Incitement to religious hatred: Growing disagreement between Christians - news from ekklesia

Incitement to religious hatred: Growing disagreement between Christians - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
18 Jan 2005

Incitement to religious hatred: Growing disagreement between Christians

-18/01/04

A statement by church leaders has highlighted a widening gap between Christians over government proposals to legislate against incitement to religious hatred.

The measures are due to be considered this week by a House of Commons Committee.

The Anglican Bishop of Beverley Martyn Jarrett and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark Kevin McDonald, are amongst church big hitters who have today released a joint statement welcoming the Government's move which is designed to control extremists who incite religious hatred.

The Government plans to extend the existing offence of 'incitement to racial hatred' to cover also 'religious hatred', through an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986 by way of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill which is now before Parliament.

At the end of last year conservative Christian groups found an unusual ally in the form of Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who formed a coalition of comedians, writers, religious groups and academics in opposition to the new Government Bill. They suggested that the bill would restrict free speech.

Many conservative Christians fear that it may also restrict their Evangelistic efforts and mean they are unable to legally criticise other religions. They also believe that the law on Blasphemy, which only protects Christianity, is sufficient.

However, the stand by the Christian groups some of whom also opposed the recent showing of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" on BBC Two, has opened them up to charges of double standards. Conservative Christians, it is suggested, appear happy to defend their right to criticise other faiths when it suits, but protest vigorously when anyone raises questions about their own beliefs.

A new statement by faith community organizations, including church leaders, however 'strongly affirms' support for the proposed legislation.

"It is necessary to remedy an unjust and anomalous gap in the present law which was underlined in the 2003 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences" the statement says.

"The effect of the proposed amendment will be that protection will be extended to all faith communities in the United Kingdom, as is already the position in Northern Ireland."

The organisations have for some time been urging the Government to legislate against incitement to hatred on grounds of religious identity and in April 2004 a number of faith leaders signed a statement to this effect. The legislation has also received strong support from the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Commission for Racial Equality; and Justice they point out.

"The current gap in the law is not only inequitable; it is also dangerous" the statement continues.

"It leaves the way open for extremists to incite hatred of religious groups not covered by the law at present, setting one group against another in ways which could significantly undermine the good community relations painstakingly developed by ethnic and faith communities in Britain over recent decades. Where this happens it is not just specific communities who are vulnerable ñ the bonds of our common society are put under strain."

The move represents a growing disagreement between Christians. A senior Evangelical recently said that the support by the Methodist Church for the Government's proposed legislation on religious hatred was "naive".

The suggestion was however rejected by the joint statement by faith leaders.

"It is also argued that the proposed amendment will restrict free speech. We take this concern very seriously." says the statement. Restricting legitimate free speech is not in the interest of any religion.

"However, this issue is well addressed by the clarifying Written Statement made to Parliament by the then Home Secretary on 7 December in terms agreed with the Attorney General. This makes it clear that the proposed amendment will protect groups of people against the consequences of the incitement of religious hatred. It is not intended to limit the freedom to criticise religious beliefs and practices or to engage in robust argument about these or to tell jokes. The legislation seeks only to proscribe the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour with the intention of, or likely effect of, stirring up hatred against groups defined by their religious identity."

"As members of the UKís faith communities, we remain firmly of the view that the proposed amendment is a highly desirable addition to the range of existing legal measures designed to ensure that our society is able peacefully to contain a wide range of strongly held beliefs and opinions."

The statement was signed by:

Revd Baroness Richardson of Calow OBE, Moderator of the Churchesí Commission on Inter Faith Relations

Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley and Church of England representative on the Churchesí Commission on Inter Faith Relations

Most Revd Kevin McDonald, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark and Chairman of the Committee for Other Faiths of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

Revd Geoffrey Roper, Secretary of the Free Churches Group

Mr Iqbal Sacranie OBE, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

Mr Anil Bhanot, General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK

Mr Om Prakash Sharma MBE, President of the National Council of Hindu Temples

Dr Indarjit Singh OBE, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Mr Neville Nagler, Director General of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Mr Bryan Appleyard, Vice President of the Buddhist Society

Dr Sally Masheder, Secretary of the Network of Buddhist Organisations (UK)

Dr Natubhai Shah, Founder President of Jain Samaj Europe

Hon Barnabas Leith, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahaíis of the UK

Mr Dorab Mistry, President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe

The full text of the statement is as follows:

Joint Statement on Incitement to Religious Hatred

We welcome the Government's intention to extend the existing offence of 'incitement to racial hatred' to cover also 'religious hatred', through an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986 by way of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill which is now before Parliament.

Faith community organizations have for some time been urging the Government to legislate against incitement to hatred on grounds of religious identity and in April 2004 a number of faith leaders signed a statement to this effect. The legislation has also received strong support from the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Commission for Racial Equality; and Justice.

