Englishman Calling Religion a ‘Fairy Tale for Adults’ Could Be Arrested, Say Police

John Richards, a retiree living in Boston (in England), decided to put the following sign on his door:

John Richards with his sign (via Boston Standard)

Religions are fairy stories for adults

Seems harmless. People display their religious beliefs on their property all the time — a cross in a window, a “god loves you” welcome mat, etc.

But, because he’s an atheist, the police are telling him he could be arrested for his “threatening” message:

[Richards] told The Standard: “The police said I could be arrested if somebody complained and said they were insulted, but the sign was up two years ago and nobody responded or smashed the window.

“I am an atheist and I feel people are being misled by religion. I wanted to show people that if they thought they were alone there was at least one other person who thought that.

“I accept that the police emphasised the words could lead to an arrest but the implication is a threat to free speech which surely should be fought.”

The Public Order Act dictates that it is an offence to display any sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and could cause distress.

Apparently, a sign imploring adults to grow up is more offensive than a cross informing everyone who doesn’t believe in the fairy tale that they’re going to spend eternity in hellfire…

I think we just figured out a way to arrest every religious leader in England. Victory is ours!

… or we call the cops out for this witch-hunt. Because in a country that supports free speech, no one deserves punishment for simply stating the truth.

I would love to see other locals support Richards by creating their own signs proclaiming religion to be a fairy tale for adults and putting that up in every window of their house. Let’s see how that goes :)

(via New Humanist)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • 0xabad1dea

    Based on what I’ve read and what friends have told me about their experiences, England’s “free speech” is in even worse state than America’s, really. And some parts of mainland Europe can be worse yet.

    • pete084

       I beg to differ, the real problem is our libel laws, and the misused Section 5 of the Public Order Act, otherwise free speech is alive and well in the Untied Kingdom.

       Oh yeah, I forgot the Twitter joke trial (#twitterjoketrial).

      As with most laws, it is the interpretation, or misinterpretation, of the laws that is the real problem, but we have the Human Rights Act as a safety net for free speech.

      Incitement to hatred is probably one of the better laws, although in the case of Mr Richards it is strained to breaking point, and whilst the police can threaten arrest they have to put a cast iron case to the Crown Prosecution Service who have to decide if it is in the public interest to pursue the case, or indeed if there is a case to answer.

      The reality is that Mr Richards is unlikely to be prosecuted, as someone has pointed out, if he can be prosecuted then so can every christian who threatens eternal damnation.

      • Michael

        I’d say the problem is not so much with the interpretation of the law as much as the number of laws passed with the assurance that common sense will be used in applying them. Hint: It never is.

  • BenOfSocal

    Wouldn’t it be nice to see identical signs go up in windows all across England?  Think they could pull it off?

    • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

      Even if most people agree with the Guy, People are too apathetic to do anything. Religion just isn’t as important to people over here. If someone had a sign in there window like that in say, Tennessee what would happen?

  • Michael

    Pressure is growing to reform this law, which has been used among other things to arrest someone for saying Woof to a dog.

    http://reformsection5.org.uk/

    On the plus side it’s getting religious people more frequently than atheists, but it still needs to go.

  • Stephen

    Seems like there are two options: either legally require the man to remove his message, and make precedent for people to call for the removal of anything and everything they don’t like to see in public, or to tell his neighbors to grow the hell up.

    • http://winlb.wordpress.com/ ToonForever

      Apparently his neighbors haven’t said a thing.  After all, he said the sign’s been up for two years without a whisper.  Some douchenozzle cop apparently saw it and notified him of this BS.  I’ve heard of such before from a couple UK friends.  Unbelievably backwards.

  • http://www.quietatheist.com/ Slugsie

    I’m game for putting such a sign up. I’m also pretty sure that if something like this ended up in court it would be demolished very quickly.

    @0xabad1dea We don’t have a freedom of speech enshrined in our law as such, in fact not many countries in Europe do as far as I know. It’s a generally understood principle that we do have the freedom so say what we want (with similar limits to what you have in the USA), and GB is also a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights which also grants the FoS. But it’s all a bit of a mess really, and there any many laws on the books that infringe on FoS.

