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

Escape from Saudi Arabia

Amri, Haifa and their children (Glasgow Evening Times)

A young couple learn the price of questioning Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah Alamri was a failure. He refused to demonstrate how well he could practice Islam in public, yet his sisters loved their impudent, stylish, feminist brother they called Amri. He introduced his sisters to the internet and encouraged one of them – sentenced to a life of imprisonment in the home to do housework – to study for her exams at high school. When she passed, Amri felt like he had opened her cage and set her free as he had as a teenager for a small caged bird his family kept in their home. Inspired by his act, Amri attracted doves from all over the neighbourhood; feeding them on the roof of their house. And this is where Amri spent many hours growing as an agnostic freethinker, reading amongst the doves as they flapped their white wings to join him from across the rooftops of Alkharj to be fed. This is where he would often eat, even during Ramadan, watching a flock of neighbours in the street below, their white thobes flapping as they flew to the mosque to demonstrate their piety with more prayer and fasting.

Abdullah ‘Amri’ Alamri

So it was to be, albeit covered in a long, black Abayah and veil, a young Haifa was brought in by the family to help persuade Amri to conform to Saudi customs and adopt a more pious attitude to Islam. But the plan seriously backfired when, much to both their family’s chagrin, Amri converted his new wife into an unbeliever: an ‘infidel’. As Haifa explained: “As someone with a strict Islamic belief I tried all I could to convert Amri. He would patiently tell me, ‘if I have something right, use logic and you will convince me without force’. I didn’t know what logic really meant. I wouldn’t watch TV with him and he left me to practice my faith as long as I did not impose it on him. He likes to read books about philosophy. He’s a sensitive and intelligent man. And was a great fan of Raif Badawi’s liberal forum, a blog that had Raif sentenced to ten years and 1,000 lashes. He also enjoyed Sahat Faris’s political forum, Alsaha. These blogs were frequently banned in Saudi Arabia. It is when I started to listen to Amri and discuss matters privately without anyone listening to us that I slowly started to question things like the prophet’s morality and how, as a leader, Mohammad manipulated people to achieve his goals. I began to change and enjoy the discussions. Wow! It felt amazing to talk and question. I remember the day Amri showed me how Jews pray, believing as they do that God will take action in response to prayer, and that the more they ask God to help them, the more God would love them. This was all becoming such nonsense to me. I felt deceived. I stopped praying, abandoned the Quran and became a ‘liberal’.”

Haifa demonstrates the Abayah she wore in Saudi Arabia

However passionate and strong Haifa was in words, she is fragile in build. Her slender hands tremble as she fights back tears, reliving the circumstances which forced them to leave Saudi Arabia. “Amri is a passionate mathematician teaching the subject for more than eight years”, she shares enthusiastically. “He would spend a great deal of his time preparing for his class. He is innovative and creative. When he talks about math, I see how numbers are alive in his world. He tells me, ‘life is math’. To those who he is teaching, he argues constructively, persuasively and offers much encouragement. He uses new technology to make math enjoyable for high school students, yet he struggled with fellow staff and headteachers in applying these innovative methods which were producing good results in exams. He really came unstuck after sharing his opinions in the staff room on the Arab Spring. He suggested it might bring about positive change in Saudi Arabia. That, along with his lack of Islamic piety and refusal to demonstrate it in public got him the sack. This was a tragedy for us. Amri had been working on a scholarship for almost a year at the Educational Ministry in the hope of completing a post-graduate course overseas. Amri’s career was now over. We had some savings in the bank, but no income.”

Their love and commitment to each other was strong and Haifa was determined to help her husband. Amri encouraged her to learn English, studying in secret in the family home. He even set a target of 10 weeks to learn the language sufficiently well to apply to get into an English university. Haifa qualified and they fled to Egypt in order to apply for a British visa, fearing they would face obstructions from the Saudi authorities. It came at the time of the Egyptian military coup, so they fled to Morocco where they stayed until they finally arrived in London in August 2013.

Discarding her headscarf left Haifa feeling liberated and she loved to wear dresses but found the most difficult thing was learning to look into a man’s eyes. She remembers: “Eye contact was a real issue! I couldn’t explain this to the men I spoke to so I confided in Amri after two weeks into my course at the university. He asked, ‘please, Haifa, could you just do this for me? Try it out for two months and then tell me what you think’. I did try it. Learning so many new things at university was a big distraction from my fears. Soon I was communicating comfortably with people from different backgrounds in a new culture. It was a truly wonderful experience.”

While they lived in Preston, Amri became Chairman of the Saudi Students Club but opted-out of helping Saudi students with their religious activities. The Saudi authorities had credited £9,328 into Amri’s personal account. Fearing accusations of money laundering, he begged them to give him a written statement that this money was, as he had been advised, to finance the conversion of a church into a Wahhabi mosque. They refused.

Abdullah Alamri, 36 and his wife, Haifa Alshamrani, 29

The family moved to Glasgow after Haifa had enrolled in a medical course at Glasgow University with a growing ambition to research regenerative medicine where patients are treated with their own body cells. Amri stayed at home to look after their children, Mohammed, 10 and daughter Gadah, 7. That could be challenging as Haifa remembers how the school assumed, because of his name, Mohammed should eat Halal meat. “I just want him to choose for himself what he eats and why!” Haifa gushed, indignantly.

While in Glasgow, Haifa reflected on a call Amri received from the Saudi embassy: “The tone of officials was sharp. Amri was invited to speak to them at the Saudi embassy in London. They tried to scare him. They blackmailed him and threatened to sue him. When he got there, he told them: ‘I wouldn’t have come here if I knew I was going to be treated like this.’

“I received a call from an embassy official while I was at university. They blamed me for being a bad influence. I asked why he was calling me and not Amri and asked him to call again once I’d got home, but he never did.”

Shortly after, the Saudi government withdrew Haifa’s scholarship and froze their personal account so they could no longer access money. The family promptly filed for asylum and Glasgow University asked Haifa to leave.

Haifa refused to be defeated. Since she and her husband were unable to work whilst applying for asylum, she set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for food and rent. Haifa was frustrated that the human rights organisations she tried to contact showed little interest in matters of no concern to the UK, but after contacting Secular Scotland on Facebook, the group issued a press release and Scottish newspapers began sharing their plight. It was the time of Secular Scotland’s fourth birthday and AGM. Within weeks, Haifa was voted the new Chair of the group and regularly posts stories challenging religious hegemony, privilege and crime on its Facebook page. After accepting the position Haifa said: “I agreed because it’s time for me to learn more and educate myself on secularism. Learning is always a rewarding experience for me.”

Haifa Alshamrani

It remains to be seen if Saudi officials share this family’s enthusiasm for freethinking, or whether the British government are likely to put human rights before its overseas interests. In the meantime, Haifa remains resolute and dreams of going back to university but still faces a torrent of abuse on social media from religious fanatics.





Garry Otton, 2016.