Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
460. If I could press you a little. Dr Horrocks
said that he certainly would not be in favour of a law on incitement
to religious hatred which extended the same protection to other
faiths which the blasphemy law gives to the Church of England.
Would you agree with that? Are you happy to see a society in which
other faiths can be blasphemed?
(Mr Masom) No. I think where I would be concerned
and I think all Christians would be concerned is that there are
conflicting beliefs within the major religions. We have to say
as Christians that the Bible makes certain very strong statements
about the Lord Jesus Christ, that he is not only the son of God,
he is God the Son and he is part of the triune God. That is directly
at conflict with the beliefs held by certain other major faiths.
Likewise, Jesus did say, "I am the Way, the Truth and the
Life." As evangelical Christians we have to take that as
read. We clearly understand that not everyone in even the Christian
tradition would interpret those things in quite the same way as
evangelicals would and we clearly understand that some of those
very authoritative, very definite statements are potentially offensive
or conflicting with what other faiths believe. So I certainly
would be very happy as an individual if you were looking to protect
adherence of other faiths from religious hatred and religious
abuse, but if that prevented historic Christian doctrines being
proclaimed I think it would be completely unacceptable to the
vast majority of Christians.
(Dr Horrocks) My Lord Chairman, may I also make the
point that perhaps we are in danger of here, of confusing two
different things. Blasphemy in our reading is one thing; religious
hatred is another. They overlap but our position has been formulated
by the fact that we definitely believe that a law of blasphemy
needs to be retained at all costs. Religious hatred is not necessarily
the same thing.
461. No, indeed, we do not think they are the
(Bishop Wayne Malcolm) When you posed the question
to Grant, you suggested that Don had said that he did not want
to see the same privileges extended to other religions and would
he be content to see a society in which other religions were openly
blasphemed. I just want to say for the record that I do not think
that is what Don was saying or suggesting at any point.
Chairman: No, they were two separate questions.
Please allow me to clarify that.
Bishop of Portsmouth
462. Going back to Grant Masom's point, my dilemma
is that I do have to ask myself: Do the Christian churches need
this prop to live a public life?
(Mr Masom) No. At the end of the day, the laws and
structures of our country are based on a broadly Christian world
view historically and I think there would be a perception that
there has been a process of erosion of that. As I say, it is not
a question of what you would do if you were starting from a blank
sheet of paper; it is a question of what messages it sends when
you look to tamper with what is there. So I do not think it is
a question of a prop; I think it is a question of you send a signal
that certain things are acceptable which were previously unacceptable.
463. Do you agree that there is a widespread
misapprehension amongst members of the evangelical community that
the law of blasphemy inhibits conduct which in fact it does not.
That is to say, to use the words of Mr Masom, "something
that would offend". It is quite possible under the existing
law of blasphemy to say things that are grossly offensive to many
Christians: "the last temptation of Christ" or something
like that. This widespread misapprehension, mainly if not entirely
amongst members of the evangelical community, you say gives people
a feeling of protection which they do not in fact enjoy. Is that
(Dr Horrocks) I would argue that we do extend that
to some extent. The last really serious prosecution was of course
the Gay News, which was won. In fact this was also confirmed
in a European case which was not that long ago, that Britain had
a right to have blasphemy laws.
464. So you do not think anything which has
been broadcast or published since the Gay News case has
been grossly offensive to Christians?
(Dr Horrocks) If I may refer to an example which I
was hoping to have the opportunity to raise at some point and
this may be the point to raise it. Of course there was the not
so well publicised case of Peter Tatchell trying to bring up,
25 years after the Gay News case, the poem there by James
Kirkup "Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name." Together
with a group that he assembled, they stood on the steps of St
Martin's in the Field in June and let it be widely known that
they were going to broadcast this poem once again, inviting prosecution.
