Blasphemy in Scotland

The Scottish Secular Society’s inaugural 2015 Aikenhead Award won by Raif Badawi

Blasphemy in Scotland (From John Fraser and Tom Aikenhead to Raif Badawi)

Garry Otton

John Fraser was a merchant’s apprentice, a bookkeeper who fell foul of the blasphemy statutes of 1661 and 1695 that punished profanity and wickedness at a time when Scotland was in the theocratic grip of magistrates whose religious zealotry was rewarded with incentives by the Scottish Privy Council. They were allowed to keep a share of the fines in return for their co-operation. If they refused, they were fined and replaced by those who could.

King William III by Cornelius Johnson

In late seventeenth century England, King William III (‘King Billy’ or William II in Scotland) was busy defending the country from a French invasion and ridding the world of ‘popery’. Scotland was a dark place where Presbyterian ministers burnt witches and hounded young girls to death simply for playing on Sundays. Ministers, elders and deacons ruled over their parishioners with an iron fist ready to banish those unwilling to toe the line with excommunication and all the social and legal ostracism it carried with it. Parishioners guilty of sins like fornication, adultery, slander, assault or breaches of the Sabbath would be made to demonstrate their shame, sitting on a stool of repentance in church amongst the congregation, often in special clothing or wearing a hat emblazoned with words describing their sin.

John Fraser was charged with denying, impugning, arguing and reasoning against the being of God, saying, “there was no God to whom men owed that reverence worship and obedience so much talked off” and claimed established religion was made to “frighten folks and to keep them in order”. When asked what religion he was, Fraser was supposed to have replied that he didn’t have one and was an Atheist. More than enough to have him dragged before the Privy Council.

Fraser argued that he’d been misunderstood. That this was a product of a conversation he had with Robert Henry and his wife, a couple from whom he rented lodgings. Fraser had been reading, as one contemporary put it: “ill books which corrupt and ensnare curious fancies”. A book by Charles Blount was mentioned, but facing a long jail term, he wisely chose to label him a “notorious blasphemer” whilst boosting his Christian credentials with a casual mention of his more normal bedtime reading: Truth of the Christian Religion by Dutch author Hugo Grotius. Fraser, like the author Charles Blount, wasn’t an atheist; simply a critic of religion who saw a different end for the human spirit and argued that the world was older than 6,000 years. Robert Henry and his wife had stormed off after Fraser’s blasphemous utterances leaving him little chance to put things right until breakfast. By that time, Mrs Henry had already reported him to the moral police.

Fraser was locked-up in Edinburgh’s tollbooth in sackcloth. He was still there after they had arrested a young Edinburgh student by the name of Tom Aikenhead and hung him for blasphemy.

Edinburgh’s tollbooth

While England’s pamphlets, periodicals and booksellers enjoyed more intellectual freedom with the lapsing of their Licensing Act, Scottish Christians clamped down on any influx of forbidden books like Charles Blount’s, Oracles of Reason, Richard Simon’s Critical History of the Old Testament or John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious. Toland had lived in Glasgow and been a student in Edinburgh, but his book, lumping Catholic priests with Protestant clergy, earned such notoriety that he had to flee back to his homeland of Ireland. Authors like Thomas Hobbes who argued that only matter existed and Benedict de Spinoza, an atheist who died of inhaling the glass dust he made grinding lenses, were censored in Scotland.

In 1696 the Privy Council found a book reflecting on the Church and State and a couple of pro-Catholic pamphlets in Edinburgh. An edict was issued ordering the search of houses and shops of booksellers for profane literature. Booksellers were ordered to compile lists of every book they sold and hand them over to the Privy Council where zealous evangelical Presbyterians on the committee could run their gimlet eyes down the lists.

It was in this Edinburgh, in 1676, that wee Thomas Aikenhead was born to quarrelsome parents. His father, James, was an apothecary who squandered money and died with large debts. Although Tom’s mother, clergyman’s daughter, Helen Ramsey tried to continue her husband’s business alone, the property was eventually sequestered to pay for her husband’s debts. At a late hour, Helen was beaten and thrown out with her children, including seven-year-old Tom. His mother was sent to the west wing of Edinburgh’s tollbooth for a month as a debtor. Within four days of her release she died. At nine, Tom and his younger sister Anna and 15-year-old sister Katherine were orphans. Sir Patrick Aikenhead, a clerk of Edinburgh’s Commissary Court helped out and, when he was 16, bought a property for Tom on the fourth storey of a tenement house near Netherbow. At this time, Tom became a ‘bajan’ (first year student) at the town college. With classes starting at 6am, he would have been taught to translate Scottish works into Latin before going on to learn Greek and philosophy, theology and medicine. Tom’s regent would have probably been Alexander Cunningham who enjoyed Edinburgh’s taverns “being a young man and having no familie” and was said to be “taken in ane Ba[w]diehouse with any oyr mans wife” for which he was imprisoned in the Canongate.

Young Tom would soon gain access to the college library, and under the watchful eye of a portrait of Calvin, was free to read the books there.

The Arrest for Debt (William Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’ (1735). This is St. James Street on St. David’s day when crowds in carriages and sedan chairs are hurrying to St. James Palace for the celebrations. The man on the left of the engraving is a Welshman with a leek in his hat. Tom is being carried in his sedan chair but is rudely intercepted by bailiffs who arrest him for debt.  Tom’s old sweetheart, Sarah Young, happens to be passing and saves the situation by paying what is necessary. Meanwhile an urchin robs him of his gold-headed cane and a man replenishing a street oil-lamp distractedly allows the oil to overflow onto Tom’s head.)


