Petition to Stop Religious Bullying June 14, 2008

Petition to Stop Religious Bullying

I know it’s a touchy subject when certain religious teachings are described as mental abuse or child abuse.

That said, harassment laws in Britain currently do not protect children from threats of damnation, torture, and hellfire. Those threats — potentially psychologically damaging — are allowed due to the safety net of religion. It’s safe to say if religion were not involved, punishments would be given out immediately.

Nicola Holt is asking residents of the U.K. to sign a petition which reads as follows:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to update harassment laws to prohibit religious bullying aimed at children.

Reader Jason says “… every petition with over 500 signatories gets a government response explaining policy or manifesto commitments when it’s run.”

Within a couple days of being posted, the number of signatories is nearly at that threshold. If you’re from England, you can put it over the top.

You can find out more about the petition and why it exists at Nicola’s website, Stop the Nightmares.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Can i assume that we do not have laws in the U.S. to protect children from threats of damnation, torture, and hellfire either? Either we do not have them or they are never enforced.

  • That’s a dangerous proposal. While I dislike religious indoctrination as much as the next guy, I’m loath to invite a government to decide what parents can teach their children. That’s likely to backfire on freethinking parents.

    It’s better to use social change to affect what children are taught rather than the threat of governmental violence (i.e. we’ll throw you in prison if you teach your children your religion).

  • Josha

    Some could argue that raising a child without a god-belief is damaging. I know my mother is horrified that her child sees a world without a god.

    If religious threats of hell were causing a child to become physically ill or so terrified as to affect their daily life then, to me, that would be the only case where legal action could be taken. Other than that it’s a matter of free speech.

    I am reminded of the homily in James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. If something like this were said I’d find it hard to believe that this wouldn’t psychologically scar a child:

    “Ever to be in hell, never to be in heaven; ever to be shut off from the presence of God, never to enjoy the beatific vision; ever to be eaten with flames, gnawed by vermin, goaded with burning spikes, never to be free from those pains; ever to have the conscience upbraid one, the memory enrage, the mind filled with darkness and despair, never to escape; …ever to cry out of the abyss of fire to God for an instant, a single instant, of respite from such awful agony…”

  • Richard Wade

    Telling children this kind of crap is reprehensible but I have to agree with Jonathan Blake that this is a dangerous proposal. You open up a Pandora’s box when you authorize a government to determine what religious doctrine is acceptable and what is not. Better that society as a whole grows beyond these things through dialogue.

  • Darryl

    I agree with Jonathan. I heard some pretty awful things coming from the pulpit when I was a child. I have no idea how I was affected by my religious indoctrination. Maybe I can blame my faults on that. (no, probably not)

  • Cass

    Remember this is in Britain where there are already hate laws. It’s removing an exemption to bullying. It’s not that adults can’t tell children about torture, damnation and hellfire exist and could happen to them because of their actions. It’s that children can’t use religious imagery to toment another child. Also, parents couldn’t defend their child’s actions by saying this behaviour is part of his/her religious upbringing.

  • Richard Wade

    Cass, this is interesting. So these laws are about children bullying each other? Under these British hate laws, at what age does someone telling another that they’re going to burn in hell stop being bullying and start being free speech? Do the ages of both the speaker and the listener make the difference? There are several possible combinations.

  • Maria

    That’s a dangerous proposal. While I dislike religious indoctrination as much as the next guy, I’m loath to invite a government to decide what parents can teach their children. That’s likely to backfire on freethinking parents.

    It’s better to use social change to affect what children are taught rather than the threat of governmental violence (i.e. we’ll throw you in prison if you teach your children your religion).

    I agree. I can’t sign it for that very reason. I hate to say it, but it’s a slippery slope and it could open a can of worms we don’t want to open.

  • What is the definition of religious bullying. I’d probably be all for it, but it might be a tough sell to a government. I agree that’s it’s a very slippery slope.

    Besides, separation of church and state (at least in the states). Door swings both ways.