As far as we were concerned, the law that was affirmed in 1977
should have been upheld. In pursuance of that, we did two things:
first of all, we took out an injunction and, secondly, we went
down in person. I went down with some of my colleagues to confront
Peter Tatchell in Trafalgar Square. It was interesting that Peter
Tatchell's platform was built on freedom of speech; in other words,
he was saying, "Get rid of this law because (a) if no one
is going to act on it then it is useless and (b) we need to be
able to say whatever we like about anything at all." On that
occasion, the judges refused to give the injunction but they did
agree a judicial review and ordered cameras to be placed in Trafalgar
Square, and that judicial review is still continuing. I requested
two police superintendents to act as soon as the poem began to
be read, because I was standing right there and I could hear it
being read and it is the most offensive thing . . . Well, I would
not wish any of my church to read or to see that poem, but, nevertheless,
I have read it and I know what it says. As soon as it began to
be read, I asked the police to act in accordance with the law.
The police superintendent said, no, they were not prepared to
act unless there was evidence that public disorder was going to
take place. I then said to the police superintendent, "Are
you inviting me to attack Peter Tatchell? in which case you will
then consider that the law ought to be implemented." In other
words it is those who are most vociferous, those who shout loudest,
those who are most violent or those with whom it is perceived
they are going to have trouble who get their way. If I could just
append to that story another story which I also wanted the opportunity
to mention today which shows the irony and the mess that we are
in over this. I actually debated with Peter Tatchell on the steps,
in front of the cameras, the question over his placard which said,
"We Want Freedom of Speech." I said to Peter
Tatchell, "Why are you demanding the rights that you do not
allow to other people?" and I referred him to the previous
case a few months earlier of an Evangelical Alliance member called
Harry Hammond, who, as an 82-year old man, wisely or unwisely
you might judge, stood up in Bournemouth town centre with a placard
that read, "Homosexuality is wrong. Let's return to moral
society." Harry Hammond was attacked by a group of gay
people who claimed to be outraged by his placard. He was kicked
to the ground, his placard was destroyed, he was injured. The
irony of it all is that he was prosecuted for causing public disorder
and the prosecution came from the gay people, including one observer
who came back from Australia to give evidence in the case. He
was actually prosecuted and convicted. It would have gone to appeal
had he not, sadly, died in the interim. There is still a possibility
that that case may be appealed, though he has died. That shows
the irony of the case. I put it to Peter Tatchell was he not being
hypocritical in wanting for himself what he was denying to others.
If you are interested in his response, it was, "Well, you
should see what I wrote in the Daily Mail. I have distanced
myself from all of that." I then invited him to condemn publicly
his supporters, which he refused to do.
Earl of Mar and Kellie
465. Since we are talking about things that
have happened, I am very surprised by some of the comments in
the letters which have come from what I am broadly going to call
the evangelical community. Several people have raised the issue
of the Coronation oath and others have accused me (since the letter
was written to me) of treason for considering this. On the issue
of treason, I find that very hard, particularly as I come from
Scotland and these laws do not apply there, which causes me to
remember slightly the supposed conviction for treason of Sir William
Wallace. But that is a red herring. How do you feel about the
idea of even considering the abolition of blasphemy as being treasonous
in any way?
(Dr Horrocks) Far be it for me, sir, to be accusing
you of treason. It is not an argument we have used. Having said
that, we would place a very high emphasis on the role of the sovereign,
who is the defender of the faith and is the supreme governor of
the Church of England, and we believe that the vows that the sovereign
takes on that occasion are very, very important, so we would attribute
huge weight to them. We have not talked in terms of treason.
466. Your real complaint, I thinkand
I am sure you will correct me if I am wrongis not so much
about the existing state of the law, which I understand you to
be strongly in favour of, but about prosecutorial discretion.
Your concern is that there are casesand you have given
us some exampleswhere there should be prosecutions under
the blasphemy law and they are simply not being undertaken and
you think and feel very strongly that they should be.