Tom was said to have dismissed scripture as “Ezra’s fables” and “a rapsodie of feigned and ill invented nonsense, patched up partly of poeticall fictions and extravagant chimeras”. He regarded Jesus and Moses as political “impostors” and said he preferred Mohammed. He called Biblical miracles “pranks” and said Jesus and Moses exploited a common training in Egyptian magic to manipulate the vivid imaginations of “ignorant blockish fisher fellows”. The Apostles were dismissed as a company of silly, witless fishermen and he wondered why the world was so long deluded with their contradictions and nonsense.

Such blasphemies saw Aikenhead hauled before the Privy Council on 10th November 1696 where they ordered he be put on trial for his life at the High Court of Justiciary, locking him up in the draughty eastern wing of Edinburgh’s tollbooth, a five-story building already three centuries old where his mother had been imprisoned.

Edinburgh’s tollbooth

Many of Tom’s classmates testified against him. The gang leader was  21-year-old Mungo Craig who hoped to be a minister and “heard him revile the books of the New Testament and call them the books of the impostor Jesus Christ”; Patrick Midletoune reported “that about the middle of August last, about eight o’clock at night, going by the Tron kirk, he hard him (being cold) say that he wished to be in the place Ezra called hell, to warm himself there” and John Neilson said Aikenhead thought of the contradictory nature of the Trinity as the same as a “squaire triangle”.

Aikenhead’s trial would be before Stewart of Goodtrees, the king’s advocate, Sir Patrick Hume, the king’s solicitor, Hume of Polwarth, the Chancellor and other senior judges. News of Aikenhead’s trial spread. Tom was not so well connected as John Fraser. Unlike many of those who condemned him, he had not invested in the infamous Darien scheme, an unsuccessful attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to become a world trading nation by establishing a colony called ‘Caledonia’ on the Isthmus of Panama. Nor could he boast family links to covenanting Christians or any merchant or professional connection of note.

Lord Advocate, Sir James Stewart prosecuted 20-year-old Tom and demanded the death penalty to set an example to others who might otherwise express such opinions in the future. On December 24th 1696, the jury found Aikenhead guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged. Tom petitioned the Privy Council to consider his “deplorable circumstances and tender years”, but to no avail. The Privy Council ruled that they would not grant a reprieve unless the Kirk interceded for him. The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh at the time, urged “vigorous execution” to curb “the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land”.

Leith gallows

On the 8th January 1697 Tom Aikenhead took the hour-long march to the gallows in Leith after reading a letter saying: “It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth and to seek for it as for hid treasure… So I proceeded until the more I thought thereon, the further I was from finding the verity I desired…”

Clutching a Bible, Tom tried to pray with a speech of “great disorder” before a hood was placed over his head and the ‘hempen necktie’ hung round his neck. Michael F Graham delivers the grisly details in his book The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of Belief on the Eve of the Enlightenment: “Those hanged rarely died instantly, so onlookers probably would have watched him shudder for several minutes as he twisted in the chilly January breeze and gathering darkness, fist clenched, nose and mouth oozing a bloody mucus, gradually suffocating. The moment of death was often marked by the appearance of stains as the victim’s bladder and bowels released their contents”.

Raif Badawi in Glasgow

On the 8th January 2015, five days before his 30th birthday, Raif Badawi was awarded the Scottish Secular Society’s inaugural Aikenhead award while he was languishing in prison, convicted under Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cybercrime Law, “founding a liberal website…, adopting liberal thought” and for “insulting Islam”. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1million Saudi riyals in Jeddah’s Criminal Court. Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, a human rights activist, was also arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail for charges including “undermining the regime and officials”.

Raif received the first 50 lashes on the 9th of January after Friday prayers to the merciful Allah in a square outside a mosque in Jeddah watched by a crowd of several hundred who shouted Allahu Akbar (God is great) and clapped and whistled until after the flogging ended. The hospital advised Raif was too ill to receive the next 50 lashes scheduled for the following week. But in prison he remains.

Garry Otton 2015 (author of ‘Religious Fascism’)


‘The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of Belief on the Eve of the Enlightenment’ by Michael F Graham




The Repeal of Section 28

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Religious Fascism – The Repeal of Section 28

The repeal of Section 28 was a forerunner to later terrorist acts attributed to religious extremism. The religious-backed campaign terrorised a community and threatened Scotland’s fledgling parliament.

Some will see the imposition of Section 28 – the law that forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality as a “pretended family relationship” – against a backdrop of Margaret Thatcher addressing a sea of waving Union Jacks at the Conservative Party Conference of 1987 following hot on the heels of exaggerated tabloid stories of black lesbian self-defence groups or books like ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’ in school libraries. (It was actually in a teachers’ resources library). When this Tory, anti-gay, religiously-inspired law was challenged in 2000: Scotland would be the main battleground.

In England and Wales, efforts to keep Section 28 on the statute books was, to a large extent, pointless since Section 28 applied not to schools but local authorities whose control many had opted out of under measures introduced by – of all people – former Tory leader Margaret Thatcher.

The Scots remember repeal as a time when the gay community was under attack from billboards mounted across every available space in Scotland vilifying homosexual practices. Intellectuals who wrote to newspapers to lend support were denounced. Newspapers spread warning of ‘cliques’ and rumours of an ‘international conspiracy’. Attempts were made to close LGBT organisations and doors and windows of such premises were smashed. Pictures could even be found in newspapers illustrating a homosexual’s distinguishing features. Parliament wavered and buckled while a community in crisis was left to defend itself against a rise in verbal abuse, beatings, suicides and murders. This wasn’t Germany in 1935: It was Scotland in 2000. It was sparked by MSP Wendy Alexander announcing the repeal of Section 28 and Christian fundamentalist Brian Souter pouring £2m into a ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign backed by Cardinal Winning of the Catholic Church and a string of influential social conservatives.