    • Carla

      Does the bias against the atheist in this case have anything to do with the Queen being the head of the church? I mean, does religious speech get preference because the Head of State is also the head of the official church? Just curious.

      • http://www.quietatheist.com/ Slugsie

        I’m relatively confident that that is not the case. Pretty much any speech that could be construed by a mythical ‘someone’ as offensive will be asked to stop under section 5 of the Public Order Act, although religious speech of any brand often feels like it gets more lee way.

        The link given above by Michael gives some good background on section 5.
        http://reformsection5.org.uk/

        • Carla

          Thank you. That’s a very confusing law…

      • Michael

        It’s not biased against atheists. A cafe was told to stop playing religious dvds under the same law. Opponents of this terminally incoherent law are very eager to point out they’re backed by the National Secular Society and the Christian Institute.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FIVSLIKCDK3GG6HBUSP5XR4MDQ kb0nnd

    Would a complaint filed against churches displaying torture or death devices win or lose in the long run? Those crucifixes creep me out every time I see one!
    Also, some churches in the US have a signboard used to display various anti-human sayings (the best position is on your knees mumbo-jumbo), these offend me as well.

    • Michael

      In the long run it would lose, as would the complaint against the man in this article. At most they could expect a night in the cells and a lot of stress until it got thrown out of court, which is what the reform campaign seeks to end.

  • Verimius

    Please read the rest of the story:

    “LincolnshirePolice have not advised Mr
    Richards that he faces arrest for the specific posters he is displaying
    and he is not committing any offences by doing so.”

    http://www.lincs.police.uk/News-Centre/News-Releases-2012/Atheist%20Poster%20Story,%20Boston%20-%20The%20Facts.html

    • jdm8

      How does HQ know whether a policeman made such a comment?

  • Pcranny
  • Sue Blue

    Displaying a small sign like this is illegal but huge church marquees with ignorant and bigoted “messages” on them aren’t?  Displaying gruesome images of crucifixion in religious shop windows where kids can see them isn’t?  My bet is that one  pious asshole happened to notice this guy’s little sign and the police, charged with enforcing the Public Order, thought it would be easier to intimidate one man rather than try to prosecute a church or company or other large, wealthy enterprises.

    • Lance Heuberger

       The law has hit Christians far more often than atheists, so your comment is of profoundly no relevance whatsoever.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002624483728 Hunter Cares

        Your point is artificial, as there are more far more Christians than atheists. Thus, the odds are they’d be involved more. Further, this sign is harmless. Whereas the signs by Christians have been excessively extreme.

        • Lance Heuberger

          In the last 5 years or so there have been many signs saying similar things put up by atheist groups, and this is the first time it has caused the police to notice.

          “Further, this sign is harmless. Whereas the signs by Christians have been excessively extreme.”
          That’s a ridiculous and laughable claim. What objective evidence can you marshal in support of it?

        • Scarey07

          Your point is artificial, as there are more far more Christians than atheists……………………..Hunter where are your stats to affirm this?By my reckoning since most churches/places of worship other than Catholic are poorly attended and forced to close I don’t see how you can say there are more Christians than atheists 

          • LaughingAtYou

             Seriously Scareyo7? Use google. There are MANY more Christians than their are Atheists and I’m not going to hold your hand when a 10 second google search could solve your ridiculous “doubts”.

      • G. Simms

         And Christians have killed more people that any other movement in history!

        • Lance Heuberger

          If you’re talking about normal murders, then that may be true, since there have been more Christians than atheists throughout history. But if you’re talking about mass murderers – well, atheists win the championship on that one. Almost a millennium of Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts, Crusades and “religious wars” only managed to kill under 1 million people. Whereas atheists Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and others have been responsible for 90 million deaths. Sorry dude, you’re just wrong.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3DRU6XHR2PFF5V4RCW2Z5Z7IZU Thinking Southerner

             Thank You!  Now I see the light.  If you murder fewer people, you’re innocent.  Mao was educated by a missionary, Stalin was a devout Russian Orthodox before the revolution and still kept a bible in his bedroom.  Pol Pot was just a megalomaniac.  By the way, you left out Hitler.  The devout Catholic.  I believe your “under 1 million people” remark just doesn’t survive examination.

