Several months ago on SGU, I talked about the horrific case of abuse and murder of a teen in the UK whose relatives thought he was a witch. I mentioned that this was a widespread problem due to Christian evangelists like Helen Ukpabio, an influential Nigerian preacher who commands her flock to drive out and kill the (usually child-) witches amongst them.

I also mentioned that Ukpabio had plans to visit Texas in March to spread her hate-mongering fantasies in the US, and that skeptics in the US and elsewhere were mobilizing against her. Well, good news! They succeeded, and Ukpabio has canceled her trip.

Like most successful campaigns, this one had several prongs: online petitions, a fundraising campaign for Stepping Stones Nigeria (a fantastic nonprofit that protects the abandoned children of Nigeria), organization of a real-life protest (and Stepping Stones fundraiser) by the Houston atheists, and fairly widespread condemnation from prominent people and organizations like Leo Igwe and the excellent ongoing coverage from New Humanist.

As New Humanist reports, this victory is already being spun by Ukpabio’s supporters, as in this article from Nigerian Voice which claims that there have been threats to the evangelist’s life from – wait for it – Stepping Stones, which is once again a well-established nonprofit focused on saving the lives of children accused of witchcraft.

And I’ve noticed that Ukpabio is also being supported (begrudgingly) by people rushing to claim that this is some kind of threat to free speech (see the first comment here, for instance). These people will conveniently forget the limits the US already places on free speech, particularly on words that incite violence. Rarely is there so clearly a case of a person’s words directly leading to the maiming and murder of innocents in the way that Ukpabio tells her flock that God wants them to abuse and abandon their children.

So all around, this one was a great success. Let’s remember it the next time a dangerous quack needs to be shut down.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar of Ophelia Benson
    May 2, 2012 at 11:34 am —

    Yes!

    Now if only the Nigerian government would follow suit.

  2. Avatar of Emily Dietle
    May 2, 2012 at 11:58 am —

    I’m so glad this worked! Great job everyone, and a special thanks to my friend, Staise, for organizing the Houston Atheists to protest!

  3. Avatar of pentatomid
    May 2, 2012 at 11:59 am —

    VICTORY!

  4. Avatar of kevinv
    May 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm —

    Not really seeing this as a blow to free speech. She’s still free to speak her mind (and probably can even circumvent inciting violence laws pretty easily).

    If the sponsoring group changes their mind about paying someone to speak that isn’t censorship.

    Using free speech to shine a light on the hateful speech (and actions) of others is how it’s supposed to work. Would free speech activists deny us our right to speak to enable hers?

    • Avatar of koberulz
      May 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm —

      That’s what I always find most amusing about the ‘but free speech!’ crowd. They always use that argument against people who are criticising them.

      Also, they tend to use it when they actually don’t have a right to free speech at all, but that’s marginally less stupid.

  5. Avatar of Grand Lunar
    May 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm —

    “And I’ve noticed that Ukpabio is also being supported (begrudgingly) by people rushing to claim that this is some kind of threat to free speech”

    And these people see no problem that her beliefs threaten the LIVES of children?

    Talk about tunnel vision.

  6. Avatar of Jack99
    May 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm —

    Awesome!

    Once again it’s a case of Nigeria today, the rest of the world tomorrow. The African Xians are a particular worry.

  7. Avatar of john85
    May 3, 2012 at 4:50 am —

    This is good, but I’ll note that laws against inciting violence wouldn’t apply. The courts have held that the restriction of free speech is only legitimate if the violence would be immediate — such as if there was a supposed witch present and she was trying to whip the crowd up to kill it. If she merely tells people to kill witches in general, that is considered legally protected speech.

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