Monday, 21 December 2009

Robin Ince interviewed at the end of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

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Here's the man himself, Robin Ince, talking to us backstage at the end of his magnificent 6-night Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People celebration. He talks about why the shows are so important, what he hopes people can take away from them, and why they'll be back next year. He also talks about how annoying the media misrepresentation of the opening night's Johnny Ball climate change denial episode has been. Enjoy.

Watch the rest of our backstage videos on our YouTube channel.

Dara O Briain backstage at the Apollo Nine Lessons show

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Told you Nathalie filmed practically everyone - here's Dara O Briain!

Watch all the rest on our YouTube channel.

Al Murray backstage at the Apollo Nine Lessons show

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As promised, we were backstage last night at the grand finale of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, which took place at the 3,500 capacity Hammersmith Apollo. And what a night it was – the orchestra was beefed up to a full 25-piece group, and some stellar names were added to the bill, including Mark Steel, Dara O Briain and Al Murray, who delivered a hilarious take on science, God and bacon as the Pub Landlord. Here he is talking to us backstage:

All our backstage video was filmed by social media expert Nathalie McDermott, who kindly gave up a few of her evenings to help us out. She deserves a huge thank-you - I'm sure you'll all agree with us that she's produced some fantastic backstage content. You can view all the videos at our YouTube channel - Nathalie managed to record practically everyone on the bill, including Dara O Briain, Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Brian Cox and loads more. Do check it out.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Censorship row at Index on Censorship

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The campaigning magazine and organisation Index on Censorship, the most reliable and pugnacious monitor of abuses against freedom of expression, has become involved in an internal censorship row of its own. It came about when they published an interview in their December issue with Jytte Klausen, author of The Cartoons That Shook The World, about the fact that Yale, who published the book, declined to include the very cartoons the book was about. A clear and pretty stupid act of censorship which we, and Index, denounced.

Now a similar row has erupted inside Index over the decision taken by their board (with one dissension) not to republish any of the cartoons to accompany the interview with Klausen. Unusually Index have made this debate public - first by publishing a statement by chair Jonathan Dimbleby explaining why they did not include the cartoons (it comes down to staff safety) and second publishing a response from the dissenting member of the board (who was not at the meeting in question), Kenan Malik, deploring the decision.

Being the editor of a magazine that makes critical and satirical comments about many religions, and having written a book on the subject this year, I know too well what a thorny issue this is - staff safety does matter, as does the question of context. I can't say for sure what I - or my board - would do in these circumstances. But for a magazine whose very mission is to oppose censorship, who are publishing a piece precisely about the craven way in which Yale dropped the cartoons from a book where they would have clearly been relevant, on the basis of the possibility of a threat and no more (as Kenan points out), just seems... well very worrying. In particular it will provide grist to the mill of fuckwits who bang on about liberal double standards and cowardice (you can just feel the 'You couldn't make it up' headlines being mocked up by hacks countrywide) and threatens to damage the reputation of a very important organisation at a time when we need them most.

I wonder if the Index board read the statement from the National Coalition Against Censorship (they should have as it was cross posted on the Index site. Specifically this bit:
"The incident at Yale provides an opportunity to re-examine our commitment to free expression. When an [academic] institution of such standing asserts the need to suppress scholarly work because of a theoretical possibility of violence ['somewhere in the world'], it grants legitimacy to censorship and casts serious doubt on their, and our, commitment to freedom of expression in general, and academic freedom in particular."
This is precisely Kenan Malik's point and I wonder if in this case a different, dare one say braver, stand on this kind of issue wouldn't have provided a better example. If Index won't take a stand against implied threats for perfectly legitimate acts, who will?

I hope that it doesn't blow up and get ugly (though I fear it might), and I commend them for making this public.

(... although this is a serious matter I couldn't help but be amused by what Dimbleby implies in this sentence: "The idea that no-one except a handful of like-minded anoraks would notice their appearance in Index seemed to us to be at best naïve." Which means that someone within Index tried to justify the publication of the cartoons on the basis that no one but a few anoraks (meaning their own readers) would notice.)

