"Militant Atheist" found guilty of religious harassment
"The airport is named after one of my heroes and his view on religion was pretty much the same as mine. I thought it was an insult to his memory to have a prayer room in his airport." That was part of the evidence given in court by the self-styled "militant atheist" campaigner Harry Taylor, 59, to explain why he left anti-religious materials in the multi-faith Prayer Room of Liverpool's John Lennon Airport (pictured).
The jury of ten women and two men, at Liverpool Crown Court wasn't having it. It took them just 15 minutes to find Mr Taylor guilt of "religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress" after viewing the "grossly abusive and insulting" images in court. The cartoons -- which had been cut from newspapers, magazines and other mainstream publications -- included one showing a smiling Christ on the cross next to an advert for a brand of "no nails" glue. In another, the Pope is shown wearing a condom on his finger. Others featured Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of paradise who are told, "Stop, stop, we've run out of virgins."
The airport's chaplain, Nicky Lees, told the court she "was insulted, deeply offended and . . . alarmed" when she found the images, and contacted the police.
Harry Taylor admitted leaving the images in the Prayer Room, but argued that he had a right to challenge the view of others and to try to persuade people of faith to convert to atheism, just as people of faith had a right in law to evangelize him. He also cited childhood mistreatment at the hands of Christian Brothers, while growing up in Dublin, as the reason why he had become so "strongly anti-religious".
Harry Taylor is now on bail awaiting sentencing on 23 April. Religiously aggravated offences carry a potential seven-year prison term.
The National Secular Society have supported Mr Taylor. They claim that new laws dealing with "religiously aggravated offences" amount to a blasphemy law in another guise.
Terry Sanderson, president of the society, said: "This is a disgraceful verdict, but an inevitable one under this pernicious law. It seems incredible in the 21st Century that you might be sent to prison because someone is 'offended' by your views on their religion . . . Mr Taylor struck me as slightly eccentric and he acted in a provocative way, challenging the necessity for the prayer room. He didn't cause any damage and he didn't harm anything, nor was he threatening or abusive. Yet he might still end up behind bars because some Christian has decided they are offended. In a multicultural society, none of us should have the legal right not to be offended. This law needs to be re-examined urgently."