New “Don’t Label Me” Billboard Campaign in the UK

The groups that brought you the “classlc” atheist bus ads are back with a billboard message that is sure to spark some great discussions:

Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself.

How awesome is that?

It takes a page from Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion where he makes a similar point:

At Christmas-time one year my daily newspaper, the Independent, was looking for a seasonal image and found a heart-warmingly ecumenical one at a school nativity play. The Three Wise Men were played by, as the caption glowingly said, Shadbreet (a Sikh), Musharraf (a Muslim) and Adele (a Christian), all aged four. Charming? Heart-warming? No, it is not, it is neither; it is grotesque…

Imagine an identical photograph, with the caption changed as follows: “Shadbreet (a Keynesian), Musharaff (a Monetarist) and Adele (a Marxist), all aged four.” Wouldn’t this be a candidate for irate letters of protest? It certainly should be.

Dawkins felt that prematurely labeling children like that was a form of child abuse. Call it extreme, but he had a point. Yet, parents do this all the time without thinking about it. This billboard campaign is all about consciousness-raising, and it accomplishes just that.

Notice the words featured prominently on the billboard, by the way.

Not only do they call out parents who use the term “Protestant Child” or “Catholic Child,” they also point the finger at anyone who would use the terms “Agnostic Child” or “Humanist Child.”

The point is that, by all means, you should educate your child with your morals and values. But there’s a difference between doing that and forcing an entire belief system on a child who doesn’t even have the capability to understand what that entails.

The purpose of this campaign — which, at its core, is not specifically atheistic — is to challenge state-funded faith schools, which by nature label children with a religious label and get taxpayer money to do it.

Help the British Humanist Association (BHA) in its effort to phase out state funded ‘faith’ schools and reform our education system by ensuring we can employ our dedicated campaigns officer against faith schools for another year.

The BHA campaigns for inclusive schools with no religious admissions policies, balanced teaching about different beliefs and values, and no compulsory ‘collective worship’. The BHA also campaigns to combat the growing threat to education from creationism and pseudoscience, as well as for wider improvements to values and moral education across the school curriculum and supports improved Sex and Relationships Education, Citizenship Education and inclusion of Philosophy.

Good for them. As I write this, they’ve raised nearly £9,000 toward their £30,000 fundraising goal.

(via Atheist Bus Campaign)

  • James

    I wouldn’t mind one day my child be labeled a “free thinking” child, or perhaps a “reasoning child.” All the other labels I can do without.

  • Valdyr

    How long before we get responses like: DON’T TELL ME HOW TO RAISE MY CHILDREN, FUCKING ATHEISTS! WRRRRRRAAAAAAAAARHRRRJRRRRGH!!

  • Liudvikas

    That is even less offensive than the other ads (if that’s even possible, you hardly could get less offensive), but I bet someone will be offended. I hope it sparks some interesting debate, because the point this ad is making is very important if we want to stop unfair child indoctrination.

  • http://alessamendes.blogspot.com Alessa Mendes

    Love it!!!

  • http://1minionsopinion.wordpress.com 1minion

    Belfast is already in a freak out over it, I see. Freethinker.co.uk has an article. I like the poster, myself. It’s a reminder for everyone that labels can be limiting. Kids need morals and values and manners and need to learn what’s right and wrong, but that goes for every kid, no matter what faith or lack of faith their parents claim.

    It’s unfortunate people want to earmark a generation to pre-sort them into ideologies before they even know how to think for themselves. And depending on the label, some kids may never even get the chance to try that.

  • TXatheist

    This is a dilemma for me. I hope my path of the Religious Education program at UU teaches my son plurality of religion but I don’t want my son to think he has to be atheist cause Daddy is. I will try to be factual with god topics but my wife seems to make “spiritual” points about god so he will get some balance between god and no god.

  • muggle

    Fighting the state-funded faith-based schools is a good goal but I’m not sure how I feel about the billboard.

    If I saw it, without knowing the story behind it, I’d probably just think it was an anti-discriminatory billboard, racist (though I’d wonder why only two white kids then; um, why are there only two white kids?) and gender stereotypes included, and that would be a good thing.