Stewart Lee backstage at Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

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Told you we filmed lots of backstage clips – here's Stewart Lee talking about why he's so keen to be involved with Robin Ince's rational Christmas celebrations, and why Johnny Ball was entitiled to express his views on climate change:

You can see all our other backstage videos by visiting our brand new YouTube channel.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rapper Baba Brinkman rounds up last night's Nine Lessons show

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After the Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People show at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night, we grabbed Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman, who's on the bill performing bits of his wonderful Rap Guide to Evolution, and asked him to sum up the night's proceedings using a spot of freestyle rap. Here's the brilliant result:

Alan Moore backstage at last night's Nine Lessons show

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We managed to catch up with legendary graphic novellist Alan Moore before the show last night - here he is explaining why he joined the bill, why we need rational celebrations like Nine Lessons, and demonstrating his amazing outfit:

Johnny Ball backstage at last night's Nine Lessons show

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As promised, we've now uploaded a series of videos taken backstage at last night's Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People – you can check them all out by visiting our YouTube channel, where you can see Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Chris Addison and more. But to get you started, here's controversial man of the moment Johnny Ball discussing what happened on the opening night, when he was booed off stage for questioning man made climate change (and overrunning by 13 minutes!):

Theological Christmas pop quiz

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Is the meaning of Christmas:

a) a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born?


b) the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus?

(Taken from the words of the vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland, NZ, in this very, very funny Christmas outrage story over the pictured billboard. You have to go and read it.)

Nine Lessons Round Two - a denial free evening

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So, the second Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People show took place last night, minus the previous evening's climate change denial controversy (which has even made it into today's Sun and Daily Mail). Johnny Ball played it safe this time, albeit with a nod to earlier events ("It's cold outside - must be climate change"), while one of the clear highlights has to have been graphic novel legend Alan Moore explaining the rational basis for his worship of a second-century Roman snake god named Glycon. I've nicked this pic of Moore taken by Mr Skeptics in the Pub Sid Rodrigues from the side of the stage (sorry Sid!) - maybe you can just make out his fantastic pink robe/ magical overcoat, which he explained was fashioned from a handmade Indian sari, specially for his daughter's wedding.

We were backstage filming lots of short interviews with the acts, which we'll be posting this afternoon – we have interviews with Moore, Johnny Ball, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Jo Neary, Josie Long, Simon Singh, Chris Addison, Brian Cox... everyone, basically. So check back here later to dip into those. In the meantime, here's a round-up of what people have been saying about last night's show on Twitter - there's a very lively hashtag going for the show, #GodlessChristmas, so be sure to use that if you're tweeting about it.
Am assuming that calling a show with Alan Moore "Godless" is the epitome of irony. (@Mikey_X)

Very much enjoying #godlesschristmas. John Otway was hilarious and Johnny Ball behaved himself. (@melstarrs)
Johnny Ball's reputation redeemed with better judged Galileo routine this eve. Excellent show with so many highlights. (@class_war)
Excellent first half-hard to pick a best bit, though seeing Alan Moore was a privilege. How are they going to follow that? (@sarlitchin)

Regardless of what Johnny Ball said yesterday, I still prefer his optimism to Monbiot's 'fuck humanity' column this week. (@JamesGraham)

#GodlessChristmas an absolute triumph so far. Huge banter in green room. Just heard Alan Moore say "that was when I was on acid... (@njhamer - member of the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra)
So, as you can see, Alan Moore was the major talking point. Remember - come back this afternoon to see our interview with him backstage.

Remember : there are still some tickets available for Sunday's show at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. That bill includes Richard Dawkins, Al Murray, Dara O Briain, Mark Steel, Shappi Khorsandi, Brian Cox, Jim Bob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and, yes, Johnny Ball, so get your tickets now to make sure you don't miss out.

[Photo credit: Sid Rodrigues]

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Odd-Ball: Nine Lessons and Carols gets off to a bizarre start

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Well, last night saw an eventful start to this year's run of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. As a flustered Robin Ince opened proceedings, fresh from worrying when the first act was going to turn up, the audience were treated to a fantastic first half featuring Chris Addison (arrived 90 seconds before he was due onstage), Shappi Khorsandi, Simon Singh, Richard Wiseman, Jo Neary and many more, which was rounded off with surreal punk legend John Otway performing his Top Ten science-homework-based hit Bunsen Burner (here he is doing it on Top of the Pops, complete with Richard Blackwood intro). A very special mention here has to go to the BHA Choir, who stepped up to provide some fantastic, entirely unrehearsed, backing singing (and dancing) on the back of about half an hour's notice. They've only been together for a few months, and have never performed on a stage as large as last night, so they deserve to be feeling very pleased with themselves this morning!