With the proposed legislation due to be considered this week by a House of Commons Committee, we wish strongly to affirm our support for this legislation. It is necessary to remedy an unjust and anomalous gap in the present law which was underlined in the 2003 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences. The Bahaíi, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Zoroastrian faith communities, as well as others, are not protected from incitement to hatred in the same way as the Jewish and Sikh communities. The effect of the proposed amendment will be that protection will be extended to all faith communities in the United Kingdom, as is already the position in Northern Ireland.

The current gap in the law is not only inequitable; it is also dangerous. It leaves the way open for extremists to incite hatred of religious groups not covered by the law at present, setting one group against another in ways which could significantly undermine the good community relations painstakingly developed by ethnic and faith communities in Britain over recent decades. Where this happens it is not just specific communities who are vulnerable ñ the bonds of our common society are put under strain.

Stirring up hatred on grounds of religion is as damaging as stirring up racial hatred. Some who oppose the amendment have argued that race and religion are fundamentally different on the grounds that people cannot choose the race to which they belong, but can and do choose their religious beliefs. However, it is important to recognize that in the context of combating hate crimes at least, there is a significant overlap between racial and religious identity, with communities sometimes targeted on the basis of their religious, as much as any racial, identity. The issue of choice of belief in this situation is an irrelevant one. This point is clearly understood in the context of the Northern Ireland legislation and the recent legislation in Scotland on sectarianism.

It is also argued that the proposed amendment will restrict free speech. We take this concern very seriously. Restricting legitimate free speech is not in the interest of any religion. However, this issue is well addressed by the clarifying Written Statement made to Parliament by the then Home Secretary on 7 December in terms agreed with the Attorney General. This makes it clear that the proposed amendment will protect groups of people against the consequences of the incitement of religious hatred. It is not intended to limit the freedom to criticise religious beliefs and practices or to engage in robust argument about these or to tell jokes. The legislation seeks only to proscribe the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour with the intention of, or likely effect of, stirring up hatred against groups defined by their religious identity.

We note that the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly recognizes the need to balance the right to freedom of speech with respect for the rights and freedoms of others. We believe that the protection of free speech provided by the European Convention is a sufficient safeguard over and beyond the tests that any action under the proposed amendment would have to meet. Furthermore, there is the major safeguard that the Attorney Generalís consent would be required for any prosecution in order to protect against frivolous or vexatious action or unintended consequences of this extension of the law. However, the Government will no doubt give careful consideration to any proposals which may be brought forward in discussion of the amendment in order to give greater reassurance on these concerns.

As members of the UKís faith communities, we remain firmly of the view that the proposed amendment is a highly desirable addition to the range of existing legal measures designed to ensure that our society is able peacefully to contain a wide range of strongly held beliefs and opinions.

Incitement to religious hatred: Growing disagreement between Christians

-18/01/04

A statement by church leaders has highlighted a widening gap between Christians over government proposals to legislate against incitement to religious hatred.

The measures are due to be considered this week by a House of Commons Committee.

The Anglican Bishop of Beverley Martyn Jarrett and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark Kevin McDonald, are amongst church big hitters who have today released a joint statement welcoming the Government's move which is designed to control extremists who incite religious hatred.

The Government plans to extend the existing offence of 'incitement to racial hatred' to cover also 'religious hatred', through an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986 by way of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill which is now before Parliament.

At the end of last year conservative Christian groups found an unusual ally in the form of Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, who formed a coalition of comedians, writers, religious groups and academics in opposition to the new Government Bill. They suggested that the bill would restrict free speech.

Many conservative Christians fear that it may also restrict their Evangelistic efforts and mean they are unable to legally criticise other religions. They also believe that the law on Blasphemy, which only protects Christianity, is sufficient.

However, the stand by the Christian groups some of whom also opposed the recent showing of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" on BBC Two, has opened them up to charges of double standards. Conservative Christians, it is suggested, appear happy to defend their right to criticise other faiths when it suits, but protest vigorously when anyone raises questions about their own beliefs.

A new statement by faith community organizations, including church leaders, however 'strongly affirms' support for the proposed legislation.

"It is necessary to remedy an unjust and anomalous gap in the present law which was underlined in the 2003 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences" the statement says.

"The effect of the proposed amendment will be that protection will be extended to all faith communities in the United Kingdom, as is already the position in Northern Ireland."

The organisations have for some time been urging the Government to legislate against incitement to hatred on grounds of religious identity and in April 2004 a number of faith leaders signed a statement to this effect. The legislation has also received strong support from the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Commission for Racial Equality; and Justice they point out.

"The current gap in the law is not only inequitable; it is also dangerous" the statement continues.

"It leaves the way open for extremists to incite hatred of religious groups not covered by the law at present, setting one group against another in ways which could significantly undermine the good community relations painstakingly developed by ethnic and faith communities in Britain over recent decades. Where this happens it is not just specific communities who are vulnerable ñ the bonds of our common society are put under strain."

The move represents a growing disagreement between Christians. A senior Evangelical recently said that the support by the Methodist Church for the Government's proposed legislation on religious hatred was "naive".

The suggestion was however rejected by the joint statement by faith leaders.

