Supplementary memorandum from The Council
of Christians and Jews
Religious literature abounds in polemical statements
that are very hurtful for those whose faith is abused or derided.
Such statements can certainly be a source of religious hatred,
particularly in a context of inter-communal conflict when they
often provide scriptural warrant for extremist or militant rhetoric.
These statements frequently reflect the passionate
intensities of religious commitment and sometimes document historic
conflicts that remain significant in communal identity, narrative
and memory. It is important to note that such texts need not,
of necessity, provoke hatred. They can be understood in historical,
rather than contemporary contexts, or read in the light of ethical
or psychological wisdom that ensures they are not translated into
aggressive conduct. For example, the more violent utterances in
the Psalms help us understand and verbalise violent feeling in
prayer, rather than in real conflict with our neighbours. Citing
such material in appropriate contexts, therefore, need not necessarily
be a cause of concern.
Furthermore, it is not possible to legally proscribe
this material without giving grave offence to religious communities
for whom it is sacred scripture. Legal proscription would simply
drive the offending material underground, leaving intact the sentiments
that inspired it, and the material would remain freely available
in libraries all over the world, and on the internet.
But, if an individual or group uses such material
in a manner that is clearly intended to foment hatred, in sermons
or writings that explicitly advocate violent courses of action,
then such people must not be exempt from legal consideration on
the grounds that they are citing religious material, or exercising
their legitimate right to freedom of expression.
Finally, it would be helpful for the Select
Committee to formally refer to polemical religious material and
encourage communities to address its inherent dangers, particularly
in the contexts of preaching and education. It is important for
the communities to handle such material sensitively in order to
promote greater understanding and ensure that ancient prejudices
are not perpetrated in future generations.