It began in 1999 when controversial American TV evangelist Pat Robertson, owner of a mammoth media, educational and legal empire in the USA with an estimated value of a billion dollars, was introduced to ultra-conservative Catholic Bill Hendry, the Bank of Scotland’s executive vice-president. The bank announced it was setting up a telebanking operation with Pat Robertson who once claimed that the “feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women: It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” As Bank of Scotland share prices fell and clients started withdrawing their savings, the bank was forced to pull out. Robertson labelled Scotland a “dark place” over-run by homosexuals. The bank called on media boss and ex-Sun editor Jack Irvine to step in. During the equally contentious debate about an equal age of consent, Irvine was famous for referring to “pretty young boys of 16” who couldn’t vote being “mature enough to be bum chums for sleazy old pervs”. Scotland’s richest man, Stagecoach boss, Brian Souter, a Bank of Scotland customer and member of the hellfire and brimstone Church of Nazarene, was sufficiently inspired by Irvine to court him for an idea of his own. They shared a good lawyer. Jack Irvine’s business partner Peter Watson sometimes accompanied him on business trips to the Cayman Islands. He was the man behind legal firm Levy & McRae which legalled articles for the press. As Scotland’s top lawyer, Watson counted the Lord Advocate of Scotland, Elish Angionlini, an appointed member of the Scottish Government as one of his most prestigious clients.

Powerful figures backed the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign. Not just Martin Clarke, the editor of Scotland’s top-selling tabloid the Daily Record, but also the editor of the Sun, Scotland on Sunday, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and numerous other publications. Given the surfeit of Christian journalists and columnists in the media and both the Westminster and Scottish Executive, there was no shortage of allies to respond to this emerging Christian campaign.

Keep the Clause

Under the auspices of preventing the repeal of Clause 28, gays were made scapegoats for a war against “the siren voices of liberalism”, secularism and permissiveness. Education packs that either sought to counter bullying by creating a better understanding of gay people or sex education leaflets aimed specifically at gay people to encourage safer sex were put under scrutiny. All the while the media perniciously portrayed homosexuals as a sinister menace with inferences of a “homosexual lobby” seeking to prey on impressionable youth and further a selfish agenda. Homosexuals were maligned in a media campaign furnished by well-funded Christian charities and organisations – some collecting around £2 million in annual income – like the Christian Institute and Christian Action Research and Education (CARE). Scotland’s fledgling Parliament would twist and turn as one compromise after another was offered to placate the pious.

Pleas for equal treatment were contorted into demands for additional rights. A victim of the Soho gay pub bombing was denied compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation after sustaining injuries and losing his partner whilst the partner of a heterosexual couple won theirs. And then, when Martin Fitzpatrick who fought successfully against eviction from a house he shared with his partner after he died, former religious correspondent and Daily Record columnist Tom Brown wrote: “What worries me is that this will be taken as capitulation to the homosexual cause. …The signal to demand more”.

SNP MP Jim Sillars, writing in the Scottish Sun sneered at “test tube births on a scale of millions, with the sperm of homosexuals conveyed artificially to women’s ovaries, in order to give homosexuals full rights to have children. That test tube world is the only logical conclusion of the Tatchellite campaign of full and equal rights”.

Scotland on Sunday Catholic columnist Gerald Warner wrote that “homofascism” was “aggressively and shamelessly, the ideology of the parliament”, that “homosexual missionaries” were coming for the children and incited people to take to the streets in protest. He mocked the lisp of Labour MSP Wendy Alexander, the “Minithter for Communitieth” who fronted the campaign for repeal before suggesting she was “living testimony to the unwisdom of abolishing the ducking-stool”.

Any equal treatment of gays was fair game. Gerald Warner’s homophobia knew no bounds. On gay partnerships he scoffed: “There is a vote-winner for you. Possibly with the co-operation of sympathetic local authorities, provision could be made for the romantically-minded to hold their wedding at the public convenience where the happy couple first met”. Special pages of letters in newspapers against repeal frothed with homophobia like this one from John McBride of Shettleston who wrote in the Scottish Sun: “I don’t have any kids myself but if I did and anyone tried to teach them about homosexuality I’d probably end up assaulting the teacher”.

In the Metro, owned by the same publisher as the Daily Mail, nine out of 10 letter-writers in the London edition were found to share the same names or initials as those in the Scottish edition even though what they wrote was completely unrelated.

Cardinal Winning was soon declaring gay sex a ‘perversion’ and, on a trip to Malta, compared the gay lobby’s imagined distribution of material in schools to Nazi bombs during the second world war.  Upon his return he was met with press reports of a serious attack on a young doctor outside an Edinburgh gay bar. Threats of suicide to the gay switchboard doubled.

When a string of professors and academics wrote to the press sharing their concerns, they were mocked by the ‘Keep the Clause’ camp. Journalists regularly attacked Labour politicians who supported repeal. People like Donald Dewar’s adviser Philip Chalmers was caught with “a lady who was not his wife – although she may have been somebody else’s” in the back seat of his car in a red-light area after the Record were tipped off by police. Donald Dewar’s chief of staff John Rafferty was also targeted when he exaggerated death threats to health minister Susan Deacon over her support for abortion. But the chief target was always Wendy Alexander, described in the Record as “bossy”, a “spinster”, and “five-foot-nothing” and showered by a host of other uncharitable and misogynistic remarks. They suggested she was “riding high in the Department of Frump” and gave her a makeover, superimposing her head onto the body of a woman curled up on a couch wearing a white trouser-suit with lilac-strapped shoes. Alan Cochrane in Scottish editions of the Daily Telegraph called her the “accident-prone and politically myopic Miss Alexander”.  Channel Four awarded Wendy Alexander a trophy and the title Parliamentarian of the Year in Scotland. The press were delighted to report how she smashed it to pieces as she got out of a car at Heathrow Airport. The following year, Channel Four awarded it to Christian homophobe Baroness Young!

Most of the press accepted paid advertising of ‘Keep the Clause’ petitions to complete and send to the Government. Many were backed by articles or even marked to indicate exactly where to sign to keep Section 28. Churches soon followed urging their congregations to sign. A free mailing address was set up to collect the thousands of signed petitions. The Scottish Sun found “condoms – sent by gay rights activists fighting to scrap Clause 28” whilst the Record reported the delivery of old beds and refrigerators.