(Dr Horrocks) I would not put it that way. That is
not the emphasis of what we are saying. I think what we are saying
is that if you have a law, it ought to be used where it is flagrantly
broken. But, let us not forget, there is a high degree of offence
required in it as the law stands at the momentand probably
rightly so, because otherwise we would have cases arising all
the time for sheer disagreement. We endorse the law as it stands
at the moment. What we are saying though is that if religious
hatred, which is a much more subjective area, comes into view
in terms of legislation, then all kinds of thresholds become lowered
and we think it is an unworkable thing. We have broadly supported
the idea of a law against religious hatred, because why would
we be against that? We are not against it. Anybody who hates somebody
else, of course we would not support anything like that. We are
concerned that it would open the floodgate to virtually an unworkable
world, in which, for simply disagreeing or expressing views that
were taken as offence by somebody else, freedom of speech, freedom
of religion would be totally undercut. That is the balance that
I think I would like to stress.
467. Can you give us an indication of what you
mean by "open the floodgate"? What do you actually think
would happen the day after the blasphemy law were repealed or
abolished, if that were to happen?
(Dr Horrocks) If I could quote, perhaps as an extreme
example, something that happened in a church close to me in Watford
not very long ago. Again, I am not picking on the gay lobby but
it just happened to involve gay people. The gay community became
aware that the minister in that church was actually teaching from
the Bible, which according to Christians and evangelical Christians
is strongly against promoting homosexuality, and they invaded
the church in the middle of the service and deliberately offended
the entire congregation, disrupted the entire service, by doing
unimaginable things which I would not even wish to go into in
this Committee. Possibly an extreme example, but it happened not
very long ago in a church that I know of. Of course there was
a much more well-known example that made the press. It happened
to a Roman Catholic church in New York many years ago, where almost
the same thing happened: exception was taken to the teaching of
the church on a particular issue and that church was invaded and
the host was desecrated in front of the congregation. Maybe my
examples there are a bit extreme but they actually did happen,
and certainly I could envisage situations where perhaps a local
minister teaching about the uniqueness of Christ to his congregation
was interrupted, was heckled, and religious people were unable
to get on with their worship in the way they had been used to
in a peaceful and orderly way.
468. Evidently, in the case that you mention
in this particular church, the law of blasphemy
was not used against those disrupting the services
and therefore the retention of the law is not going to help in
a case of that sort. But was it not possible in the extreme circumstances
you have mentioned to use one of the other existing statutes,
such as the Public Order Act or the Protection Against Harassment
(Dr Horrocks) I think very likely.
469. So that was not an argument for the retention
of the law of blasphemy then?
(Dr Horrocks) Not necessarily. That was not the point
I was making. The point I was making was that it could open the
floodgates for that kind of behaviour.
470. How could it do that, if there are existing
laws, such as the ones I have mentioned, which already protect
churches against the sort of conduct that was evidenced in that
(Dr Horrocks) Because different religious groups have
different thresholds. Certainly the Christian religion, in my
experienceand I am not making a blanket comment hereis
peaceable. We do not want to go to law, we do not want necessarily
to draw attention to everything that goes on by going to law.
In fact Christians are actually under some kind of obligation
to use law as a last resortokay, mainly between themselves,
but, even so, there is a reluctance to go to law every time a
feeling is outraged. I just would perhaps contrast the reaction
of that church in Watford, which actually loved those people and
prayed for them rather than taking them to court - which I think
was actually a very Christian response, not a legal response -
with perhaps what would have happened if that had been a mosque.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead
471. Earlier on you mentioned that our society
has been built over centuries on the Christian ethic. Do you not
accept now, in the year 2002, that we live in a multicultural
society and that other faiths have the same rights of protection?
Historicallycertainly as perceived by the majority of this
Committeethe beneficiary has always been the Christian
church, the Church of England in this case. Would you accept,
in the first place, that we have moved on to a multicultural society?
If that is the case, is it not right that we should be looking,
in the recognition of that, to amend rather than to retain one
protection that only looks after the Church of England? Should
we not be looking for extending that protection?