            • Lance Heuberger

              I thought atheists were “rational” and knew that 90 million is almost two orders of magnitude greater than 1 million.

              “Mao was educated by a missionary” – LOL! The question is of course not whether he was educated by the missionary, but whether the missionary was the one who imputed ideas into him such as to be willing to sacrifice millions of your own people in order to pursue your deluded goals. And also whether the missionary’s ideas came from his Christianity. If you actually have any HARD evidence that this occurred, then show it – I am genuinely interested.  The same goes for Stalin’s and Hitler’s religious connections. Otherwise you’re just talking out of your ass.

              My numbers aren’t unreasonable – for example, the Inquisition only managed to execute about 2,500 people.

              • Haha

                 You’re an idiot, almost all the people you posted WERE religious. Good job believing everything you read.

                • physphilmusic

                  Hahahahahahaha, you’re trying to say Mao and Stalin were religious? You might as well say PZ Myers is religious.

  • Guest

    Unfortunately Westminster no longer supports free speech in Britain, they’re too busy pandering to politically correct, spineless religious folk. It doesn’t help that that the media in this country fall in line behind them…

  • LeetroyJnkns

    All it takes is one radical Muslim to threaten to kill him and they will force him to remove the sign. The UK is probably the most backward country in the West when it comes to “blasphemy.”

    • Thomas

      … come to italy and you will be surprised ;-)

  • mobathome

    Has anyone seen any sign of opposition to this reform?  If there are such groups, they are as evident as god.

  • Fake

    All religion is mental illness and should be treated as such.

    • C Sitzes

      Unfortunately religion is a delusion and there is no treatment for delusion. We have drugs for psychotics, but nothing for delusional people.

      • Angeferh

        Are you sure?

    • Kaydenpat

      How is religion a mental illness? Please explain this silly comment. 

      • Tangible666

        Someone decides to frame the scope of their consciousness and morality on some misguided, outdated, and redundant texts written by a bunch of medieval baboons on concepts that cannot be proven, have no basis on the world as we know it, and include accounts of things that have never been documented before, or since, and have no basis in the reality that has been extensively documented and explored by countless researchers and scientists trying to gain an understand of our surroundings.  Who is silly?  I’d rather be “silly” than an ignorant moron taking the word of some fool who probably drank from metallic cups with a high lead content and participated in alchemy involving mercury.  You don’t have much of a background in science and/or history outside of the crap in the Bible, Keydenpat.  Leave the smart stuff those who have been there and done that.

  • ThomasAquinas

    I strongly believe in Catholic Christianity (didn’t used to), and I believe that the God Who made us also gave us free will, and chooses not to take it away from us (though He certainly could).  That being the case, I believe He means for us to respect others’ free will, and so while I strongly disagree with the content of that sign, I believe the greater evil would be to arrest the man for exercising his freedom of speech.  Besides, I cannot fault a man for acting on his conscience even if I believe that what that conscience leads him to do is the wrong thing–and from his words it sounds to me as though he is indeed acting on his conscience.  That makes it even easier for me to support him and pray that he might know mercy, and not be arrested.  That would only appear to prove him right about religion anyway.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=723465194 Paul ✯ Madley

       If only all theists were this reasonable :o)

      • Acebear

        They’re a one in a billion

  • Rodgepodge

    He should be done for disrimination against children. The sign should say “Religion is a fairy tale for adults and children”.

  • keddaw

    According to the police (like you can take their word for anything, but still…): “the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting.”

    Religious people are, by definition, not reasonable.

  • colleen

    I find signs promoting religion to be insulting and quite often threatening with promises of eternal damnation so how come no one is being arrested??

  • http://NoMormonInWhiteHouse.blogspot.com/ Timothy Lee Unrine

    That is exactly why we kicked King George’s all-powerful, Empiral Red Coats out of the United States.
     