    However, much as I agree with Dawkins that it is child abuse to scare kids with hell and the wrath of “God”, I do have a problem with saying you can’t raise your kid in your religious beliefs. This hits a cord with me perhaps because I had so many Christians take issue with my raising my child unchurched. I felt I had as much right to raise her Atheist as they did to raise theirs in their faith and I still say that’s true. If you don’t allow parents to raise their children in their religion(s) or absence thereof, it’s not religious freedom.

    I do think this particular religious freedom needs some tempering but it’s a careful line to be tread, especially here in the US.

    (I can’t really address England since I’m not familiar with their laws concerning religious freedom. I only know they have some religious liberty but they also have the C of E they are taxed to support and religious classes in the schools that some have told me on-line have mostly become comparative religion classes. I also have a sense that religion hasn’t flourished there like it has the states because they have the State church.)

    Anyway, we need to stop practices that are downright immediately dangerous like denying medical treatment and exorcisms. And I’d like to see some standards met for Biblical teachings at least akin to ones there are for movies. Something in the buybull that would be R-rated in a movie, should be reserved for the same age limitations as in a movie, same for PG, PG-13, etc.

    But the tricky part is how exactly do you accomplish this and preserve religious liberty? It’s a fine line — and a tricky one — to tread and to go too far over it is a bigger danger to those of us in a religious minority than it is to those abusing their children with religion’s scare tactics.

    Also, if you can’t scare children with “God”, what about scaring them with other things? Even realistic things. Like the results of immoral acts. If you pick on other kids at school, no one will like you? Even the Supernanny’s (and let’s face it, she’s terrific with kids) naughty corner could be interpreted that way. What’s the other aleternative? Teach kids no displine and let them run wild? Um, they don’t learn any self-discipline that way. And, is also, abusive to kids too. (Don’t believe me; watch an episode of Supernanny.)

    Perhaps the time has come to draw the line but we’d better be careful just how we draw it.

  • Revyloution

    This is one I have to disagree with. As a parent, I see parenting as a way of passing on your heritage. In the animal kingdom, this is mostly just genetic information. We humans have invented culture, and the only way its passed on is through teaching.

    I value empirical thinking, so I put that onus on my child. When I find her frustrated, I sit her down and help her use her brain to solve the problem. I proudly call my child a free thinker, a rationalist, even a scientist.

    Labels are important to human thought. We naturally group things into categories, then search for patterns. Telling someone they shouldn’t label their children according to the moral philosophy your teaching them is like telling them they shouldn’t label them by their gender, or grade.

    Then we come to the theists. To say whether its moral or not to label their child a Muslim, or a Sikh, or Hindu, I first have to understand their position. Whether or not I think they have a Universal Truth, they obviously do. If I knew there was a life after death, I would feel obligated to do everything I could to make sure my child would get there. Thus, by their own moral philosophy, it is moral to use labels as one way of helping to ensure their child knows the One True Religion.

    My brother inlaw asked me advice about raising his new daughter. A couple of years later he told me it was the best advice anyone gave him:

    Raising a child is training a wild animal to be human.

  • Bill

    Here’s an excellent posting on why Freedom of Religion is impossible.

  • weas

    oddly, that’s how my (baptist reverend father) raised me. I was the “rev’s kid” and the “pastors kid”…but never the baptist kid…etc. He left all that up to me

  • Stephen P

    @Liudvikas and others: putting this sign up in Belfast is a bit like putting up a sign advertising bacon in Riyadh or Islamabad. Totally inoffensive to reasonable people – but in a location where reasonable people are in short supply.

    But yes, Belfast badly needs some campaigns like this. The separation of children into different faith-based schools was one of the main causes of the troubles in Northern Ireland. When thugs out on the streets of Belfast encountered a stranger, the standard question was “which school did you go to?” And if you gave the “wrong” answer, you got beaten up – or worse.

    Good for the BHA.

  • Flah

    I have to disagree with Dawkins here. My child goes to church with us because we go to church — it’s part of what we do as a family. But when he gets to be an age where he can reason on his own, and if he decides that religion is not what he wants, he will know that I will support him.