After the interval, things continued in a similar vein, with hilarious sets from Richard Herring, Josie Long and  Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman, and a cautionary tale from Ben Goldacre on the truth behind the MMR vaccine scare. But then, not so long after Mr Bad Science himself addressed the crowd, things took a turn for the, well, weird as Johnny Ball, the man responsible for introducing a whole generation of British children to maths and science, took to the stage. To begin with, he treated us to a Butlins Redcoat / Northern stand-up / children's TV science presenter intro, but soon followed this with a George Formby-influenced climate change denial song, which segued into a lecture on the "fallacy" of man-made climate change (it's the spiders and insects wot did it, y'see). After overrunning by more than 10 minutes, he left the stage to boos, jeers and a slow hand clap, in what has to be the most surreal moment we've seen at our Godless Christmas shows. You can see what comedy site Chortle had to say about it here. It's even ended up as a news story on the Daily Telegraph website.

Suffice to say, the festive atmosphere had changed somewhat by the time Ball left the stage, and it fell to Peter Buckley-Hill to pull everyone back from the denialist brink with a fun song about what would happen if he had no letter "x" (one for the "x"-denialists, maybe?). The recovery task was then completed in stunning fashion by Dara O Briain, who tagged a few minutes of incredible Ball-related improvisation on to his set. No doubt this, for many people, was the highlight of the night (I know it was for me). Rounding off the evening, we had the legendary Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden bringing down the house with their hilarious song "Peace and Quiet".

So, that was just the first night, and already we have some major talking points! We do it all over again at the Bloomsbury tonight, and with Ball scheduled for a reappearance, who knows what could happen? And if spiders causing climate change wasn't weird enough, tonight there will be an appearance by graphic novelist Alan Moore, who "worships" a Roman snake deity named Glycon. What more could you want from a "rational celebration for Christmas"?

There's a lot of online chatter surrounding the shows, especially on Twitter using the hashtag #GodlessChristmas, so if you're into that than please come and get involved - remember to use the hashtag, and be sure to follow us (@NewHumanist). We're going to have some special treats from backstage later this week too, so keep following the blog and Twitter to make sure you don't miss out.

And finally, if all this has whetted your appetite and you don't have tickets for the Bloomsbury shows, remember there are still some tickets available for Sunday's show at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo. That bill includes Richard Dawkins, Al Murray, Dara O Briain, Mark Steel, Shappi Khorsandi, Brian Cox, Jim Bob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and, yes, Johnny Ball, so get your tickets now to make sure you don't miss out.

And with that, I'm off to prepare for tonight. It's turning into quite a week...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Intelligent Design textbook sent to UK schools

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A few days ago we received an email from a concerned reader, who just so happens to be the librarian at a school in Wales. Here's what he had to say:
This morning I received through the post a "review copy" of a "textbook" titled Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism, from Hill House Publishers. The publicity sheet accompanying it states the book "promotes enquiry-based based learning, encouraging students to participate in the process of discovery, deliberation and argument that scientists use to form their theories... The textbook is ideally suited for use in the classroom and for teachers who wish to increase their understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory."

The publicity sheet is produced by an organisation called "Truth in Science", based in Cambridge, UK. Intrigued, and suspicious, I Googled them along with the title of the book, to be directed to a website accompanying the book hosted as part of a "program" called The Centre for Science and Culture, hosted by the Discovery Institute. According to the website, the CSC, amongst other things, "supports research by scientists and other scholars challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory" and "supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design". The Discovery Institute describes itself as a "nonpartisan public policy think tank", but in fact promotes a heavily right-wing libertarian agenda with Christian fundamentalist leanings.

Immediately all became clear. The "textbook" is in essence a vehicle for smuggling in the idea of intelligent design by the back door. The claim that it ‘increase[s] ... understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory’ is, to put it politely, verging on the disingenuous.

As both a school librarian entrusted with helping teachers shape the minds of young citizens and promote critical enquiry, and as a citizen concerned with the quality of public education in this county, I am worried that this book, which will have undoubtedly been sent to other schools, might be taken at face value and find its way into libraries and classrooms.

