment.

The Government had conducted a “short and sharp” consultation with the Church of England about the amendment, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York both agreed not to oppose the abolition, although both questioned its timing.

Evan Harris said that this debate had been going on for 21 years, since the Law Commission had recommended abolition of the law, and for the Church it would never be the right time.
Lord Avebury also introduced other amendments to the Bill that would clear out some other ancient Church privileges, such as Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, under which Peter Tatchell was charged when he interrupted a sermon by the-then Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral. Lord Avebury’s amendments were rejected by the Government and opposed by the bishops.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, attended the debate and welcomed the Lords decision. He said: “The National Secular Society has been campaigning to abolish the blasphemy laws for 140 years. They have an iniquitous history of persecution, and because it is a common law offence with no limit on punishment, they have resulted in executions and imprisonments with hard labour for people who wrote and said things that would, in the modern day, be considered trivial. It is disgraceful that such a relic of religious savagery has survived into the 21st century.”

Mr Porteous Wood pointed out that although the UK blasphemy laws are in the course of abolition, there is growing pressure in the Islamic world to outlaw so-called “religious defamation”, a kind of super blasphemy law. This pressure is being applied at the United Nations and its Human Rights Council. He commented: “If the United Nations Human Rights Council succumbs to the pressure from the Islamic countries to permit laws against religious defamation, it will be a major blow to freedom of expression, which underpins both democracy and civilisation itself. Nations who cherish freedom should wake up to the dangers of such moves, rather than sit idly by as they have done so far.”

Coincidentally, on the day before the debate, the House of Lords’ Appeal Committee rejected the petition in the Jerry Springer case from Stephen Green, the director of Christian Voice, who brought a private prosecution, and whose request for judicial review the High Court was turned down in December. “Christians will now have to take matters into their own hands when Christ is insulted on stage and on screen,” Mr Green threatened on Monday. He described the Lords’ decision as “a blatant, shameless political manoeuvre by a God-defying élite”. He said: “If this is to remain a Christian country, with the Archbishop of Canterbury crowning the future king, Parliament needs to legislate quickly to protect the honour of Jesus Christ.”


Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man

Story from Times Online

A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three is seeking justice after she was thrown in jail by Saudi Arabia’s religious police for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.

Yara, who does not want her last name published for fear of retribution, was bruised and crying when she was freed from a day in prison after she was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom’s “Mutaween” police.

Her story offers a rare first-hand glimpse of the discrimination faced by women living in Saudi Arabia. In her first interview with the foreign press, Yara told The Times that she would remain in Saudi Arabia to challenge its harsh enforcement of conservative Islam rather than return to America.

“If I want to make a difference I have to stick around. If I leave they win. I can’t just surrender to the terrorist acts of these people,” said Yara, who moved to Jeddah eight years ago with her husband, a prominent businessman.

Her ordeal began with a routine visit to the new Riyadh offices of her finance company, where she is a managing partner.

The electricity temporarily cut out, so Yara and her colleagues — who are all men — went to a nearby Starbucks to use its wireless internet.

She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café’s “family” area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.

For Yara, it was a matter of convenience. But in Saudi Arabia, public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.

“Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?’. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,” recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.

The men were from Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force of several thousand men charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayers.

Yara, whose parents are Jordanian and grew up in Salt Lake City, once believed that life in Saudi Arabia was becoming more liberal. But on Monday the religious police took her mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh. She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her “crime”.

“They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,” she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.

“He said ‘You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell’. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,” she said.

Yara’s husband, Hatim, used his political contacts in Jeddah to track her whereabouts. He was able to secure her release.

“I was lucky. I met other women in that prison who don’t have the connections I did,” she said. Her story has received rare coverage in Saudi Arabia, where the press has been sharply critical of the police.

Yara was visited yesterday by officials from the American Embassy, who promised they would file a report.

An embassy official told The Times that it was being treated as “an internal Saudi matter” and refused to comment on her case.

Tough justice

— Saudi Arabia’s Mutaween has 10,000 members in almost 500 offices

— Ahmad al-Bluwi, 50, died in custody in 2007 in the city of Tabuk after he invited a woman outside his immediate family into his car

— In 2007 the victim of a gang rape was sentenced to 200 lashes and six years in jail for having been in an unrelated man’s car at the time. She was pardoned by King Abdullah, although he maintained the sentence had been fair

Make The Workplace Secular, Says NSS

The National Secular Society has called on the Government to permit employers to declare their workplaces to be secular after another incident of conflict over religion emerged.

This week, a Catholic man was suspended for three days from his job as a car park supervisor at Manchester Airport after he hung a “picture of Jesus” on the wall of the staff room, and incurred the wrath of a Muslim colleague. He claimed that the picture was deliberate “provocation”. Mr Langmead, of Atherton, Greater Manchester, was eventually reinstated without consequences, his employer saying he had done nothing wrong.

Now, instead of telling employees to leave their religion at home, the airport has engaged the chaplain and his team to work with employees to “foster a greater level of understanding about each other’s beliefs”. It does not say whether these lessons in tolerance will be part of the working day when, presumably people uninterested in religion will be left to hold the fort while the believers go off for their training in hate management.

This incident follows on from the incident of a Hindu woman who insisted on wearing a nose stud, against uniform policy, at Heathrow airport, and was consequently sacked – and then reinstated.