  • http://www.weaseltrap.com marfita

    Hey, I had to grow up going to church! It didn’t hurt me to grow up Presbylutheran (or whatever it was). Why should kids nowadays get off easy? Whiny little so-and-sos. There are much more harmful labels to avoid sticking on children. Let’s work on those instead.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    When my children and I were discussing religion and I explained that Granny was a Christian, their Nan was an agnostic and bother their parents were atheists they asked “what are we?”. I told them that they had to make up their own minds. My job as a father was to give them options to choose from, not to choose their options for them.

  • PubMan

    Muggle said:

    If you don’t allow parents to raise their children in their religion(s) or absence thereof, it’s not religious freedom.

    Muggle seems to be confusing religious freedom with parental freedom. If you believe people should be free to believe in whatever religion they like (or none), then don’t you have to accept their children should be free to believe in whatever religion they like (or none)?

    Or is it ok to have religious freedom for adults, but religious control for children?

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    “Raising a child is training a wild animal to be human.”
    I patently disagree with this statement and actually find it derogatory, arrogant, patronizing, and just downright awful – sorry.

    As for the billboard, I think it’s wonderful. Our local a/a group has been discussing putting up a billboard in our area to get the word out that we exist and, while I know we’re looking at doing something along the lines of “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.”, I, as a parent, would LOVE to have this billboard instead.
    Maybe, if we get more members (and more $$) we can do both.
    However, I think it’d be better if the second line read: Give me the tools to choose for myself.

  • Benoit

    Nice ad, the kids look yummy. A little old for most people’s tastes, but they should be nice and tender after 8-10 hours at very low heat.

  • TXatheist

    As the Dad of a 5 year old who is very well behaved I agree with the honest irony of the phrase…Raising a child is training a wild animal to be human….because he always tests his boundaries.

  • http://oscargecko.blogspot.com Oscar Gecko

    This is the best billboard I have seen yet. I love it.

    Please don’t label me.
    Let me grow up and choose for myself.

    And I agree with the BHA on this part… It is awesome.

    The BHA campaigns for inclusive schools with no religious admissions policies, balanced teaching about different beliefs and values, and no compulsory ‘collective worship’.

    But, I feel that this part contradicts the prior part. How can it be balanced if it cuts any belief into pieces?

    The BHA also campaigns to combat the growing threat to education from creationism and pseudoscience…

    But, regardless, all different faiths, whether you believe in them or not, the values of Christians and Muslims (and many more) have shaped our world and still effect it today.

  • Bradm

    I have a question for those of you who don’t support labeling children. Do you think the same thing about labels of nationality? American child, French child, Mexican child, etc.?

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    @ Bradm, are you asking about my NorthAmerEurAsian kids, my half-breed kids, my bi-racial kids, or the kids that came from the Sovereign Republic of MyWomb? ;)

  • TXatheist

    Brad, a kid born in America doesn’t have a choice. A parent who tells their 8 year old they are christian and must go to church if the parents force them. Nothing will change their nationality but their religion can change.

  • Polly

    Do you think the same thing about labels of nationality? American child, French child, Mexican child, etc.?

    A young child is no more “American” than Xian. Until they can, at the very least, perceive what it means to be X, they’re just children. I think that’s implicit in the fact that states protect children while denying them most of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

  • Timothy

    The only label that matters is Human being.

  • Miko

    I find it’s interesting that they’ve thrown a few nonreligious labels in the background (the ones I can see with a bit of guessing due to partial cover are “libertarian child,” “post-modernist child,” “marxist child,” “capitalist child,” and “anarchist child”). I can’t imagine anyone actually using “post-modernist child,” so I’d have rather seen that bit of real-estate instead used for something like “British child,” “Irish child,” or “Scottish child.”

    Brad, a kid born in America doesn’t have a choice. A parent who tells their 8 year old they are christian and must go to church if the parents force them. Nothing will change their nationality but their religion can change.

    Their religion can change when they grow older, since their parents lose a degree of control on them. As long as the government maintains a monopoly on ruling a given geographical area, it’ll be true that changing their nationality is more difficult, but there’s no reason that they should be forever bound by where they were born than that they should be forever bound to who their parents were.