I’d therefore be grateful if you could help spread the truth about this book, both to illustrate one of the underhand ways in which proponents of intelligence design – who include, it appears from the publicity sheet, some scientists holding senior posts in respectable academic institutions – seek to propagate their beliefs, and to assist librarians, teachers and others interested in promoting a proper understanding of science and society.
So, it seems that the American creationists at the notorious Discovery Institute, in association with their British disciples at "Truth in Science" (you really need the inverted commas when you write their name), have adopted what we might call the "Adnan Oktar method" of sending your material to as many educational establishments as possible in the hope that a few of them might be gullible enough to place it in the libraries. Of course, it's to be hoped that most school librarians are as vigilant as the reader who emailed us, but as he says, it's still possible that some copies might slip through and this pseudoscience will end up in school libraries. So, let's make sure it's widely known that "Truth in Science" are using these tactics, so that schools know how to spot this kind of nonsense when it crashes through their letterbox – the British Centre for Science Education are aware of the matter, and are asking people to let them know if their local schools have been receiving the book.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sing with the BHA Choir

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Tomorrow sees the start of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, our six-night Godless Christmas extravaganza at the Bloomsbury Theatre and the Hammersmith Apollo (there are still tickets for the Hammersmith show). Suffice to say we're very excited about this, and since we're feeling all seasonal (in a distinctly irreligious way), now seems like a great time to plug the British Humanist Association's Choir, which will be appearing at a couple of the shows.
The BHA Choir are Britain's first humanist choir, and they meet every Tuesday evening at the BHA building in Gower Street, London. All are welcome, and I'm reliably informed that if you go along you'll get to "perform a range of music in a relaxed environment including pieces written specially by resident composer William Morris". For more information, contact the BHA.

The choir even have a festive single, "Gathering Round the Fire", out now, with lyrics and music by William Morris and choir member Jess Smith – you can download it via Amazon.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Free speech is not for sale

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Things are hotting up in the campaign to reform England's archaic and unfair libel laws with the launch today of the Libel Reform Campaign which brings together three organisations who have been working separately on the issue up til now - PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science. For the past year PEN and Index have been working on the issue and in November released a report which makes ten very clear recommendations about how the law should be changed so that it can no longer be used as a way to bully dissenters into silence. Meanwhile Sense About Sense galvanized support for Simon Singh in his libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association, through the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign. They have now pooled their resources (and got funding from the Open Society Institute) in the new campaign - which is using the strapline Free Speech is Not For Sale.

Today's launch at the Law Society in Central London featured an appropriately diverse line-up of scientists, performers and secularists (many of whom, I was glad to see, have written for New Humanist and/or will be performing at Nine Lessons). after intros from John Kampfner for Index, Jonathan Heawood for PEN, and Tracey Brown from Sense About Science (doesn't seem quite right to refer to them as 'SAS') the big-name guests were asked to say a few words about why they supported the campaign and sign a petition. Dara O Briain was up first, followed by Simon Singh, Raymond Tallis, Alexei Sayle, Richard Wiseman, Anthony Grayling, Dave Gorman, Robin Ince, Marcus Chown, Jim Al Khalil, Edzard Ernest - each were pleasingly pithy and many very funny, including the lawyer who spoke at the end (didn't catch his name but he is representing Peter Wilmshurst in his libel case) who said of the notorious Justice Eady, with pointed sarcasm, "Far be it from me to criticise one of the best legal minds this country has. He [Eady] has forgotten more law than I will ever know."

Lib Dem MP (and staunch secularist) Evan Harris spoke at the end about the political prospects - and was quite upbeat about the possibility of getting a commitment to libel reform into election manifestos for all three parties (he said once one of them puts it in the rest are likely to follow just in case it's a vote winner). Justice Secretary Jack Straw has made positive noises, although whether he will be in a position to do anything much about it remains to be seen.

Needless to say the Rationalist Association strongly supports the idea of reform, and the sensible ideas laid out in the Index/PEN report.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Can you help raise funds for a Ugandan girls football team?

