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Call for Christian rethink over religious hatred
A Catholic group has made links between the controversy surrounding the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons, and opposition to the Government's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, exposing the arguments mounted by many Christian groups against the proposed legislation.
In the wake of the publication of cartoons offensive to Muslims, counter-demonstrations by moderate and extremist Muslim groups and the failure to successfully prosecute the BNP, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) has called for a common effort to address hate crime and build mutual understanding.
Christians were divided in their approached to religious hatred. CARJ is concerned that, without an effective approach to living with religious differences, events like these can be a breeding ground for extremists to exploit.
Whilst claiming to be standing for free speech for all, some conservative Christian groups resisted the passage of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, seeking to maintain blasphemy laws which protect only the Christian religion whilst simultaneously rejecting attempts to extend such protections to other faiths. Some such as the Evangelical Alliance suggested instead that Muslims be 'less sensitive' about criticism of their faith.
This has been interpreted by Muslims both inside and outside the UK as a case of double standards. The failure of conservative Christians groups to suggest constructive alternatives that would protect minority faith groups has also been highlighted.
In a statement, CARJ said; "Current laws which punish violence, after the fact, are little help to the victims and may or may not deter further violence. We need to create a society where the hatred, which breeds violence and division, is unacceptable even if it is not always illegal, and where no group or institution is exempt from the ethic of mutual respect."
CARJ says that is accepts that proposed legislation to address incitement to religious hatred was flawed. However it supported the legislation because "this country, Europe and the wider world are going through rapid changes that challenge our ability to live peacefully with one another".
The statement goes on to say that "there are dangers in championing free speech to the point where it approaches an affirmation of a right to hate."
CARJ goes on to identify four areas that is says should be given attention and support in the coming months in order to develop proactive strategies to promote understanding and cooperation. These include new hate crime legislation, and a new Commission for Integration & Cohesion. It also suggests that local churches and faith communities be bridge builders, and that faith schools make an effort to be a positive presence in segregated areas.
The latter point however may call into question the discriminatory admissions polices which many church schools run, which give priority to those who attend churches linked to their schools.
The full text of their statement is as follows:
Catholic Association for Racial Justice
STATEMENT ON RACIAL & RELIGIOUS HATRED
In the wake of Parliamentís refusal to pass effective legislation on incitement to religious hatred, there is space for reflection on how we can reduce hate crime and promote understanding and cooperation in an increasingly diverse society. Those groups who opposed the legislation, as well as those who favoured it, have an obligation to contribute to this discussion.
We in CARJ supported the legislation because of our concern that, thirty years after the passage of the Race Relations Act 1976, this country, Europe and the wider world are going through rapid changes that challenge our ability to live peacefully with one another. Recent events, including the failure of the prosecution of a BNP leader for incitement, the publication of cartoons deeply offensive to Muslims in a number of European countries and counter- demonstrations by moderate and extremist Muslim groups, have highlighted this challenge once again.
Those who opposed the Racial & Religious Hatred Bill may be right. The law as drafted may have been too flawed to be effective, and it may have proved to be counterproductive. Nonetheless, there are dangers in championing free speech to the point where it approaches the affirmation of a right to hate. Moreover, current laws which punish violence, after the fact, are little help to the victims and may or may not deter further violence. We need to create a society where the hatred, which breeds violence and division, is unacceptable even if it is not always illegal, and where no group or institution is exempt from the ethic of mutual respect.
With debates about the Racial & Religious Hatred Bill now behind us, we believe there are four areas which need attention from all concerned over the coming months:
ß At a time when the government is committed to bring together existing anti-discrimination legislation into a Single Equalities Act, we should consider the possibility of inclusive hate crimes legislation which would protect a range of vulnerable groups.
ß We support the governmentís intention to establish a new Commission on Integration & Cohesion, which we hope can encourage and coordinate discussions about proactive strategies to build better understanding and cooperation.
ß We hope that churches and faith communities will build on positive developments over recent years and become a greater force for good relations and cooperation between ethnic and religious communities in local areas.
ß Schools are particularly important, and faith schools can play a significant role in building bridges in some areas. We do not accept that faith schools are in principle divisive, even in relatively segregated neighbourhoods; but we do believe they have a fundamental obligation to work hard at being a force for good in those areas. Some are currently achieving this and some are not.
There is a bizarre symbolism in the fact that London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics the day before the 7 July bombings. London was rightly portrayed in the bid as a city of unique diversity and good relations. At the same time, the bombings testify to the fact that in our day even such a great international city can be torn by wider divisions. We can have genuine hope in our ability to live up to the challenge of diversity, but it will require a significant common effort.
6 February 2006