(Bishop Wayne Malcolm) I think there are two different
issues there. One is the issue of whether we should be looking
at a law protecting against incitement to religious hatred. I
think we have said all alongI know I have said all alongthat
we would be happy in a broad sense to look at that and discuss
that. So long as our religious freedoms were preserved, we probably
would not be against something like that and feel that that sort
of protection is necessary for all religious groups. On the issue
of the blasphemy, it is a different matter for me because, irrespective
of its legal interpretation and what can be done with it legally,
I think that we feel its impact in the fact that it is there,
it has been there historically, and that it sends a message out
to, I think, ordinary people that blasphemy is wrong. I do not
think they see it in terms of "What I am allowed to do?"
or "How far we can go as far as the Church of England?"
or how far it would be interpreted legally. We just think that
to abolish it sends the wrong message out and we feel that people
would just explore the limits of that. As far as extending it,
precisely because the Christian religion has this threshold of
tolerance, we feelfor example in the case that Lord Bhatia
brought up about the Satanic Versesthat if we extended
the blasphemy laws we would open the floodgates to a lot of litigation.
We feel the threshold for our faith is much higher.
(Mr Masom) I think, absolutely clearly, we do live
in a multicultural society. The point I was making was, simply,
from where we start, and how in practical terms one can accommodate
the kinds of protections which are entirely appropriate for people
with other strongly held beliefs, not to be persecuted for those
beliefs, without in the process removing the historic freedoms
and protections to proclaim the Christian faith.
472. Indeed, we are very conscious of that fact.
(Dr Horrocks) May I just add to that, because I think
it is a very important point that you raise there. We tend to
assume that Britain is now multicultural/multi-faith without really
questioning that terribly much. Okay, we know there are statistics
which show that less than 10 per cent are regular churchgoers,
but, on the other hand, there are statistics that show that between
60 per cent and 80 per cent of the people in this country believe
in God. So it really depends how you come at this. I just wonder:
Is Britain as religiously diverse as perhaps we often assert?
And we have to argue, in that context: Does extension of the blasphemy
law actually increase social cohesion? Because surely that is
the point of it. I noticed that my Lord the Bishop of Portsmouth
mentioned a little bit earlier the point that perhaps some of
this law is old and out of date and is not used much, but perhaps
also we could argue the rarity of its use shows that it does work
and gives us a cohesion in society which is not perfect but nevertheless
is workable. I just wonder, if one extended the blasphemy law
to other religions, whether the result might be mass prosecutions,
a sort of juridifying of religious controversy. So we have the
spectre of the judiciary having to get involved in religious controversy.
With the best will in the world, I am sure my Lords would not
wish that on any judiciary, to be involved in religious controversy.
I think we have had centuries of that and we are glad perhaps
that it is not a part of the 21st century. But also I would argue
that it could have the effect of potentially "criminalizing"
a large percentage of what is hitherto a peaceful community. In
other words, you might even politicise and criminalize the Christian
world which is relatively peaceful in Britain, but in Northern
Ireland, for example, it actually polarises. I just wonder whether
by doing that we might be opening up a Pandora's box which we
wish we had not.
473. A law of religious hatred does exist in
Northern Ireland. I just wanted to pick up on what you said about
60 to 80 per cent of people believing in God. Of course that includes
many other religions besides the Christian religion.
(Dr Horrocks) Absolutely.
Baroness Massey of Darwen
474. I have two questions. Firstly, do you think
gay Christians should be protected? Secondly, I am a bit confused
about the use of the words "faith", "belief",
and "religion". What about humanists, should they also
be protected under the law?
(Dr Horrocks) The answer is: Yes, yes.
475. I just want to pick up on the earlier discussion
we had. I would use the word "multi-faith" instead of
multicultural. This country is much more multi-faith. From the
evidence the Committee has taken so far and from what I have heard
outside as well as within this Committee, it so happens the Muslims
are very close to what you have been saying. They would rather
have the blasphemy law stay as it is. I think it stems from one
basic belief, that, even if it protects one faith, they would
rather keep it there than remove it. There is not much difference
between what you are saying and between what some of the Muslims
are sayingI do not necessarily say that all the Muslims
(Dr Horrocks) I understand.