Gay lessons for Scots schools
The Daily Record’s editor Martin Clarke ran a long homophobic campaign to support Keep the Clause.

Brian Souter threatened to launch a private referendum. He castigated the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) for refusing to back it, so, using an old electoral register, he launched his own after accusing a ‘gay clique’ in the Labour administration of wrecking his plans. MP Jimmy Wray referred to a ‘gay mafia’ in the Scottish Sun and in the Scotsman he advised: “People didn’t vote Labour into power to allow the country to be run by a gay mafia. The public don’t want to know what homosexuals are doing. This is the trendy minority trying to dictate to the majority, and it won’t work”. Echoing the Nazi treatment of Jews in the thirties when there were references to powerful Jewish cliques influencing government and of Jewish trickery, the Scottish Sun referred to “gay dirty tricks”. The Record warned: “The Section 28 turmoil has gone from unsatisfactory to downright sinister. It is now clear that powerful factions are determined that the people of Scotland will not have their say”. This was also aimed at ERS member and gay Labour MP Stephen Twigg, The ERS were in fact concerned about the rise in violence toward gays being reported by the police. ‘Keep the Clause’ had already become a playground catchphrase and police set up a special surgery in Edinburgh.

The Daily Mail printed a double-page spread with an anatomical diagram of the human phalanges explaining: “Homosexual men have slightly shorter second fingers than straight men”. The Record also carried the information along with their homophobic content.

In a film review for American Beauty, the Daily Mail detailed how Hollywood was “demonising heterosexual life as part of a disturbing new pro-gay agenda… This held that heterosexuality was a curse to be denigrated and mocked wherever possible and that gays could never win the power they craved in society without undermining heterosexuals whenever possible”.

Three quarters of those surveyed by the Gay Police Association cited ‘belief of perpetrator’ as a prime motivator behind homophobic incidents. Their advertisement showing a Bible and a pool of blood with the words: “In the name of the Father” was censored by Advertising Standards Authority. Despite coming eighth in a list of campaigns receiving the most complaints, ‘Keep the Clause’ posters were never removed despite widespread defacements from protesters.

Outcast, a gay political website, was closed, according to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), “following a complaint”. A university lecturer was paid almost a quarter of a million pounds in damages and legal costs by the ISP Demon, owned by Scottish Telecom, in an out-of-court settlement over material carried on the site. Outcast was a respected and nationally distributed gay political magazine run by volunteers with a circulation of around 10,000. It boasted contributions from many people who were sympathetic to gay equality, The ISP NetBenefit wanted an assurance from a solicitor acting for Outcast that they would not print anything libellous. “Obviously, no solicitor can give a guarantee like that”, said editor Chris Morris who had previously taken Britain to the European court over its unequal age of consent law.

A Christian couple, backed by Christian legal representatives, sought to take Glasgow City Council to court for “promoting” homosexuality. They eventually withdrew but succeeded in persuading the Council to write to all council-funded LGBT groups warning them not to “promote” homosexuality. The media spun it as a victory.

As the campaign to repeal went nationwide there was a surge of violence and murders, particularly gay men, across the whole country like 50-year-old Alex Noble who met his fate after picking up an 18-year-old in Glasgow. Ethan, a sensitive 16-year-old who was being bullied in a Catholic comprehensive in the Highlands hung himself.

The fledgling Parliament shook and wobbled at every turn towards repeal. At first, Ministers said that the guidelines on sex education were adequate and would not be reviewed: then they were. Despite insisting there would be no replacement clause for Section 28: the Scottish Executive was soon tabling one. Ministers insisted the guidelines on sex education would not be made legally binding: then came a U-turn. The public were assured by Donald Dewar that there would be no inclusion of marriage in any guidelines, but with an amendment by Catholic MSP Michael McMahon, religious campaigners were soon trying their luck with that too.

That was nothing compared to the semantic contortions Scotland went through over sex education. Without a national curriculum as in England and Wales, Scotland had no need for statutory guidelines. There were no calls from teachers for statutory guidance on drugs or alcohol where teachers were trusted. Now there were calls for statutory guidelines on sex education. Minister for Children and Education Sam Galbraith emphasised that these were not ‘guidelines’, which would govern the contents of statutory legislation – always rebuffed as contrary to Scottish practice – but ‘guidance’ which govern the conduct of sex education in Scotland. The ‘guidance’ was to state that parents had to be consulted if sex education – appropriate to pupils’ ages – were given to their children and that they could even remove them from classes, (although such a right already existed).

Section 28 was eventually repealed and stories of schools invaded by ‘homosexual propaganda’ proved entirely false. The same couldn’t be said for religion which, if it didn’t already own the school, had their unelected representatives on all of Scotland’s education committees. If schoolchildren couldn’t be rounded up to visit churches, clerics were invited into the classroom to work with children in so-called non-denominational schools without parent’s knowledge, which happened at Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride where extreme sect Church of Christ had been pushing creationist anti-science literature on children for eight years before they were rumbled and exposed in the Daily Record, albeit it under a new editor.

Religious Fascism
Garry Otton’s Religious Fascism (The Repeal of Section 28) is published by Ganymedia.


Garry Otton, 2014

Catholic New Militancy: Michael Voris


Less than a week after inviting a controversial abstinence-only preacher from the US to speak to schoolchildren in Paisley, the Catholic Church once again demonstrated a shameful lurch to the extremist right. Church Militant TV presenter, Michael Voris was invited to talk to a packed hall of Catholics aged mostly sixty-plus with twenty-or-so hard-core young Catholic evangelists from Stirling, Dundee University, Glasgow, Hamilton and various other Catholic churches along with the Catholic Parliamentary Media Officer, John Deighan for a meeting in Motherwell, across the road from the Carfin Grotto.