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In the past few years, British and international humanist groups have been very active in supporting secular education in Africa, particularly in Uganda (see our own Mustard Seed Secular School appeal). Since October, the Central London Humanist Group (CLHG) have been raising funds for Emitos Girls Humanist Football Club, a Kampala-based football team for girls aged 12-20. Of course, Emitos FC is about much more than success on the pitch – its aims, as explained by CLHG, are as follows:
  • Build confidence and self esteem among young girls and to help them build their careers as future leaders. The players develop confidence, express their unique talents and compete with boys for the same opportunities. It encourages the attitude “If I can play football, what else can I achieve?"
  • Deepen the girls' understanding of the humanistic values and principles such as the importance of reason, self discipline, achievement and courage, and controlling one’s own destiny. This will help the players to transform their lives as young women and the societies they come from.
  • Train girls in management and leadership skills. Through experience managing tournaments, matches and their role in the team, the girls learn to manage the activities in life more widely.
  •  Educate girls on issues of sexual and reproductive health. The players are at an age particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and good need health education is needed to avoid unsafe sex and early pregnancies.
  •  Help girls to stay in school for longer. Girls football is such an interesting and exciting adventure in Uganda, which one would not like to miss. Hence, while at school, football makes every moment of their lives precious and exciting.
  • Help girls learn to socialise with other adolescents from other schools. This will teach them to deal with the challenges they encounter in their adolescent life. They need to share everyday life experiences with friends and to belong to significant communities of interaction, inquiry, work and play.
The CLHG are aiming to raise £3,700 for Emitos, which will help buy everything from balls and boots to workshops on reproductive heath and HIV/AIDS. If you'd like to donate, you can do so via this fundraising page. And if you're based in London, you can also help by attending a book sale tomorrow evening (Wednesday 9th) at Amnesty's Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch, 4-9pm. There'll be an excellent selection of second hand books to choose from (we've sent a stack from the NH office), as well as several signed copies of new books including The Atheist's Guide to Christmas by Ariane Sherine, Against the Faith: Some Deists, Sceptics and Atheists by Jim Herrick and On Humanism by Richard Norman, which have been donated by their authors.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm expelled from British zoo association

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After I wrote about the insidious creationism on display at Noah's Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol at the end of the summer, the story moved on somewhat – in October the focus shifted from creationism to allegations that the zoo had been breeding animals for the Great British Circus, which is the last circus company in Britain to use live animals in its productions.

As a result of the allegations, Noah's Ark was suspended from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA), which had previously defended the zoo when it came under fire over creationism. And now the BBC reports that the zoo has been expelled from BIAZA, which has released the following statement:
"The reasons for termination are due to a refusal to provide BIAZA with information when requested and entering into an arrangement with the Great British Circus, which contravenes the Animal Transaction Policy, despite having been warned of possible consequences.

"Council believes that the behaviour of NAZF has brought the association into disrepute and that there has been a breakdown of trust between BIAZA and NAZF, and this has unfortunately resulted in a parting of the ways."
Responding to the expulsion, the zoo says it will return its tigers to their owner, who also owns the Great British Circus. In a statement, owner Anthony Bush said:
"We were given the tigers by Lynctrek, a private breeding centre. The owner of this company also owns The Great British Circus. The tigers we were donated never performed in a circus. One had been trained to work in films and did a promotional video. However, we have decided to give the tigers back and concentrate on our extensive collection loved by visitors. My whole aim, since I started Noah's Ark in 1998 has been to treat animals with care, kindness and absolute respect. We also endeavour to breed endangered species and contribute to conservation."

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Nigerian evangelical sues humanists for obstructing her "anti-witchcraft" activities

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Earlier this year, we reported in our print edition on the violent disruption of a conference on Witchcraft and Children's Rights organised by the Nigerian Humanist Movement in Calabar, Nigeria. The meeting was invaded by more than 200 supporters of the Liberty Gospel Church (there's a YouTube video here), a ministry responsible for shocking persecution of Nigerians it suspects of "witchcraft". The Nigerian humanists, led by their fearless director Leo Igwe (pictured here), have been campaigning to publicise the activities of Christian churches responsible for such activities – many of those accused of witchcraft are children, and whole families have had their homes destroyed and been driven from their villages as a result.

