Monday, March 27, 2006

Gay Humanists support rally for free expression

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) lent its support to the Rally for Free Expression which took place in London's Trafalgar Square on Saturday 25 March 2006.

The rally was called in defense of the following statement of principle: "The strength and survival of a free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them."
The campaign to uphold freedom of expression gained support from a wide variety of groups and individuals ranging from the feisty Iranian human and women's rights campaigner Maryam Namazie (winner of the Secularist of theYear Award in 2005) to the the National Secular Society and the Free Muslims Coalition. A number of Humanist organisations and publications besides GALHA endorsed the rally. They included the British Humanist Association, Rationalist International, the Nigerian Humanist Movement and New Humanist.

Dr Evan Harris, MP, the Liberal Democrats' human rights spokesman and a GALHA vice-president, addressed the rally, together with Maryam Namazie, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
GALHA's secretary, George Broadhead, commented: "As gay humanists we feel very strongly that free expression is of paramount importance and this should include the right to speak out against the homophobic stance taken by many religionists including the Catholic Church which is propagating hatredof LGBT people in Eastern Europe, and some adherents of Islam who, in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been responsible for the most barbaric treatment of them."

Terry Sanderson, gay journalist and secularist commentator, said: "Attempts to portray the rally, at which I was present, as some sort of racist gathering to attack Muslims are so wide of the mark that it becomes obvious that those making these claims are themselves enemies of free expression. They are trying to manipulate the event for their own ends. Every speaker in Trafalgar Square made it clear that peace-loving Muslims are as entitled to free speech as anyone else in this country and that they, too, must be protected from the extremists who are trying to rob us all of our right to criticise and mock religion. The six hundred people who turned out for the march were people of good will, who have the interests of the whole community at heart. I saw no evidence of racism - quite the reverse, I saw a desire among the participants to create an inclusive society that is not intimidated by extremists of any kind. I have to ask the critics of this event: If you don't support free expression, what do you support?"