In typical Bible-belt fashion, Voris is a suit and tie, tanned, toupee-wearing, Catholic apologist from Texas who dismisses global warming as “pseudoscience and hyper-sensationalism”. He correlates Hitler’s eugenics programs to global warming, theories of overpopulation, and support of contraception and legalized abortion, saying “What you have to understand is that the elite have now moved on to a sort of new updated version of this, a new technique. It’s not eugenics anymore. Now it’s called global warming.” He worries that many Catholic clerical hierarchy are “namby-pamby” and says he feels that what is needed now is “muscular Catholicism that isn’t afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice.”

Now he is delivering his militant message to an audience of around 150, asking them to put their hands up if they know two souls who had left the Catholic Church? There was a sea of waving arms as at least two-thirds signalled the loss. He claimed his “only conclusion” was that “Catholic leaders had lost faith.” That, and the spate of disgraced priests, bishops (and a cardinal, although he did not once refer to Keith O’Brien, except to point to the “social ill” of homosexuality) who were carrying away with them lost souls. The Catholic Church was “falling apart,” he admitted.

Catholic blogger, Michael Voris

Voris has had much to say about “militant gays” who “violently promote the gay agenda of free disordered sexual behaviour, redefining marriage into extinction and aggressively wearing down those who don’t approve of the gay lifestyle”.  Yet, in 2016 he admitted to engaging in “sins of a sexual nature” with other men and claimed the New York archdiocese was planning to exploit his “past life” and use it against him. He said: “For most of my years in my thirties, confused about my own sexuality, I lived a life of live-in relationships with homosexual men.

“From the outside, I lived the lifestyle and contributed to scandal in addition to the sexual sins. On the inside, I was deeply conflicted about all of it. In a large portion of my twenties, I also had frequent sexual liaisons with both adult men and adult women.”

He added: “These are the sins of my past life in this area which are all now publicly admitted and owned by me. That was before my reversion to the Faith.

“Since my reversion, I abhor all these sins, especially in the world of the many, many other sins I have committed having nothing to do with sexuality.

“I gave in to deep pains from my youth by seeking solace in lust, and in the process, surrendered my masculinity.

“Many of you know the story of my mother’s prayers and sacrifices and pleading to God on my behalf that I give up my sinful life and return home to the Church.

“As a last resort, she prayed to be given whatever suffering needed so that I would be granted sufficient grace to revert. It was shortly after that prayer that her very early stage stomach cancer was detected, which she died from a few years later.

“When my mom died, I pledged at her coffin that I would change… I returned fully and completely to the Faith.”


In Motherwell, Michael Voris advised “the Devil never takes a vacation, some don’t have bodies and they don’t need to rest.” The state of the Catholic Church, he surmised, was a result of “an attack by the diabolical”. There were nods and shuffles, but little sign of dissent. The audience had been well trained in obedience. He dipped into the Old Testament for evidence and to recount how “the snake just goes up to Eve and proposes a question – all is easy, isn’t it – she engages with him…” A moment’s pause before shouting. “BUT WE SHOULDN’T ENGAGE WITH THE DEVIL AT ALL!”

After prayers, first from a local cleric and then Voris, he confirms: “We have such an intense relationship for Him we would die for Him.” And that pretty much confirms his somewhat militant response to the collapse of the Catholic Church. “The job of the Church is not to make soup kitchens,” he scoffs, “but to make Saints.” He reminds the faithful of something they probably already know: “The Catholic Church isn’t about feelings.”

The Church’s position was quickly escalated. “The Catholic Church is the only thing that has been invested with the light of God”, he declared. The Church of Scotland and England, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses were dismissed as “man-made institutions.” And if you ever wondered how lonely a place Heaven might be, he ranted: “There is no-one in Heaven; except for Catholics,” adding, that if a few from other religions “found their way there it was despite of another faith; not because of it.”

He charged his audience not to seek popularity and to speak the Truth, (and only the Catholic Truth), so when they spoke to friends at work, their colleagues were really hearing Jesus. “And it will be offensive,” he warned. But this wasn’t an option,” the unmarried Michael Voris added: “It was a command…

“We need to explain why contraception and same-sex marriage is evil.”


Garry Otton 2013

The litmus test for fascism

When you see same-sex couples holding hands on the street, you are walking in a city that is comfortable with itself. But if you don’t, it is a warning. And if you fail to heed the warning, you can never be sure who will be next to live in fear.

My book Religious Fascism was about the repeal of anti-gay legislation Section 28 and was published in 2014. It was before Donald Trump and his particular kind of fascism gripped the U.S. The last chapter focused on some notable countries that were ostensibly permitting homophobia. Unsurprisingly, Russia was amongst them.

I share with you that final chapter…

As each day was marked by the passing of another old lady who made jam for church fêtes, or an elderly minister concerned for the sick in Africa, something cancerous had spread from the pulpits, across the chancels to the front rows: A new, smaller, hard-core, socially conservative progeny of the zealous, immigrants, individuals with mental health problems, the vulnerable, the mentally unstable, children indoctrinated in religious homes and schools and those saved by pastors from drugs, alcoholism or emotional breakdowns. The musty smell of prayer books had gone and in their place were eye-catching leaflets for evangelical Alpha courses, church ‘planting’ and international missions. Across the world, churches were filling their buckets with cash to oil the wheels of organisations ready to save the world from sexual degradation, permissiveness, and by default: homosexuality.  

