A Recent Press Release by

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

"A Non-Profit Civil Liberties Organisation"

Last Updated on 23 July 1997

See below for news coverage of this release

For Immediate Release: 21 July 1997

‘UK Police drop charges against the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement whose web site provided a link to a controversial James Kirkup poem two years ago.’

It has been reported in the UK media that no charge is to be brought following a complaint made to the police by fundamentalist evangelicals associated with the conservative group Reform, against the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (‘LGCM’) in Britain.

The complaint was originally made by three individuals, including the Rev’d Tony Higton, vicar of Hawkwell, Essex. It concerned a hypertext link from an informal LGCM World Wide Web page to a US based Internet site upon which the James Kirkup poem, ‘The love that dares to speak its name’, could be found. The police were obliged to follow up the complaint and submit a report to the Crown Prosecution Service and the investigation began in January 1996.

Mark Vernon (<mvernon@dircon.co.uk>), who established the LGCM web site stated that:

‘That the presence of a hypertext link leads to “police knocking at the door”, and an 18 month investigation, is astonishing. It raises a number of important issues concerning the Internet. We are delighted that common sense has prevailed at last in our case, but also concerned that other responsible internet users may be vulnerable to salacious suggestions comparable to those made by Mr Higton.’

The Rt Rev’d Professor Peter Selby, the Bishop of Worcester, stated that:

‘It was hard to believe that there was ever a case for this investigation, let alone for a prosecution. This whole event comes across as yet another example of the continuous harassment of lesbian and gay people. No moral cause can possibly be advanced by avoiding honest attention to people’s experience and the valuing of their gifts and resorting instead to promoting the fear which love is supposed to cast out’.

Yaman Akdeniz, head of the Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) group who has recently issued a call for mirrors for the notorious JET Report thought the initial police action was absurd. Yaman Akdeniz further stated that:

‘Linking is encouraged on the Internet because it ties different web pages on related topics and provides an effective system for browsing in the information superhighway. It should be noted that web search engines could not operate without this capability and linking is not equal to publishing. Although this does not set up a precedent on the legality of WWW links I wonder whether the Nottinghamshire County Council will continue with their case while there are 35 mirrors of the JET Report on the Internet.’

‘To link or not to link is the question and the netizens know the right answer.’

‘The global Internet does not recognise boundaries and will resist any attempts by individual governments and law enforcement bodies to suppress or censor information on it.’

Peter Herngaard <pethern@inet.uni-c.dk> who is mirroring the poem stated that:

‘This case clearly demonstrases how stupid and unenforceable limitations to freedom of expression such as blasphemous libel are in the age of the information superhighway. This case should lead to a reconsideration of existing laws limiting the freedom of expression. I believe that, laws which discriminate secular atheism in favour of religious beliefs are wrong. Blasphemous libel does only apply to religious beliefs and not to secular humanism. The implications are that a fundamentalist Christian can defame secular atheism, but an atheist or a satanist cannot defame Christianity. Religious discourse is a matter for debate not for the penal system. Prohibition of blasphemous libel is in its nature a discriminatory practice and should be abolished. I do not like the poem, but I believe that all ideas and forms of expression should be equally protected regardless of the favouritism or the hostility they cause. Popular ideas do not need free speech protection in a democratic system. The majority will always be able to protect its right to free speech. But who will protect the minority?’

Notes for the Media:

Mark Vernon can be contacted at <mvernon@dircon.co.uk> and is to give a full account of the experience and outline some of the questions it raises in an article in the UK Independent newspaper’s Network section on Tuesday 22nd July 1997.

Peter Herngaard who mirrors the web site in Denmark can be contacted at <pethern@inet.uni-c.dk>.

For approximately one year the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement had an informal World Wide Web site. The site was closed down for financial reasons in March 1996. There are plans to reinstate the Internet presence in due course. The site was frequented by approximately 40 people per day and provided a useful publicity tool for the Movement as well as gratefully received information for lesbian and gay Internet users. Their most recent press release which is related to the above press release can be found here.

As part of the strategy to keep the site fresh and up-to-date, hypertext links and other material were regularly updated. For a short period, a hypertext link was provided to a public server in the United States upon which, amongst a whole range of resources, could be found the James Kirkup poem, ‘The love that dares to speak its name.’ The poem might be of interest to lesbian and gay Christians since it is an attempt to explore some of the connections between spirituality and sexuality, focused upon the love of Christ.

The James Kirkup poem, ‘The love that dares to speak its name,’ following its publication by Gay News in 1979, was at the centre of a successful blasphemous libel prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse. This was the only prosecution for blasphemy since 1922.

Reform is a conservative evangelical pressure group involved in a sustained campaign within the Church of England against homosexuality. The Rev’d Tony Higton was a leading figure in the setting up of Reform. He is a long standing campaigner against homosexuality in the Church. Having recently resigned from Reform, he now leads his own organisation, Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation (ABWON).

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) <http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/pgs/yaman/yaman.htm>

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) is a non-profit civil liberties organisation founded on January 10, 1997. Its main purpose is to promote free speech and privacy on the Internet and raise public awareness of these important issues. The Web pages have been online since July 1996. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) started to become involved with national Internet-related civil liberties issues following the release of the DTI white paper on encryption in June 1996, and the Metropolitan Police action to censor around 130 newsgroups in August 1996. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) recently criticised the attempts of the Nottinghamshire County Council to suppress the availability of the JET Report on the Internet.

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) covers such important issues as the regulation of child pornography on the Internet and UK Government's encryption policy. The organisation provides up-to-date information related to free speech and privacy on the Internet. Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) is a member of various action groups on the Internet and also a member of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign which has over 30 member organisations worldwide.

News Coverage of this Press Release

The Mirror Sites of the Poem on the Internet:

Other Web Sites related to the censorship of the poem

Last updated 23 July 1997.