The City Council of Birmingham, UK has blocked its staff from looking at websites about witchcraft, as well as sites that promote atheism, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity. But sites about so-called “conventional” religions are readily available. The filter means staff may look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other conventional religions as they wish, but sites relating to “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism” are blocked, as are sites concerning Wicca, the alternative religion associated with witchcraft.
Lawyers at the National Secular Society said the move by Birmingham City Council was “discriminatory” and they would consider legal action. The society’s president Terry Sanderson described the blocking of atheistic websites as “slightly deranged”, and said, “It’s an open-and-shut case of discrimination as far as we’re concerned. If you can access religious sites you should be able to access sites for non-religious people. We’ve taken legal advice from our barrister and she tells us quite clearly that there is no justification for it.”
A city council statement said the authority had a “long-standing internet usage policy for staff”. It added: “We are currently implementing new internet monitoring software to make the control of internet access easier to manage. The aim of this is to provide greater control for individual line managers to monitor internet usage, and for departments, such as trading standards and child protection, to gain access, if needed, to certain sites for business reasons.”
They did not explain how employees looking at witchcraft and atheist web sites posed more of a problem than employees visiting Christian and Islamic web sites.
Terry Sanderson said the National Secular Society would initially contact the council and ask for the policy to be changed, and otherwise pursue legal action. He said he believed he would have a “very strong case”.
Mr Sanderson said: “It is discriminatory not only against atheists but they also are banning access to sites to do with witchcraft. Witchcraft these days is called Wicca, which is an actual legitimate and recognised religion. We feel very strongly that people who don’t believe should not be denied the access that people who do believe have got.”
He added that some opinion polls said that up to 25% of the UK population now considered themselves atheist.