In 2013 a mob of 5,000 Christians led by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Tbilisi, Georgia targeted a group marking the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) chanting, “trample them to death!” Police managed to evacuate most of those on the march onto municipal buses assembled in the centre of Tbilisi while protesters threw stones, beat on the windows of the buses screaming: “Drag them out and stomp on them to death.” The old women carried bouquets of stinging nettles while men waved Georgian flags and crosses. It was the year Turkey collected nul points in the Eurovision Song Contest, storming out of the contest at the last minute after taking umbrage at Finland’s entry which featured two girls kissing. The year when subway officials in Ankara asked metro passengers to “act in accordance with moral rules” after a heterosexual couple had been caught kissing on security cameras. A few hundred amorous protesters storming the station for a kiss-in were faced with riot police and pro-Islamists. 

In Greece, having already gained 18 seats in the Greek parliament, fascist party Golden Dawn had their offices blessed by priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. Terence McNally’s play Corpus Christi, depicting Jesus and his disciples as gay and living in Texas evoked the ire of both Orthodox bishops and Golden Dawn members who, before seeing the play, staged an angry protest outside the theatre. The director and production cast of Corpus Christi were prosecuted and faced charges of ‘blasphemy’. The director’s parents were disturbed by calls telling them that their son’s body would be delivered to them in pieces. One of the bishops advised Golden Dawn if it changed its style to become more “mature”, they could become a “sweet hope” for desperate Greeks. 

In Romania, seven young people were assaulted after attending an academic debate about the history of homosexuality and a year later, 50 fascists in Bucharest went on to halt the screening of American film The Kids Are Alright, assaulting and filming filmgoers chanting ‘death to homosexuals’ before singing the Romanian national anthem and waving religious icons. 

In Russia, two-thirds still found homosexuality ‘morally unacceptable and worth condemning’ and, according to the Pew Research Center, only 16 per cent said homosexuality should be accepted. In a country with little or no sex education in schools, backed by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, the government introduced a new federal law – much like Section 28 – against the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors’, just one of several anti-gay measures that were introduced in a new climate of fear. Conflating paedophilia with homosexuality, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated what many religious campaigners said about Section 28, that the new law was only about protecting children. The law also banned representing “tradition” and “non-traditional” relationships as equally acceptable and made it an offence to say anything positive about being gay in public, even to tell a child there was nothing wrong with them being gay or being raised by parents who were gay.  

Russian lawmakers allowed themselves to be taken-in by the discredited Regnerus study funded by a US Republican think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, which claimed gay parents pushed their children to suicide. An audit by an editorial board member of Social Science Research, the journal which published Christian Mark Regnerus’s $785,000 funded study, concluded that the study should have been disqualified during the peer-review process. He called it “bullshit” and accused Regnerus of pushing a political agenda. In Poland, France and Africa, the Regnerus study was repeatedly used to attack gays. Converting from Quakerism to Catholicism, US Republican Brian Brown of the National Organisation for Marriage who had argued that legalized same-sex marriage could lead to paedophilia testified before the Russian Duma in favour of anti-gay legislation citing the Regnerus study. Days after his presentation the Russian legislative body again cited the Regnerus study and introduced a bill to ban Russian children from being adopted by same-sex couples. They were soon debating new laws to take children away from gay parents altogether.  

After finding a book in Ulyanovsk children’s library by Vera Timenchik called Families. Ours and Theirs about different family-related traditions and cultures across the world, prosecutors were called in to investigate its suitability. A spokesperson for the library was quick to reassure everyone the book had been removed. 

Only weeks after a brutal murder of a 23-year-old gay man at a demonstration in Moscow to celebrate 20 years since homosexuality was decriminalised and to protest at the introduction of the new homophobic law, 30 were arrested after unfurling their rainbow flags. Several were attacked by Orthodox Christian thugs who sang hymns and crossed themselves to ward off evil. A law banning gay pride marches in Moscow for a whole century was passed before the European Court of Human Rights declared the ban illegal.  

Two dozen masked men stormed a popular gay bar in Moscow and beat the patrons – mostly women – with fists and bottles. Some were seriously injured. On the streets, Pavel Samburov was arrested and fined 570 roubles and given 30 hours of detention for kissing his boyfriend in public. Konstantin Kostin, a member of the Holy Rus movement declared: “Gay people need medical treatment. It’s simply disgusting to look at them. Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what’s become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country”. 

In a more sinister development, using the Internet, numerous victims were lured by organised gangs across Russia with a promise of a date before they were made to strip naked, tortured, humiliated and forced to come out to family and friends whilst being filmed.  Footage of the assaults was posted online. In one case a man was left blinded in one eye after a gang attacked him and in another found by Human Rights Watch a man had his clothes burnt after he was abducted and handcuffed. The gang then put a gun to his head and made him rape himself with a bottle. Most of the gang members were confident enough to be filmed, knowing they were able to act with impunity. Liz MacKean, an investigative journalist who travelled to Russia to make the documentary Hunted for Channel 4 said, “We filmed these groups with their knowledge, and what I found shocking afterwards was that only a few asked to have their faces disguised. They all believe they are doing the right thing”. Russian diplomats responded by saying that a similar film could have just as easily been made about people victimised because they had ginger hair. 

In Uganda in 2010, after popular newspaper Rolling Stone ran a story on “100 PICTURES OF UGANDA’S TOP HOMOS” with their names and addresses and calls for the hanging of homosexuals, the efforts of Christian extremists began to bear fruit. Amongst the list of names was Kasha Nabagesera whose workshop at a hotel in Entebbe for LGBT activists was raided by the country’s Ethics Minister, a defrocked Catholic priest called Simon Lokodo. Ms Nabagesera was arrested. Lododo was reported saying: “I have closed this conference because it’s illegal. We do not accept homosexuality in Uganda. So go back home”. Another listed homosexual was David Kato, a gay human rights activist, who within three months of the article being printed was found bludgeoned to death. An Anglican priest used his funeral to condemn homosexuality.  