"It is also argued that the proposed amendment will restrict free speech. We take this concern very seriously." says the statement. Restricting legitimate free speech is not in the interest of any religion.

"However, this issue is well addressed by the clarifying Written Statement made to Parliament by the then Home Secretary on 7 December in terms agreed with the Attorney General. This makes it clear that the proposed amendment will protect groups of people against the consequences of the incitement of religious hatred. It is not intended to limit the freedom to criticise religious beliefs and practices or to engage in robust argument about these or to tell jokes. The legislation seeks only to proscribe the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour with the intention of, or likely effect of, stirring up hatred against groups defined by their religious identity."

"As members of the UKís faith communities, we remain firmly of the view that the proposed amendment is a highly desirable addition to the range of existing legal measures designed to ensure that our society is able peacefully to contain a wide range of strongly held beliefs and opinions."

The statement was signed by:

Revd Baroness Richardson of Calow OBE, Moderator of the Churchesí Commission on Inter Faith Relations

Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley and Church of England representative on the Churchesí Commission on Inter Faith Relations

Most Revd Kevin McDonald, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark and Chairman of the Committee for Other Faiths of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

Revd Geoffrey Roper, Secretary of the Free Churches Group

Mr Iqbal Sacranie OBE, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

Mr Anil Bhanot, General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK

Mr Om Prakash Sharma MBE, President of the National Council of Hindu Temples

Dr Indarjit Singh OBE, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (UK)

Mr Neville Nagler, Director General of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

Mr Bryan Appleyard, Vice President of the Buddhist Society

Dr Sally Masheder, Secretary of the Network of Buddhist Organisations (UK)

Dr Natubhai Shah, Founder President of Jain Samaj Europe

Hon Barnabas Leith, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahaíis of the UK

Mr Dorab Mistry, President of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe

The full text of the statement is as follows:

Joint Statement on Incitement to Religious Hatred

We welcome the Government's intention to extend the existing offence of 'incitement to racial hatred' to cover also 'religious hatred', through an amendment to the Public Order Act 1986 by way of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill which is now before Parliament.

Faith community organizations have for some time been urging the Government to legislate against incitement to hatred on grounds of religious identity and in April 2004 a number of faith leaders signed a statement to this effect. The legislation has also received strong support from the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Commission for Racial Equality; and Justice.

With the proposed legislation due to be considered this week by a House of Commons Committee, we wish strongly to affirm our support for this legislation. It is necessary to remedy an unjust and anomalous gap in the present law which was underlined in the 2003 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences. The Bahaíi, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Zoroastrian faith communities, as well as others, are not protected from incitement to hatred in the same way as the Jewish and Sikh communities. The effect of the proposed amendment will be that protection will be extended to all faith communities in the United Kingdom, as is already the position in Northern Ireland.

The current gap in the law is not only inequitable; it is also dangerous. It leaves the way open for extremists to incite hatred of religious groups not covered by the law at present, setting one group against another in ways which could significantly undermine the good community relations painstakingly developed by ethnic and faith communities in Britain over recent decades. Where this happens it is not just specific communities who are vulnerable ñ the bonds of our common society are put under strain.

Stirring up hatred on grounds of religion is as damaging as stirring up racial hatred. Some who oppose the amendment have argued that race and religion are fundamentally different on the grounds that people cannot choose the race to which they belong, but can and do choose their religious beliefs. However, it is important to recognize that in the context of combating hate crimes at least, there is a significant overlap between racial and religious identity, with communities sometimes targeted on the basis of their religious, as much as any racial, identity. The issue of choice of belief in this situation is an irrelevant one. This point is clearly understood in the context of the Northern Ireland legislation and the recent legislation in Scotland on sectarianism.

It is also argued that the proposed amendment will restrict free speech. We take this concern very seriously. Restricting legitimate free speech is not in the interest of any religion. However, this issue is well addressed by the clarifying Written Statement made to Parliament by the then Home Secretary on 7 December in terms agreed with the Attorney General. This makes it clear that the proposed amendment will protect groups of people against the consequences of the incitement of religious hatred. It is not intended to limit the freedom to criticise religious beliefs and practices or to engage in robust argument about these or to tell jokes. The legislation seeks only to proscribe the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour with the intention of, or likely effect of, stirring up hatred against groups defined by their religious identity.

We note that the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly recognizes the need to balance the right to freedom of speech with respect for the rights and freedoms of others. We believe that the protection of free speech provided by the European Convention is a sufficient safeguard over and beyond the tests that any action under the proposed amendment would have to meet. Furthermore, there is the major safeguard that the Attorney Generalís consent would be required for any prosecution in order to protect against frivolous or vexatious action or unintended consequences of this extension of the law. However, the Government will no doubt give careful consideration to any proposals which may be brought forward in discussion of the amendment in order to give greater reassurance on these concerns.

As members of the UKís faith communities, we remain firmly of the view that the proposed amendment is a highly desirable addition to the range of existing legal measures designed to ensure that our society is able peacefully to contain a wide range of strongly held beliefs and opinions.

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