Memorandum submitted by Revd J. George Hargreaves (CJ&I 155)


Dear Sir/Madam


I understand that the abovementioned Public Bill Committee is considering a possible incitement to homophobic hatred offence. Such a law could have alarming implications for free speech.


I have a particular interest because Stonewall called on the police to ban a demonstration that I helped to organise along with other leaders of the Black Churches. (See Ben Summerskill email below.) I am concerned that if Stonewall get their way Black Church Pastors like me could face up to seven years in jail for speaking publicly about our Christian beliefs.


The demonstration which Stonewall wanted to ban took place outside Parliament on the 9th January 2007. We were protesting against the Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation Regulations.


Speaking about our protest, Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall, said that he was "shocked that the Metropolitan Police gave some fringe protesters permission to demonstrate outside Parliament...carrying posters inciting hatred against gay people".[1]


I was involved in making the posters. Whilst Mr Summerskill typifies the protest as inciting homosexual hatred another gay journalist did not. Nicolas Chinardet, (who was there) wrote in Pink News: "People were singing and brandishing placards reading 'Cry Freedom', 'Christians Awake' or 'Back the Bible'".[2] Some Stonewall supporters turned up and sought to engage some of the protesters in argument. Mr Chinardet referred to the "mostly good mannered debate".


The BBC report of the protest shows other placards including "Freedom to Believe", "Freedom of Conscience" and "Freedom from Persecution".[3]


I am at a loss to know which of these posters Mr Summerskill believes was inciting hatred against gay people. Perhaps he objects to us quoting the Bible, singing hymns or saying prayers.


Ours was a peaceful protest conducted in accordance with all the instructions of the Metropolitan Police. Those of us who were present were expressing our concerns regarding free speech and freedom of religion.


We were protesting against the Northern Ireland Regulations which contained a harassment law which severely impacted on religious liberties. This part of the Regulations has now been declared unlawful by the High Court. The judgment given in the recent judicial review launched by Christians was that the Regulations "will result in instances of material interference...with the applicant's freedom to manifest the religious belief in question".[4] So our concerns were fully justified.


Back in January we were protesting against what even the High Court accepts was an unjust law. Yet Stonewall believe we were inciting hatred against gay people. This, apparently, is their definition of the sort of thing they want to see outlawed under an incitement to homophobic hatred offence. They do not want to ban hatred. They want to ban dissent.


We condemn all hatred and violence. As Black Church leaders we are clear that we are commanded by Jesus to love people. Yet we also have to believe the Bible, which teaches us that all sex outside of marriage is wrong, including homosexual practice. We want the freedom to continue to preach the Bible and to protest against laws which restrict our religious liberty.


We preach that people need to repent of their sins (including sexual sins) and turn to Christ for forgiveness. This is the essence of our Christian faith.


Mr Summerskill says the new law will not prevent people "expressing their religious views in a temperate way".[5]


It seems that the protest I was involved in does not meet this very low threshold of acceptable speech.


Freedom of speech, if it means anything at all, must include freedom to offend. Last year the Black Churches vigorously campaigned against the proposed incitement to religious hatred law so that Ben Summerskill and others had the freedom to attack our religious beliefs


We defended the rights of those disagree with our Christian faith. How about a level playing field? Please reject the proposal for an incitement to homophobic hatred.


I note that the Public Bill Committee is to hear Mr Summerskill give evidence on Tuesday in a 45 minute session.


I hope that your committee will consider the other side of the argument. I be will present in the public gallery on Tuesday and would be very happy to present evidence before your committee in person.


October 2007

[1] Stonewall Ebulletin, 14 February 2007

[2] See as at 3 October 2007

[3] See BBC News report, 9 January 2007, as at 12 October 2007

[4] The Christian Institute & Ors, Re Application for Judicial Review [2007] NIQB 66, para 69

[5] Daily Mail, 9 October 2007