The Liberty Gospel Church's leader, Helen Ukpabio, has taken exception to the humanist campaign – she was behind the attack on the conference in July, and we learn this week from Igwe that she is now suing him for supposedly violating her Christians rights by campaigning against her persecution of "witches". In a press release distributed to members of the International Humanist and Ethical Union this week, Igwe explained:
"Helen applied to the Federal High Court in Calabar for the enforcement of her fundamental rights. She claimed, among other things,that the conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights, held on July 29 in Calabar – which her members disrupted – and the arrest of her church members on the said date constituted an infringement on their rights to practice their christian religious belief relating to witchcraft. She asked the court to issue perpetual injunctions restraining me and others -
From interfering with their practice of christianity and their deliverance of people with witchcraft spirit.
From holding seminars or workshops denouncing the christian religious belief in witchcraft
From arresting her and her church members etc.
Helen asked the court to order that I, the Akwa Ibom state government, Sam Ituama, CRARN [Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network] and Gary Foxcroft [of charity Stepping Stones Nigeria] pay her 200 billion naira (800,000 US Dollars) as damages for unlawful and unconstitutional infringement on her rights to belief in God, Satan, witchcraft, Heaven and Hell fire and for unlawful and unconstitutional detention of her two church members."
As the recent Channel 4 documentary Return to Africa's Witch Children (UK viewers can still watch on 4OD) highlighted, the violent persecution by fundamentalists of those accused of witchcraft is a widespread and horrific problem in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Humanist campaigners such as Igwe, along with charities such as Stepping Stones Nigeria, are bravely standing up to these abuses, and they deserve all the support we can give them. Igwe faces a court hearing on 17 December and he intends to fight the case brought against him by Helen Ukpabio, as he explained in the press release:
"It is obvious that Helen Ukpabio is a crook. She has transformed her so called Liberty Gospel Church into a criminal gang. Helen and her church members want evade arrest and prosecution by all means. Otherwise how could one explain the reason behind these frivolous allegations and trumped-up charges. Particularly how does one explain why this so called woman of God has gone to court asking that I pay her damages (who should actually pay each other damages?), after her church members under her directive, disrupted our conference, beat me up, stole my bag and made away with other personal belongings. Helen Ukpabio should be ready to face justice and answer for her crimes. She should be ready to pay damages to thousands of children who have been tortured, traumatized, abused and abandoned as a result of her misguided ministry. Helen should be ready to pay for the damage she has done to many homes and households across Nigeria through her witchcraft schemes and other fraudulent activities. She should be ready to pay compensation to all care givers and child rights advocates who have been attacked, harrassed and robbed by her gangs and goons.
So, whatever the mischief this vicious woman and her rag tag ministry are planning, I am convinced that at the end of the day, reason, justice and human rights will prevail."
We'll endeavour to provide more information on the case here as and when we receive it from Igwe.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Brits 2, Scientologists 0

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It's nice to see the Brits sticking it to the Scientologists - first I read how English Heritage have turned down an application from the cult's supporters to place a blue plaque on a building once occupied by founder L Ron Hubbard in London's Fitzroy Street, and then I read this story on how Winston Churchill's descendants are threatening legal action over a Scientology poster (pictured) which uses the wartime PM's image. The poster was aimed at recruiting new Scientologists to work, funnily enough, at the same Fitzroy Street building for which English Heritage denied the blue plaque.

Churchill's grandson, the former Tory MP also named Winston Churchill, explained how he had asked lawyers to write to the Church on his behalf:
"Gordon Wise at [law firm] Curtis Brown has written the Scientologists a letter protesting, on my instructions. Predictably, nothing has been received in return. The family finds it very offensive that an organisation not only as controversial, but some might say as disreputable, as the Church of Scientology should be trying to use my grandfather's likeness and quotes in furtherance of their recruiting.

"We have strong objections to the implication that our grandfather, if he were alive, would have something to do with Scientology. In fact, he wouldn't have touched an outfit like that with a bargepole. I can't represent too strongly how much we resent the suggestion that he would. They have no right, or permission, to use his name or likeness, and I hope they now respect my grandfather and his family's wishes."

There a couple of choice quotes there that I'm sure we'll be reusing in the future. And as for the blue plaque, the Telegraph report that prospective plaque suspects must have been dead for at least 20 years, and have made an "important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness". A source involved in the decision to deny Hubbard a plaque said:

"The decision was on the grounds that he wasn't well known or well respected enough. Controversies surrounding him come into the well-respected bit. The committee was not divided on this, I think."

The Scientolgists, of course, dispute the decision but, sadly for them, an English Heritage rule states that no application can be reconsidered until ten years after rejection. In the meantime, perhaps Hubbard's followers can console themselves with our representation of how his blue plaque might have looked.