The UK Parliamentary Select Committee Report

The offence of blasphemy, last successfully prosecuted in the UK in 1977, has now been abolished. However, an analysis of the offence is instructive and the history leading up to its abolition will be briefly recounted. Following a 1985 report by the Law Commission, which concluded that the offence should be repealed, and a similar recommendation by the UN Human Rights Committee, in 2002, the House of Lords appointed a Select Committee ‘to consider and report on the law relating to religious offences’. The Report did not offer a conclusion regarding the law of blasphemy, but offered several possible options for reform which will be discussed later. The report, in its approach to religious freedom, mostly encompasses the identity aspect of religious freedom rather than its expres­sive-critical aspect, as will be seen in the following discussion.

In its analysis of the law under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Committee saw in the prohibition a contravention of freedom of expression (Article 10) and of the obligation not to discriminate in the application of the right to religious freedom (Articles 9 to 14). It thus looked at the equality of protection of religious freedom of the members of groups, which the blasphemy laws either did or did not protect. The Report did not consider religious freedom as a critical- expressive right, the religious freedom of the blasphemer, which is impaired by blasphemy laws.

The Select Committee suggested three options for reform the offence of blas­phemy, without choosing between them: ‘leave as is’, repeal, or replace with a broader offence. The reasoning behind each of the approaches reveals more of a community-identity approach than an expressive-critical approach to religious freedom. One reason for the first option, leaving the law unchanged, was that blasphemy law was part of the legal fabric; this reasoning underscores the law’s constitutional heritage and national identity, which should be tampered with only for weighty reasons. This is a viewpoint that sits squarely within the community perception of the right to religious freedom.

Under the reasons in support of the ‘repeal’ option, the Report stressed that the common law offence of blasphemy was discriminatory as it protected only one religion. The Report also stated that the most serious deficiency of the blasphemy offence is that UK courts had interpreted the offence as one of strict liability. The Report did not directly ask, however, whether any offence of blasphemy would be commensurate with respect for religious freedom. An expressive-critical approach would raise this question and answer it by noting that a blasphemy offence is incommensurate with the right to religious freedom.

Under the option of replacement of the offence with a broader, non-discriminatory provision, the Report suggested the use of the Indian Penal Code provisions as a starting point, particularly Article 295A, which states:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprison­ment… or with a fine, or with both.

The Indian Supreme Court viewed this Article as commensurate with the Indian Constitution’s provisions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The Indian approach, as the Report itself noted, is based on the uppermost con­sideration of preventing religious strife in a particular political context. The Report envisioned problems with such a law, namely potential misuse for political prose­cutions (which it did, however, see as unlikely to occur in the UK) and the difficulty of defining hurt to religious feelings.

Yet the more basic objection should stem from a view of religious freedom that sees the value of this right in the freedom to criticize and debate issues of religion and belief. Even deliberately insulting speech is not necessarily without merit; some effective conveying of religious ideas for and against religions is deliberately provocative and insulting. There is, however, speech that effectively silences, through propagation of hate or intimidation, members of a religious group from expressing their own voice and enjoying their rights as equal citizens. This speech should be more narrowly defined and is better addressed through prohibitions on hate speech.

The Whistleblower Protection Law

It was not until 1986 when a law protecting whistleblowers is made. Congress added an anti-retaliation protection to the then existing False Claims Act.

A whistleblower is a person who tells on something he believes is an illegal act. The employees are the most commonly known whistleblower. They tell on their employers which they suspect is doing or committing an illegal act.

Under the Whistleblower Protection Law, the employee should not be discharged, denoted, suspended, threatened or harassed in any form that discriminates the terms and conditions of his employment because of the legal act done by the employee.

The employee may be of aid in many ways possible on the investigation, testimony and the likes. However there are some constraints under the whistleblower protection law.

Reporting illegal acts that are only within the company is a ground for exemption. But still there may be public policies that could protect the employee from retaliation

If it turns out that an employer didn’t actually break a law, the employee is still entitled to whistle blower protection from retaliation, if he reasonably believed that the employer committed an illegal act.

