Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

7 surprising freedoms we enjoy in Britain

Monday, February 20th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

In an age when Theresa May seems determined to read every email you write, abolish human rights and arrest everyone on terror charges, it can feel like our freedoms are under threat (they are). However, on a more positive note, we British people enjoy some freedoms that a lot of the world does not.

Nothing on this list will be a surprise to you. However, what I think will be a surprise, is that the rest of the world does not have these freedoms. These are things we take for granted but are not always the norm.

Naming your child

In Britain, you can name a baby anything as long as the powers that be do not label it as offensive or rude. People take liberal advantage of this, regularly naming their babies after TV characters, inanimate objects or obviously incorrect spellings of real names.

This is not a freedom most of Europe enjoys: many countries have set lists of accepted names. You have to pick from the list and you cannot change the spelling.


Only wacky religious people tend to homeschool. However, you do have the option if you so wish. If you are tired of the school forcing facts down your child’s throat, you can pretend to be a teacher and give them an education yourself. You will seriously damage the child’s intellectual and social skills, but at least you will feel better.

We and around half the countries in the world enjoy this freedom. Each country has different levels of restrictions. For the rest of the world, homeschooling is illegal.


At some point in the history of the United States, the government and the people had the following conversation:

Government: “Can we take away some of the really big guns so that children stop getting massacred?”
People: “No! Keep your hands off our second amendment!”
Government: “Okay. Can we make it illegal to cross the street wherever you want?”
People: “Sure, that’s fine.”

It seems a bizarre way round to me. I like living in a culture where assault rifles are not allowed, but crossing an empty street when it is safe to do so is. But what do I know as a humble British person?

Germany also criminalises jaywalking. There is something odd about watching clearly inebriated Germans stumbling home, yet stopping at every crossing to wait for the green man.

Moving house without telling everyone

Do you find junk mail annoying? I do. When I move house, I do not want everyone to know that I have moved. I will tell the people I think are worthy of knowing: banks, utility companies, etc. For everyone else, I do not want your nuisance mail.

In Finland, when you move house, you tell the state. The state then tells everyone else. This is convenient because it means all of your banks know that you have moved house. However, what if you do not want to tell a bunch of for-profit companies about your new address?

Free healthcare, including birth control

We tend to think of free healthcare as something that all civilised countries have, with the notable exception of the United States. However, this is not always the case. Take Finland again, for example.

When you go into hospital, there is a charge per day. It is not the full cost of your hospital stay, but it is not insignificant. You also pay to visit your GP and pay higher prescription charges. For birth control, for example, you will be paying around €15 per month.

In the UK, we pay for prescriptions (not in Scotland or Wales) and dental, but these are both capped at relatively low amounts. Hospital treatment is without cost entirely (unless you want to watch the TV).

ID cards

Compulsory ID cards are overwhelmingly the norm. Britain is one of only nine countries[ref] in the world that does not have any ID cards.

Flag burning

Flag desecration varies by countries. In many, it is illegal. In some, it is prosecuted under wider laws.

In the UK, we are pretty relaxed about it. If you want to burn the Union Jack, feel free. There is no law against it. There have been some moves to tighten up on it, but none have come to fruition.

Of course, you may struggle if it is made of fire-resistant material. As this EU flag was, for example:


Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, Jack Straw was sued for being complicit in torture.

It’s a difficult issue – one one hand, torture is very bad. On the other hand, if you are able to extract information that could save lives, perhaps sometimes it could be justified? Or at least that is the argument that has been proposed by many people, including Sam Harris. At least that is the argument he made in 2005 when he published “In Defense of Torture” in the Huffington Post, though he qualifies this extensively on his website.

I personally think the argument is far more clear-cut, however.

Firstly, the evidence just isn’t there that torture works. I would like to say simply that “torture doesn’t work” but that is perhaps an unjustifiable claim. It’s very hard to do controlled trials of torture (thankfully) but there is evidence on both sides to suggest the efficacy of torture. Ultimately, it probably does yield information, that information is almost certainly unreliable, but if you are able to verify what is true and what isn’t, you can then argue there is some advantage to torture. Then again, you can argue there isn’t. We can’t conclusively say either way.