    Religious freedom would be hard, we essentially he is calling the Queen a liar, since Henry VIII acquired Defender of the Faith, Head of the English Church for the Royals.
     
    But can be expected from a little island nation which gives so much money to a “royal’ family which has no real function in government.  (Essentially  in parades, opening up Parliament, Royals are no different from the horses in a parade, they look pretty all dressed up, but someone still needs a shovel to pick up their #2s)

  • Rory Mcclean

    In my local high street there are often religious groups ‘preaching’ . I am shocked at what they get away with in their rantings. The tell everyone that they are going to hell with descriptions that would frighten a child. They condemn gays. In my opinion that is threatening. but like all religious crap it seems to be one rule for the believer and another for everyone else.

  • Pcranny

    Here in the UK, the wingnut count is very low. As I said in my previous post, nobody is getting arrested here; it’s a classic case of a journalist not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.
    It’s extremely unlikely that anyone will complain to the police about this.
    Even if some one did the most likely response would be “Don’t you just hate it when that happens? – next please”
    If a complaint was pursued, the Crown Prosecution Service would take about 3 milliseconds to throw it out.
    If such a complaint ever got to court, no Magistrate or jury would convict.

    OK? – Very few wingnuts here, can we move on now?

  • Cam8754

    I’m getting a bumper sticker for my car from eBay

    • http://www.facebook.com/dtmichaels Devin Michaels

      Let me know who you order from, I want one to. My email is dtmichaels@att.net

  • http://www.facebook.com/dtmichaels Devin Michaels

    I truly don’t find this sign offensive at all.  As a matter of fact, I truly support Mr. Richards.  Makes me want to put up a sign on my front door.

  • Corwin1681

    really? what if I am offended by religious messages? will those people get arrested too?

  • Scott

    I support the guy 100%, I’m even printing my own sign to put up :)

  • Clarkym1980

    What a guy!

  • CQMI

    I see it this way:  a cross is/was a device used for torture and execution.  Waving one in my face is a threat of same.

  • G Jones

    I thought it was a free country where one can express their beliefs! Religions must be very fragile if such a tiny attack on their faith causes so much panic…. Are they that worried that their followers are going to start thinking for themselves!

  • Nickworley53

    if one person preaches his own religion  he is deemed to have mental health issues, add a few more then its a weird cult, multiply that by millions then you have a religion corporate business control of the masses. I am an athiest living in Galway Ireland i recently saw a guy in a supermarket wearing a t shirt displaying the wording ”  To stupid to understand science, Try Religion ” i had to laugh

  • Andrew
  • Andrew

    Who is deluded, who is irrational? Who believes in fairy tales?

  • Michael Corry

    As Peranny says the wingnut count is low in the UK but they’re like wire coathangers – leave them in the dark and they multiply.  I’ve been around long enough to see the harmless eccentric turn into the vicious wingnut  more times than I care to remember.
    Americans have to realise that UK law is much older than theirs and individual freedom is not the primary aim – individual protection is.
    The legislation quoted here is part of a growing body of equality legislation.  It’s a trade off between the freedom to express genuine opinions and the freedom not to be harassed and insulted.  It’s the same kind of thinking that barred Westboro Baptist Church from coming here.
    Like any trade off it’s a balancing act and one that can be misused.
    One thing it’s not is a charter for rogue cops – there has to be a complaint before the police can take action.  On the other hand once a complaint has been made the police are pretty much constrained to do something.
    In most police forces the answer has been to visit and deliver a warning message but not to prosecute or record a formal caution.
    This is the first time to my knowledge that the “offender” has not been a religious body or individual.  The most publicised cases have been street preachers subject to complaints from LGBT people and a couple of cases Muslims vs Christians.
    For Christians this is evidence of organised persecution sanctioned by the state.
    For the rest of us it’s just evidence that we’re trying to break out of the stranglehold of religion on morality and ethics.
    In the end it’s my right to live my life without suffering your insults against your right to say what you like.
    The law says that both rights are modified – does that mean we both win or that we both lose? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.wilson.5283166 Sarah Wilson

    I’m horrified.