The whistleblower protection law does not cover employer retaliation for complaints about personal loathe. Office politics is not to be used as a basis for filing a complaint against the employer and use the whistleblower protection for personal gain.

In order for the employee to be protected from employer retaliation, he may the have a suspected desecration of any Federal Law. But the supposed violation should have provisions that the law violated will protect whistleblowers.

The Whistleblower Federal Law, unlike the False Claims Act, allows the whistleblower to file a lawsuit in a federal court. The Federal Whistleblower Law does not permit the whistleblower to go directly to the court.

The individuals concerned are pursued administratively. These individuals concerned could file a complaint or charge to retaliate with or without a lawyer to represent them. However if the case is not resolved immediately, the administrative law judge may then preside over the only evidentiary hearing that may take place.

A whistleblower should not attempt to delay an investigation of the possible legal remedy. To maintain this ruling, the retaliation should then be brought to the attention of an appropriate government official within 30 days, else the complaint could not be pursued.

Most states have some sort of statutory or common law “whistleblower” or anti-retaliation laws. Like the federal whistleblower laws, not every lawyer will know about these laws, especially laws outside their own state.

These states and the District of Columbia have recognized a public policy exception to the “employment at will doctrine”: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Some states have explicit statutory protections for whistleblowers. These include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington.

There are also state laws that offer special protections just for their own state or local government employees: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

New CDC Report On Seat Belts

Seat belt laws were created fairly recently in the United States, and their implementation has varied across states and vehicles-the consequences of which have proven detrimental on numerous occasions. One night last fall, a father and his daughter were traveling down a San Diego highway when he suddenly lost control of the vehicle and swerved into oncoming traffic. His daughter was ejected and died at the scene of the accident. The vehicle, a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle, had never been outfitted with safety belts, nor was the father ever required by law to install any. Given the strong relationship between occupant protection and the use of safety belts his daughter may have survived the accident had she been wearing one.

An estimated 12,713 lives were saved by seat belts in 2009. Moreover, more than 72,000 fatalities were prevented between the years of 2005 and 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In California, 574 of the 1,963 vehicle occupants killed in motor vehicle collisions in 2008 were not wearing any safety equipment, according to the California Highway Patrol’s accident statistics. As much as drivers who “buckle up” have improved the safety of motor vehicles, there were no laws mandating their use until New York enacted the first one in 1984. In the following years, every other state would follow, except for one: New Hampshire.

Seat belt laws fall into two categories: primary and secondary. In states where primary laws are in effect, law enforcement officials may stop a vehicle and issue a citation when either a driver or a passenger is not wearing a belt. An officer may only issue a citation for not wearing a safety belt after the vehicle has been pulled over for another violation in states with secondary laws. “Currently, 31 states, including California, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have primary seat belt laws, and 18 states have secondary laws”, explains Jim Ballidis, a California personal injury lawyer.

Compliance has been higher in states with primary laws than in those with secondary laws, according to NHTSA. A recent telephone survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed NHTSA’s finding: drivers in California, Oregon, and Washington-all states with primary laws-reported the highest seat-belt use in the country. Coming in first place was Oregon, where 94% of the people surveyed claimed to be seat-belt wearers, followed by California with 93.2%, and Washington State with 92%. Surprisingly, New Hampshire did not rank the lowest. Whereas 66.4% of people surveyed there said they always use a safety belt, only 59.2% of people in North Dakota reported the same.

As seat-belt use has increased, the number of vehicle occupant fatalities has decreased, according to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). The recent CDC study noted a similar correlation between seat-belt use and injuries resulting from accidents: between 2001 and 2009, the injury rate among motor vehicle occupants decreased by 16%, while between 2002 and 2008, the number of people using buckling up rose from 81% to 85%.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 5-34 in the United States. Safety belts have the potential to reduce the risk of fatal injuries during a crash by approximately 45%, according to the CDC. Considering these two facts, everyone should buckle up.