    I have a question for those of you who don’t support labeling children. Do you think the same thing about labels of nationality? American child, French child, Mexican child, etc.?

    Yes, and more so. One point of not labeling religions is that religious divisions tend to create distinction and hostility between people, leading to playground animosity, strife, and violence not because of any inherent distinction between the children but merely because their parents were dumb or cruel enough to try to force them to wear a certain label.

    This problem extends naturally to nationality as well, with strife between ethnic groups or reprisals against immigrants. In fact, it’s an even worse problem because people tend to keep the same patterns into adulthood, to worry about people crossing an invisible line in order to “steal our jobs,” to claim that people born on one side of that line are inferior to people born on the other side and have lesser rights, to restrict the rights of people to associate with, trade with, or visit people who live on the other side of the line, to assert that bombing foreign cities is justifiable if it’ll save the lives of “our” soldiers who would otherwise be attacking the people of those foreign countries by conventional means, to assert that war is not the moral equivalent of murder, etc. Almost all of the problems we see in the world today stem from the fallacy of the border and that within each set of borders a certain group of people can, by any means whatever, secure a right to themselves to absolute rule over those within the border and to murder and plunder those on the other side of the border without restraint.

    I may obey the decrees of the rulers of the area where I live to the extent that what they want agrees with what I would do anyway and/or to the extent that I think they can enforce their will upon me through the use of violence (less often than you might think, given the massive number of laws), but I have no nationality. Children likewise have no nationality, and I can only hope that if they aren’t taught to believe this as a child then they won’t believe it as an adult either. (Of course, as rational adults they would be free to voluntarily give allegiance to any organization of their choice. But in cases where the opportunity to offer allegiance is not voluntary but coercive, there is no way of making such a choice, even if the individual sincerely wants to do so.)

  • Laura

    I have a question for those of you who don’t support labeling children. Do you think the same thing about labels of nationality? American child, French child, Mexican child, etc.?

    There is a fundamental difference that you are ignoring to try and get your point accross. I am American because I was born in america. If I move to england or ireland, or africa, i will still be american. My child, if born in that country, provided he or she isnt born on a military base, is born English or Irish or African, or even irihs-american, or english-american, depending on how these sorts of phrases pan out. It is where you are born and your ancestry.

    Religiousness is a moral/ philosophical choice. It is something that I can change with no issue other then the social one applied to me. If i am born into a catholic family and decide that i am in actuallity an atheist, they might not take kindly to that, but the child can do it. I can not, on the other hand, today decide that I am Italian. I’m not, and that would be a lie, and not even a good lie.

    The point of this ad, i would think, is that labeling a child that prematurely causes them to stop thinking of all their options and start thinking of it in the same way one thinks of nationality. That it is unchanging and no matter what they do they will be Catholic/Jewish/Buddhist, whatever. Religion is a organic thing, though, and telling parents to realize that their child might not share their beliefs, and as such shouldnt be told they do, is, in my honest opinion, a good thing to do. Even if it starts as only a billboard now, in the future, with the seeds we plant now, it might be a common thing (read, probably not but we can hope, right?) for parents to tell their children that relgion is something that the child must choose for themselves.

    Throughout this whole thing i am unfairly attributing the religion title to atheism, but it is just easier that way and I am sure you all know what I am saying anyway.

  • Curtis

    I just had this sort of conversation with my 6 and 7 year old children. One of their friends just got baptized in a Mormon church. We said it was because he was the son of Mormons and this is how the Mormons think god wants them to behave.

    My son said he did not believe in god and we said something like “You are the son of atheists but you have not learned about religion and god yet. When you get older, you will learn more about religion and make up your mind. Whatever you decide will be your choice not ours.” We also mentioned that we hoped there would be comparative religion classes in high school.

    During this conversation I realized, I need to teach them more about religion. They do not know what the Bible is or what a church is for. It very difficult for us to mention god or religion without getting sarcastic.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Curtis wrote:

    During this conversation I realized, I need to teach them more about religion. They do not know what the Bible is or what a church is for. It very difficult for us to mention god or religion without getting sarcastic.

    This brings to mind a Unitarian Universalist joke … do you know what the definition of a “Unitarian Universalist” is?