Uganda’s Rolling Stone stirred hatred with stories under headlines not dissimilar to claims that laced the campaign to ‘Keep the Clause’, like: “WE SHALL RECRUIT 1,000,000 KIDS BY 2012,” and “PARENTS NOW FACE HEARTBREAKS AS HOMOS RAID SCHOOLS”. Evangelical Christian lawmakers had to be held back from putting into place new laws that would put all homosexuals to death. When President Museveni signed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, the act sentenced anyone suspected of same-sex relations to life in prison. The law punished anyone associated with ‘promoting’ LGBT activities, be they health workers conducting HIV tests or offering advice. The punishment extended to anyone who failed to report violations of the Act to the authorities within 24 hours of the event.  

The Anti-Homosexuality bill was introduced not long after a big seminar in Kampala called “Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda”. It featured two rabidly homophobic speakers, Scott Lively, head of Abiding Truth Ministries in Massachusetts and author of the Pink Swastika, which claimed homosexuals invented Nazism and were instrumental in the Holocaust, and Dan Schmierer of the ex-gay group Exodus International. At the seminar, Lively told the audience that a powerful global gay movement had now set its sights on Africa and that the “gay agenda” was unleashing epidemics of divorce, child abuse, and HIV/AIDS wherever it gained a foothold. He warned that by permitting homosexuality, “you can’t stop someone from molesting children or stop them from having sex with animals”.  

The Rwandan genocide was also blamed on homosexuals. Influential evangelist Rick Warren, head of California’s Saddleback megachurch had already travelled to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda declaring along the way that “homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right”. Scott Lively met with Ugandan government ministers and David Bahati who would go on to draft the Anti-Homosexuality Bill there. Bahati was connected to the secretive Christian fundamentalist organisation behind National Prayer Breakfasts, the Fellowship, which pours millions into student leadership programmes that places government and media with disciples of Jesus. According to Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor for Harper’s, Joe Pitts, a Republican congressman has diverted millions in US aid to Uganda from sex education programmes to abstinence programmes and evangelical revivals that included condom burnings. Africans were being duped as their traditions of not only homosexuality but the extended family or ubuntu was being smothered by western culture wars and a nuclear family that had more in common with The Waltons from rural Virginia than a family living in the African bush.  

In Nigeria, the president went on to ban same-sex marriages, gay groups and any public sign of affection between people of the same sex with penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. 

As Scott Lively joined other Christians in Russia, Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia and other countries, the Center for Constitutional Rights, under laws permitting foreigners to sue American citizens who violate international law, helped the Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) file a suit in a US court against Scott Lively for denying Ugandan’s their human rights.  

With the modernisation of Christian missions and crusades, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and the evangelical Trinity Broadcasting Network were both seen across sub-Saharan Africa with the addition of many other Christian-right radio networks. Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, author of the investigative report Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, & Homophobia wrote: “Evangelical churches and groups provide scholarships for African clerics to receive conservative theological training at U.S. institutions. They sponsor orphanages, Bible schools, universities, and social-welfare projects”. 

In France, the shouts and screams of thousands of mostly religious protesters coached in from the countryside shook the tables of Parisian cafés from Montparnass to Montpellier during President Hollande’s attempt to introduce marriage equality. Starting out as grass-roots organisations organised by the Catholic Church, protesters marched with right-wing politicians including a candidate for the far-right Front National to protest. Skinheads attacked a gay bar in Lille and masked armed men smashed another bar in Bordeaux. Raphaël Leclerc, a gay cabaret dancer was beaten unconscious in Nice, Muslims were filmed kicking and punching women protesters in Paris and Wilfred de Bruijn, a young librarian who was caught holding his boyfriend’s hand sustained injuries so severe they went viral on the Internet. Despite protestations from campaigners that their campaign wasn’t religiously motivated; Le Monde examined the 37 associations behind Manif Pour Tous, an anti-gay-marriage organisation led by comedienne Frigide Barjot, (literally, Frigid Bonkers), a self-styled “press officer for Jesus”. 22 were described as ‘empty vessels’; the rest were all religious. She warned: “Hollande wants blood, and he will get it”. 

Two members of France’s socialist party Sylviane Bulteau and Hugues Fourage received letters threatening to kidnap their loved ones. Claude Bartolone, the head of France’s National Assembly, was sent an envelope filled with gun powder and a letter signed by a radical right-wing group, saying: “Allowing marriage for all would be the same as destroying all marriage. Our methods are more radical and direct than demonstrations. You wanted war, you’ve got it … If you were to carry on regardless; your political family will have to suffer physically.” 

Christine Boutin, president of the Christian-Democrat party and former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy hinted that violence would be justified if François Hollande did not ditch same sex marriage. Despite one Green MP having her tyres slashed in front of her house, President Hollande stuck to his election promise and brought in the legislation. Days after he signed the bill into law he ‘got blood’ when a member of extreme far-right group, Printemps Français, (French Spring), 78-year-old Dominique Venner, walked into the cathedral of Notre Dame and shot himself through the mouth. He left a note warning: “New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleep walkers… We are entering a time when acts must follow words.” 

Soon, it was Frigide Barjot’s turn to seek police protection after receiving a handkerchief soaked in what looked like blood. She suspected, not gay militants, but Printemps Français, which had gained notoriety in her demos and threatened to target “the government and all its appendices, the collaborating political parties and lobbies where the ideological programmes are developed and the organs which spread it.” Barjot insisted she was not anti-gay and thought the group had turned on her after she called Venner “deranged” and “un-Catholic”. John Lichfield in the Independent reported her saying: “I entered this fight because I knew that, otherwise, the protests would be dominated by people like them: the far right and the Catholic extremists.” In many respects she was right. It was an issue the far-right and religious extremists were successfully hijacking while at the same time inciting new, shrill, liberal and atheistic voices into counter attacks. Somewhere between the conflicts of these polar opposites was the increasingly marginalised voice of a moderate secularism, chastised or ignored.  