  • Michael Wild

    This is a topic that requires a bit of subtlety of thought, in my opinion.  Is it possible that the elderly gentleman is lonely and seeking a bit of human social interaction with the hope that perhaps he may even encounter others such as himself with whom to engage in intellectual conversation?  The problem we atheists confront is our real, or perceived,  isolation within a vast herd of vulgar minds.  We are swimmers  in an ocean of theistic evangelism.  Some among us perhaps despair and permit ourselves to be reduced to an anti-theism evangelism.  I am personally quite comfortable with simply demolishing the theories of individual believers who foist their uninvited nonsense on me.  I have no expectation of converting anyone lacking the intelligence to mature beyond anthropological, superstitious deisms and simply enjoy demonstrating to them they have no hope of converting me.  Most take it well enough to amiably assure me that they will be praying for me once they resign themselves to their inability to overcome the logic of my arguments.

    • older-woman

      I am not surprised that you are facing isolation within the larger population (I see no reason to call us a vast herd of vulgar minds, although I do love descriptive language for language sake alone.) That’s exactly what is to be experienced when you choose to be a pagan. I’m more surprised that you find it a problem. It’s what you have chosen — separation from that thing we cannot see but know is there: love, which is to me what God is.

      I respect your choice as we all do have free will, but I have always wondered how it’s possible that a pagan does not step back for a moment and wonder how it could be that one man taught for just a couple of years on earth and those spiritual teachings have influenced millions upon millions of people’s lives and thoughts and behavior for two thousand years. No one else has ever done that, to the best of my knowledge..

      It has to mean that you truly believe that all of humanity — other than you and other pagans, of course — is composed of dim-witted creatures, with the rare exception of the much smaller group of pagans who are of higher intellect. No wonder you feel alone! But what a thought — that you are part of a select group of people who are the intellectuals in our society. Given that, I wonder why you are not rising to the helm as a leader of the nation who will change our world and lead the poor masses out of their ignorant state.

      I also have wondered if pagans ever are curious…… curious enough, for example, to read the philosophical writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and to put their analytic minds to work pondering his exploration of the existence of God. I do not know what propelled me to read his writings several times, particularly given that my intelligence is so immature that it’s amazing I could bear up under his complex thought process. ( It’s also amazing, I say as an aside, that I would have ever been a faculty member in a research institution of higher learning. Another one of us must have crept into that institution as I cannot believe a pagan would have hired a person with a brain that does not process with your speed.)

      I will not be praying for you. I don’t see a reason to do so. However, I do hope that you develop a little curiosity. That actually is the sign of an active mind.

  • http://twitter.com/Oldphrt Fred Scuttle

    Unless evidence to the contrary is provided the old chap is posting the truth. That’s why those with imaginary friends don’t like it.

    • older-woman

      Atheists believe that somethingness came from nothing. To me, that requires a wild imagination — as wild an imagination as believing in Santa Claus.

  • Ostro

    Since about the age of 5 my son has been a natural atheist (he’s now 9). He just didn’t get it. Where is this being; why do people believe in something they can’t see? He thought his classmates weird for believing in Santa Claus, fairies, elves, angels, etc. too (and many of them apparently still believe in such things) and was often admonished at school for being disrespectful. My wife and I never discussed or encouraged his nonreligious take on the world, although we did encourage reflective critical thought and evidence-based reasoning in a very general way, and also answered his questions on a huge variety of topics honestly and in an unbiased way. Still, he drew his own specific conclusions vis à vis religion (e.g. he doesn’t believe in God, but “believes in Jesus”, i.e. that Jesus probably existed). We constantly remind him to keep his mouth shut and ignore other people’s beliefs so that he doesn’t get into trouble. A world with religion is not a world that is safe for my child; and a world with political Islam is downright deadly.

  • FU

    Next time my neighbor puts up a cross in his window im going to call the cops and tell them it offends me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626026259 Glen Hopping

    How about the flag. Patriotism is blindingly dangerous.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X