    An atheist (or agnostic) with kids.

    :^)

  • http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com Dale McGowan

    @Flah:

    I have to disagree with Dawkins here. My child goes to church with us because we go to church — it’s part of what we do as a family. But when he gets to be an age where he can reason on his own, and if he decides that religion is not what he wants, he will know that I will support him.

    It’s interesting how often this leap is made. You are not disagreeing with Dawkins here. He has repeatedly affirmed the right of families to engage in religious practices, so long as the child has a clear freedom of choice in the long run.

  • wackadoodle

    nothing wrong with raising a child in a religion, infact I use the same method to instill other values into them. My children have spent their entire life being told that the only way to get into eternal paradise is to be a loyal democrat. All non-democrats are sinners bound for limbo at best and the lake of fire at worst.

    Sure they spend their most impressionable years having this message drilled into their heads atleast once a week, but they’re completely free to choose a different political party when they get older. My weekly sermons on how all good in the universe comes from the Democratic party won’t have influenced their choice in the least.

  • http://base8.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    That campaign may be even more challenging than all the others. All the “won’t somebody please think of the children” folks will be terrified that we’re trying to lure their children away from “The One True God”.

  • Carlie

    I love this. It’s subtle, non-confrontational, strikes at freethinkers the same way as religious people, makes you think – it’s really clear if someone objects to this that they’re just full of it.

  • Neon Genesis

    On the subject of what’s wrong with labels of nationality or race, you should read Zora Neale Hurston.

  • Revyloution

    “I patently disagree with this statement and actually find it derogatory, arrogant, patronizing, and just downright awful – sorry.”

    Wow, I’ve never had a response to my parenting ideas that was that negative. A quick defense is called for.

    First, I dont think that wild animals are in a poor state. They live by the harsh rules of nature, where altruism and compassion are rare (remember I said rare, not non-existent). Living as a human animal outside of human society would not be a bad thing.

    My point of being ‘human’ means to be a part of a society. That does not come naturally, it must be taught. This is obvious when you visit the homes of children who have minimal instruction on how society will expect them to behave. Or when you visit a society that has cultural norms radically different from those you are used to.

    I also think you might assume that I ascribe to the old negative reinforcement techniques of the older generations of animal trainers. I find those techniques to be antiquated, and long dismissed as counter productive. Positive reinforcement for desired behavior is by far the best training tool for all animals. And all humans are animals.

    And lastly, the worst possible evidence: the anecdotal evidence. My 7 year old daughter is often complimented on her critical thinking, polite manners, and gentle disposition.

    I don’t think that behaving like a moral person comes naturally. I’ve never seen any evidence that humans are naturally a moral creature. Quite the contrary, we have a history full of the terrible things we will do to each other. To see this, you don’t need to read the histories of mans wars, you just need to leave a room full of 4 year olds unsupervised.

  • AxeGrrl

    Revyloution wrote:

    My point of being ‘human’ means to be a part of a society. That does not come naturally, it must be taught.

    Then how do animal ‘societies’ exist and thrive?

  • MH

    I think the UK atheists are tilting at windmills with this one. At some level they’re asking parents not to raise their children. Children naturally model their parents behavior and will self identify with their parents’ religion. When they become adults they may or may not continue to do so.

    If the motivation for this campaign are British parochial schools, then it seems they’re not getting that message across.

  • Revyloution

    Then how do animal ’societies’ exist and thrive?

    There are so many, and all have different adaptations. Bees have a genetic hierarchy in their make up. No bee will stop to help another, and no drone can aspire to be the queen. Lions use a system of strength. The strongest lion will get a harem of females, the weakest are cast out and survive alone. Chimpanzees wont allow anyone else to care for their children, and will often attack and kill chimps from other troops that enter their territory.

    There are many different ways for a social animal groups to organize themselves. Some of them even require teaching from the adults to the juveniles. None of the other animal societies require the deep compassion and altruism present in human societies, so its a safe conclusion that those qualities are not required for a social animal to exist and thrive.
    Example:
    The alpha lion has no sympathy for other male lions, nor even for his own cubs. The female lions will readily accept any male lion that can defeat the current pride patriarch. Lion society looks more like a marriage of convenience than passion. If everyone can keep up, the get to be part of the group, if they fall behind, abandonment.