More importantly, however, even from a utilitarian perspective, which is similar to the position put forward by Harris in The Moral Landscape, torture is not justifiable.

The reason is, in order to allow torture in a utilitarian world, we all have to live in a world where people are tortured. So yes, the needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the one, and extracting information by force to save more lives could seem like a good idea at first. But what you’re actually doing is making everyone suffer because then everyone has to live in a world where we torture people.

This isn’t a nice world to live in. I really, really don’t like the idea that the government could wrongly suspect me of something and try to torture information out of me. But even if I knew it was never going to happen to me, someone has to actually do the torture as well, and someone was to authorise the torture. That’s a horrible job in itself. I don’t want torture to be any part of my world, no matter what side I’m on.

From that perspective then, the lives we would save from torture (which as we’ve already discussed, there is no conclusive evidence we would save anyway) are outweighed by the needs of the over six billion people on this planet who should have the right to live in a torture-free world.

Is privacy a lost cause?

Friday, April 6th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Two years on from The Zuck officially announcing that the age of privacy was over, the government are once again on a beeline for another giant step in privacy invasion. The question is though, who is going to stop them?

Probably nobody. In fact, it’s already too late for that. They already track who we send emails and text messages to. They might not have the content of them yet, but they can already see what is going on. So despite the fact that we have freedom of association, and therefore I have every right to be friends with terrorists if I wanted to, chances are none of us would because our the government would then be watching everything we do and our telecommunications providers would have no option but to hand the records over.

So the downward spiral into Nineteen Eighty-Four seems to be well underway. In fact, Cameron doesn’t even need to install telescreens into our homes because as CIA director David Petraeus pointed out last month, we’re installing the gadgets for them.

But even if we did recognise that our freedoms are quickly being eroded, who is actually going to stand up against it? The answer is probably very few of us. Because ultimately, privacy is something that you can live your life without.

Of course, nobody wants to, and the visions from Nineteen Eighty-Four are horrific, but a slow, gradual erosion of our liberties isn’t going to affect our lives too much and unless we’re going to look at the bigger picture, it will be reasonably easy to swallow. I mean, the government already tracks all the messages we send and receive and watches us on CCTV on all the roads and city centres already. But we all accept that now.

Motiving yourself to get and there and do something about the bigger picture is never easy because there is little motivation to take care of it now. Not to mention that the government has got us so scared of terrorism that we openly invite many of the security measures put in place – just look at what Bush managed to push out in the Patriot Act.

Day to day, the invasion of privacy is just a purely intellectual exercise – we have nothing illegal to hide, it’s only the terrorists who need to be worried. Of course, we would prefer to have privacy, but it isn’t like we need it to go about our lawful lives.

Furthermore, what can you really do about it anyway? Chances are it will never feel like we’re now at the line that we must draw and go no further – it will continue slowly and gradually. Much like the slow ticking of the evolution clock, there is no definitive cut-off between here and Nazi Germany.

Indeed, we have many of the tools to do it now. You can route all your internet traffic via an anonymous proxy. But almost nobody does. It’s just too much effort. That’s the problem – it will simply be easier to just swallow the erosion of our civil liberties than it will to fight the fight. So where do we go from here?

GA Conference 2011

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 | Events

Laster this month will see the inaugural Genital Autonomy conference taking place in at Keele University. It’s a two-day event looking at “Law, human rights, and non-therapeutic interventions on children.”

My friend Antony Lempert from the Secular Medical Forum will be speaking on the subject of “Conscience and Foreskins: A Medical Paradox”, which is well worth attending as anyone who made it to his talk at Enquiry 2010 will know.

HCoL holds it’s first evening meeting

Saturday, December 11th, 2010 | Foundation, Humanism

As we announced last month, the Humanist Community of Leeds is now meeting in the evening. The first of which time slots took place last Sunday where we discussed the differences and similarities between humans and animals as well as the concept of human rights.