Before May was out, the first same-sex couple in France, Vincent Aubin and Bruno Boileau were married. The ceremony was performed by Socialist mayor, Hélène Mandroux despite numerous threats, including a telephone call from a man telling her to “get bodyguards.” Nevertheless, within weeks, 18-year-old gay student, Clément Méric was pronounced brain-dead after an attack by a group of far-right skinheads from the group JNR Jeune Nationaliste Revolutionnaire

As Hollande’s socialist party fell behind in popularity, the Front National surged forward. Catholic and some Muslim groups opposed to same-sex marriage were back on the streets again in a Day of Anger in 2014 which attracted 17,000 from far-right and fascist movements. Journalists were chased away with chants of “Nazi state, collaborationist media”. Amongst other chants picked up by the media were “Juif, la France n’est pas pour toi” (Jew, France is not for you), “Hollande or the CRIF (Jewish representative group), who is leading who?” and “Europe gay criminal Zionist”. Ivan Rioufol, journalist for Le Figaro, wrote: “The Day of Anger has revealed the hideous face of fascist France”. Hollande backed down from introducing any further equality legislation. 

By 2014, Russian news agency TASS reported a French delegation of religionists, including Manif Pour Tous, the Catholic Bishop of Bayonne and Oloron Marc Aillet, representatives of Strasbourg-based European centre For Law and Justice and the anti-abortion and euthanasia Jerome Lejeune Foundation meeting religious leaders and delivering speeches in both houses of the Russian Parliament. The envoy of the Moscow Patriarchate at the Council of Europe Hegumen Filipp said: “All this is organized so that Frenchmen will be able to find partners in Russia for co-operation in the protection of traditional values”. 

In the UK, by 2010, the BNP’s Nick Griffin, an Anglican who believed “nations are ordained by God”, was already enjoying the exposure of an hour-long programme on Christian TV channel, Revelation. When he appeared on Sky News – facing accusations of obtaining lists of email addresses of Christians to win their support in elections – he sported a cross in his lapel. But he was yesterday’s man. Nigel Farage – the man who named Vladimir Putin as the world leader he most admires – and the UKip was soon the more respectable face for the Christian-right. 

A new bullish Christian supremacy was being manufactured in Scottish churches. It concealed a growing frustration against Islam and polarised views both for and against religion. In such a climate, extremism was thriving. With millions in grants ploughed into ‘interfaith’ projects, no efforts were being made to engage faith with the majority without religion who challenged by a concerted effort by government to defend and maintain religious privileges. 

Scotland was proving ripe for unregulated proselytising. The New Life Christian Fellowship in Broxburn advised parents of children of pre-school age on its website: “Little Children’s Church is NOT simply a crèche where little ones are looked after.” It’s a place where children “learn about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” The church boasted a Child Protection Policy approved by the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service. The church deplored “unbelief” which they claimed was a hindrance to supernatural healing and gave examples such as Lorna, a woman eight years into a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, who claimed she had thrown her medication into the bin a day after ‘healing’ before walking around in high heels.  

Kairos Church in Peterhead conducted Alpha courses, held an inevitable crèche and a ‘hands-on-Bible’ curriculum for children from five to 11 whilst adults attended services speaking in “other tongues”.  

The Destiny Church in Glasgow boasted ‘cells’ or ‘growth’ groups and also welcomed under-fives to “listen to stories.” Destiny paid over £2m for a former Clydesdale Bank building in Townhead before opening a charity superstore in the former Dobbies Garden Centre outside Paisley.  

The Scripture Union already had access to children in schools. They claimed on their website: “We have a team of 30 highly creative regional and associate staff who work in primary and secondary schools across Scotland.” They proclaimed: “Jesus Christ as Lord and God… as Victor over Satan and all his forces.”  

Then there were ‘Challenger’ buses run by People with a Mission Ministries, parking outside primary schools. At least two of the buses contained computer stations, evangelistic DVD’s, and presentations. The upstairs area contained a coffee lounge area with a 46” flat screen TV with surround-sound and mini-cinema in the front half of the buses. Their website boasted: “In subsequent Friday visits the average number of youth attending the bus was around 12 with two or three making a commitment to Christianity.” The Ministries sold and endorsed Answers, a monthly periodical from the infamous Answers in Genesis; a well-known anti-science and young Earth creationism ministry which held regular conferences in Scotland.  

Not every cleric, like the three that are made to take their place on every education committee in Scotland by law, received such unconditional acceptance. In May 2013, in Raploch, Stirling, Pastor Soloman Makhathoela was in court for calling his neighbour Catherine Kerr “white scum” after learning the mum-of-two wasn’t wed. He was reported in the Scottish Sun telling her that in his country her kids “would be shot and hung” before turning on her fiancé, Alan Brown, to tell him “it was a fucking disgrace they had kids out of wedlock.” 

In the same week, Michael Voris, a Church Militant TV presenter, was invited to talk to 150 hard-core Catholics at Carfin Grotto outside Motherwell. I spoke to a young man in his early twenties who had been brought along by the leader of his church peer group. He had been shown Voris on the internet. Passionately defensive of Catholicism, he said it had rescued him from depression, suicide and pornography. He told me Voris “inspired him”. 

In typical Bible-belt fashion, Voris is in the Ted Haggard tradition; an unmarried Catholic apologist from Texas in a suit and tie, toupee and tan. He dismisses global warming as “pseudoscience and hyper-sensationalism” and brands many of the Catholic clerical hierarchy, “namby-pamby”. He fears the Catholic Church is “falling apart” and wants “muscular Catholicism that isn’t afraid to encourage battle and sacrifice.” He told his audience: “We have such an intense relationship for Him we would die for Him.” And that pretty much confirmed his somewhat desperate response to the collapse of the Catholic Church. “The job of the Church is not to make soup kitchens,” he scoffed, “but to make saints.” Voris reminded the faithful: “The Catholic Church isn’t about feelings.”  

Perhaps he’s right and the time for sentimentality over religion is over.  

What has happened in Russia should be a lesson to us all.