476. I want to push that a little further. When
we talk about bringing in a religious hatred law, it is not that
we must have blasphemy or not blasphemy law. It is not one or
the other. It is just saying that the blasphemy law, if it protects
the Christian faith, that is fine for everybody, but let us explore
the position of those faiths that have to face hatred by other
groups of people. If a suitable law was framed taking into account
two thingsagain something that you raisedhuman rights
and the freedom of speech, if it was a balanced law that took
care of all those groups, would you be happy with that?
(Dr Horrocks) We have said so. During the Anti-Terrorism
Bill we made substantial representation. In fact David Blunkett
actually quoted us on the floor of the House of Commons because
we had indicated that, whilst broadly supportive of legislation
that could be framed to prevent, on the one hand, hatred being
expressed to people on religious grounds, religiously aggravated
hatred, at the same time could legislation be drawn up in such
a way that religious liberty and freedom of speech be protected?
That was the difficulty we had. We believed in that whole debate
that leaving it to the Attorney General without any guidelines
whatsoever, instead of writing it onto the face of the Bill, was
not a possible position to hold. That is why we opposed that particular
bill. And, of course, as you know, it was lost. Speaking personally
now, I have my doubts as to whether such legislation could be
drawn up in a way that would achieve what was wanted. I do myself,
personally, wonder whether existing legislation nowparticularly
with the passage of that Anti-Terrorism Bill and the fact that
the criminal law now accepts that a crime can be religiously aggravatedshould
not cover the situation, because what are we actually talking
about in practice? Are we talking about disagreement verbally
or are we talking about violent confrontation, scurrilous insulting
(as per Lord Scarman's definition)? We would have to frame it
very, very carefully as to what was caught by that legislation
and what was not and our worry is that too much might be caught
by it. I wrote to Mr Blunkett, after that part of the Bill was
lost, offering that the Evangelical Alliance would be willing
to work with his officials to see if a way could be found of framing
something that was acceptable. I have to say I have my doubts
as to whether it can be, but we did not dismiss it.
Chairman: That is of course part of the reason
this Committee was formed, to solve exactly that dilemma.
Bishop of Portsmouth
477. I would not want you to misunderstand my
begging questions to imply that I was in favour of the abolition
of the blasphemy law.
(Dr Horrocks) Sure.
478. I am completely with you on the debunking
of the multi-faith thing. Pakistan has a nine per cent Christian
population and that is never described a multi-faith.
(Dr Horrocks) No.
479. I have said this before this Committee,
so that is a balance. But the purpose of this Committee is not
just to look at the past but we have to try to bring forward a
mechanism, if we decide to do that, that will deal with the future.
Speaking, again, on this point in a private but official capacity,
as a Church of England Bishop, who sits up here for various historical
reasons for which I would strenuously argue the retentionfor
much the reasons you give over blasphemy actually . . . But that
is a separate issue. We have to think about the future and since
11 September religion is very much a big issue. I still want to
probe what you were saying just now because it seems to meand
forgive me for putting it so directly to youthat you want
to have your cake and eat it. You want to keep the blasphemy law
and shelter as religiously non-conformists under the umbrella
of the Church of England. I am happy to operate that system on
other fronts, but you are not giving us much help on how we are
trying to move forward over this issue of religious hatred in
a world in which religion is a very powerful issue. Forgive me
for putting it so sharply, but we are here to ask questions as
well as gain the confidence of those who come to us with their
(Mr Masom) Speaking personally, I do not think, in
anything that I have said or that I would believe, that there
should not be some attempt to protect marginalisation and persecution.
I guess post-11 September you are talking about the Islamic community
in that context. My only concern is that whatever you do or recommend
be done to extend the scope of that protection to other faiths
does not offend the historic freedoms of the Christian faith to
proclaim things which potentially are conflicting and potentially
could offend, in terms of proclamation of very key Christian doctrines,
other faiths that do not hold those doctrines.