British Court Protects Religious Right of an Adventist Couple to Abstain from Computers, Cell Phones
by Monte Sahlin
Adventist Today News Team, October 24, 2013
Graham and Abigail Blackburn are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United Kingdom who believe that the Bible instructs them to refrain from contact with television, computers, cell phones and other high-tech media. They make their living as beekeepers in rural Cornwall.
The gathering and sale of honey involves certain taxes which Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) requires be conveyed to the government electronically. The Blackburn's appealed this requirement on the grounds of their religious beliefs which are protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
They told the court that "the Bible, which provides their only creed, told them to shun contact with all [electronic] devices," according to The Independent, a newspaper in England. "Blackburn argued that screens 'blinded the minds of non-believers' and that people were so pre-occupied with gadgets that they did not have time for religion." And stated the couple wanted "to keep 'bad content' away from their children."
Blackburn stated that as a matter of conscience he could not go to a public library and enter his tax return from a computer there nor allow someone else to do it for him. He told the court that he was willing to close down his business if necessary.
Attorneys representing the government stated that "the decision not to use a computer was a personal preference rather than integrated into the [Adventist] religious faith, arguing that the Seventh-day Adventist Church maintained its own website." In fact, it would be difficult to find anything in Adventist theology to support such a practice.
Pastor Victor Hulbert, communication director for the denomination's British Union Conference, told the newspaper that church members do use the Internet and related technology. The Blackburn's "have a valid point of view although they are probably the exception within the Church," he stated. Adventists are taught to "live modestly, rejecting alcohol, tobacco and often meat," the newspaper reported.
"This is a belief that would be more akin to the Amish or very conservative types of Mennonites," an Adventist scholar who studies contemporary religions told Adventist Today. "Although, in the early decades of television there were many Adventist families in America who refused to have TV sets in their homes because of their fear of exposing their children to popular culture."
In what The Independent said was "a test case" that "could prove to be a landmark ruling," Judge Barbara Mosedale ruled that HMRC must exempt the Blackburns from the requirement to file their taxes on-line. "I find that, by entirely shunning computers, the Blackburns considered they were acting, as the Bible required them to do, in accordance with their religious conscience. They were manifesting their religious beliefs by refusing to use computers," and these are protected by law. Government lawyers are likely to appeal.
There are about 250 Seventh-day Adventist churches in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It is estimated that there are a total of 35,000 adherents. The offices of the Trans-European Division of the General Conference are located in England, as is Newbold College and Stanborough Press.