Another Heathrow worker, the Christian activist Nadia Eweida, was suspended for four months for wearing a Christian cross. She returned to work after the airline came under intense media pressure to change its uniform policy to accommodate her demands. She subsequently demanded that BA include Bible readings on its in-flight entertainment system.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “These incidents are only the tip of the iceberg. Conflicts between people who insist on making an issue of their religion in the workplace will escalate. In the USA, the number of legal actions about religious discrimination at work is second only to sex discrimination cases. That will also soon apply here. Instead of trying to accommodate every religious demand (as each concession is made, another demand is waiting in the wings – as last week’s incident with Sainsbury’s and the Muslims refusing to handle alcohol showed).”

Mr Sanderson continued: “The workplace should become a secular space where religion plays no part. The only way to stop these confrontations is to stop the religious proselytisers in their tracks and make it a term of employment that they will not bring religious issues to work.

“Instead of this, we are going down the road of trying to satisfy activists who will not be happy until religious practice is mandatory for everyone on the shop floor. We will soon have the situation that applies in America, where all employees are required to pray together at the beginning of the working day.”

Mr Sanderson said that the provision of prayer rooms, special washing facilities, and even toilets specially dedicated to one particular religious tradition must be making a significant impact on the economy of some employers.

The Extraordinary Case Of The Pagan And The Multicultural Prayer Room

National Secular Society

An extraordinary — one might almost say unbelievable — industrial tribunal case in Manchester in March gave a rare insight into how attempts to accommodate “multicultural” religious needs at work actually appear only to apply to Muslims. It developed around a spat between Muslim employees at the Royal Mail and a member of the Odinist Fellowship (a group that apparently worships the old Nordic gods).

The case — Royal Mail group PLC versus Donald Holden — was described in a document posted on the TUC website by Robin Jackson, the information officer of the Odinist Fellowship, who attended both days of the hearing. Mr Jackson reported:

“Many of you will be surprised, as I was, to learn that, increasingly, employers with a large proportion of Muslim staff are being obliged to set aside rooms in the workplace for Muslim prayers, and to allow their employees to take time away from their duties to engage in these prayers. At the Mail Centre where Donald worked, there was just such a room, which was designated as a ‘Multicultural Room’. That is important, because never, at any time, did the Royal Mail claim that the Room was solely for Muslim use, or that non-Muslims might not use it for their own purposes.”

Mr Holden tried to use the room for his own religious purposes – which is ostensibly what it was for – but it quickly became apparent that it was, in reality, a Muslim Club Room, full of Korans and prayer calendars. Mr Holden left sheets of paper about Odinism in the room, on a chair by the sink.

One item of evidence at the tribunal was a book which required users of the room to sign for a key on entering and leaving. Mr Holden’s visits were always of short duration, and mainly on a Saturday, when the place was mostly empty. Mr Jackson takes up the story:

“I was able to see for myself, that certain names and signatures, evidently belonging to Muslim employees, recurred time and time again in the signing-in book, sometimes three or four times in a single shift, and that the duration of their stays was half an hour or more. Some would call this ‘skiving’.”

Obviously Mr Holden’s use of the room was not welcomed by the Muslim employees and eventually an anonymous complaint was made to the management that a “muddy footprint had been left on the carpet of the Multicultural Room.” As Mr Jackson reports: “What could this mean? There could be only one possible interpretation: quite clearly, the culprit had intended to attack the Muslim religion. And not only was it, self-evidently, an anti-Muslim footprint, but on closer examination it became obvious that it must have been an anti-Islamic boot; and no doubt that anti-Islamic boot had been wielded by an Islamophobic foot. And who else could that Islamophobic foot belong to? The principle suspect had to be Donald, of course!”

Incredibly, the Royal Mail set up hidden cameras in the room to trap the culprit who was causing the ‘damage’. After five months of this surveillance – no doubt costing thousands of pounds – the management admitted that they had nothing on Mr Holden. In fact, during the tribunal hearing, no-one could be found who had actually seen the muddy footprint.

But the Royal Mail management did see Mr Holden in the room, leaving his literature on the chair by the sink and briefly appearing to pray. Then, on 23 February 2005, Mr Holden was hauled before the Royal Mail management to explain his actions. He was unsure at this point what he had done that needed explanation. None of the managers could agree what exactly his offence had been. Nevertheless, despite the vagueness of it all, he was suspended from work, accused of “religiously aggravated harassment directed against the Muslim faith”.

The investigating officer claimed it was because he was leaving his Odinist literature in the room, and suggested to Mr Holden that he was not a real believer and that there was no such religion as Odinism. He also confiscated Mr Holden’s religious literature and destroyed it. Imagine what would have happened if he had done that to Islamic literature!

However, Mr Holden’s suspension from the Royal Mail continued, and after a failed appeal, he eventually took action under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. The Royal Mail then dismissed him. He had worked for them for thirty-three years with a completely unblemished record. He lost his pension rights and his livelihood. And all because, the Royal Mail said, he walked on the carpet in the “Multicultural Room”, with his shoes on.

The Tribunal heard this tale with incredulity and decided that Mr Holden had been unfairly dismissed, and ordered the Royal Mail to pay a substantial compensation package likely to run into six figures.

Another outcome of this extraordinary case is that Odinism is now a legally recognised religion – and, by extension, so are all pagan religions.