  • Cass

    Sorry Richard, I’m making assumptions that British and Canadian hate laws are similar. In Canada, bullying is a youth issue so I looked at it from that context. Here’s a link (again for Canada). It makes sense to me that religion not be exempt.

  • Cass

    I didn’t address the transition to free speech. In Canada, we don’t have the right to free speech. If you feel wronged by someone’s actions (including words), you can go to your provincial Human Rights Commission and they will investigate your complaint. Sometimes there will be a fine but sometimes it just sucks to be you. I don’t know the mechanism in the UK.

  • OMG! How can I go on living if, when I don’t believe in a god that doesn’t exist, I might be threatened with going to a place that doesn’t exist… after I’m dead and won’t be there to care?

    Mind you, the US is a far more violent place, and kids here can be subjected to real world violence and discrimination. Kids should be protected from that, but not from figments of somebody’s imagination. I advise kids in the UK who are threatened with the wrath of God to tell their wanabee tormentors about the wrath of Thor.

  • This petition is really to raise awareness of the damage that can be inflicted on children who are told of punishment in hell and who believe that hell is real.

    Religious and racial harassment laws in England extend the laws of bullying and verbal assault and provide judges with the power to impose greater penalties for religiously motivated crimes. They don’t add any crimes to the statute books but highlight race and religion as being areas where harassment can be a more sensitive issue.

    Signing this petition, as I have, doesn’t propose adding to the law or limiting a citizens’ right to free speech or to raise their children within a faith. It simply highlights the need to enforce existing laws when applied to the most extreme forms of religious abuse in the mental torture of children. It also proposes that a special case be made, as with religious and racial harassment, for harsher penalties where the religiously motivated bullying of children to indoctrinate them into a religion occurs.

    There is almost no chance of this petition getting into law but there is a small chance that it will raise public awareness and maybe make parents think about how they go about sharing their religion with their children.

  • Jason is quite right; the main point of a petition like this is not to directly change Government policy (I’m not naive enough to think that starting a petition can do that), but to start a debate and raise awareness of the issue of religious bullying. At the moment, awareness of this issue is minimal. In the UK there is a general belief that religion is no longer important or powerful. This is not the case and anything that we can do to draw people’s attention to the abuses which are taking place is a positive step.

    The freedom of speech argument against the petition is a common one. I’d like to make two points on this.

    Firstly, we should not consider it a freedom of speech issue if someone seriously psychologically tortures a child with the sole intent of manipulating them into a state of compliant terror. Children are protected from certificate 18 films, adult television programmes and other material because it is generally accepted that they are impressionable and more likely to be traumatised by exposure to these things. I fully believe that adults should have the right to read and watch what they want to; but I do not believe that we should extend that freedom to people wishing to expose children to this material. If you are a parent, consider someone showing your children hardcore bondage pornography. Is that a freedom-of-speech issue too? Or should we perhaps be considering the effect this would have on the mind of a child?

    Secondly, I think that the distinction between physical and psychological bullying is not as clear as many people assume. If you bully someone or expose them to violent imagery, it has a physical effect on the brain which is reflected in behavioural and emotional changes. The effects of religious bullying are very real indeed for the victims.

    There are two very helpful articles on Richard Dawkins’ website about this:,118,Religions-Real-Child-Abuse,Richard-Dawkins,2176,A-Letter-From-Hell,RichardDawkinsnet

    Also have a look on YouTube for ‘Hell House’. There is a tour there of a hell house with horrible, unrealistic, frightening imagery which is aimed specifically at children. Images like that (particularly the abortion scene) would not be allowed in a film aimed at children; so why should we allow the Government to treat religious groups any differently when it comes to what children are exposed to?

    The problem here is just that: inequality of application of existing legislation; and contradictory legislation on religious freedoms and the rights of children to live free from bullying and trauma. This needs to be clarified; and the special treatment that religious groups enjoy when it comes to this sort of abuse needs to be dealt with.

    If I threaten a child with torture the authorities would take action to stop it. If you’re in any doubt about the inequality here, phone the police and tell them that your child was threatened with damnation by a street preacher and see what they say.

    Nicola Holt

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