    Only humans have developed a way to codify and transmit that societal information beyond the immediate generation (writing) That unique innovation creates complex societies where the basic survival information cannot be transmitted simply through genetics or parental example training. Formal operant conditioning is the only way to transfer the huge quantity of information a human will need to live in our world.

  • Wendy

    AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

  • Jacqui

    I think it is hilarious that Almighty God has arranged for the “Humanist Society” to “choose” Christian children who are obviously very happy, and thus showing how great a Christian upbringing is, to front the campaign. Psalm 14:1 comes to mind. With every blessing to you from someone who is very grateful that she was sent to Sunday School as a child. This put me in good stead when my life fell apart in 1994 and I was able to draw on the faith that was taught me as a child. I know now that there definitely is a God.

  • Abbie

    Ya know, that ad actually doubles as a message about transgendered youth.

  • muggle

    PubMan, get real. Of course, children are controlled by their parents. Well, hopefully. Sadly, less and less parents are controlling their children and what we have as a result are a bunch of wild animals.

    And check the law. People don’t have full rights until they reach the age of majority. That’s because they don’t have the maturity to handle it. Duh. I have heard people argue that the age of majority should be changed to 16 but I’ve yet heard anyone argue that it should be 6. The reason is obvious.

    Raising a child is training a wild animal to be human.

    Absofuckinglutely! Somehow I don’t think realizing this makes me a bad mother or grandmother. Like you, I got compliments on my daughter all the time growing up (some seemed mystified that this was in spite of her being unchurched). I’d think do you think this is some freaking accident. No, it’s due to hard work on my behalf. And, yes, different training methods. I broke the cycle of abuse thank you very much.

    My grandson’s tougher because he’s a stubborn, rebellious cuss like his grandmother and rather hyperactive but, yeah, he too has more civilized manners than a hell of a lot of kids his age.

    Just like the lion cub couldn’t survive on it’s own, neither could people cubs and I’m sorry but whoever’s taking the trouble to nurture said people cubs deserves the right to raise them as they see fit, including in their religous rituals (or absence thereof). They should only be interfered with when they aren’t taking proper care of said cub under their responsibility.

    Like it or not, kids are not fully developed, mature individuals and do have to be guided. When they are fully developed, mature individuals — or when the laws of their land recognize them as such — then they will make their own way in this world. Until them, no, PubMan, (or any other idiot who thinks parents should concede control to the cubs’ “freedom of conscience”) they don’t have said liberty. Deal with that and grow up yourself.

    And what the hell is wrong with calling an American kid American? Or a kid in India Indian and so on and so forth. Um, it’s just stating a fact. Deal with that too unless you have accomplished your creepy new one government world order which all humans must cowtow to.

    And how the hell is this religious liberty for kids supposed to work exactly? Kids of religious families get to stay home alone while their parents attend church or temple? The Atheist has to allow their child to attend church if they express an interest?

    Why do I suspect that those promoting taking away parents’ rights to raise their children in their worldview assume that kids will naturally see that their worldview is superior to Mommy and Daddy’s? Pretty fucked up and egotistical if you ask me. Odds are kids would choose whoever’s raising them anyway, at least before a certain age. Let them label themself and they will label themself what their caregiver would have anyway.

    This is making a big deal over nothing.

    And, no, it doesn’t mean the kid will grow up so freaking brainwashed they won’t change their mind. I was Christian when I was seven. The nones are growing. That’s not because a kid raised with a label was unable to change that label as an adult.

  • jemand

    oh, wow, didn’t even recognize the possibility of it being a message in support of transgender youth. That’s pretty good Abbie.

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  • http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com Mariano

    How about this for an ad?:
    Parents stating “Don’t label me a ‘child abuser’ or ‘brainwasher’ let me raise my children without interfering.”

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Mariano, how is that different from “don’t label me a child molester, let me touch children however I want without interfering”?

    There’s a different between education and indoctrination, and it’s a difference that you are apparently unable to see.


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