Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)




  480. We are very conscious, I promise you, as a Committee that that is the kind of balance which we need to offer for all religions and indeed for those with no religion. We should be able to have intellectual debate about the correctness of their position.
  (Mr Masom) It is just that I do not recognise the comment that we are not helping.

  481. No one has helped us yet.
  (Dr Horrocks) My Lord Bishop, I think we are agreeing with you. It is difficult and we have said we are willing to explore how it could be done but we have a question mark as to whether it can be done. It has defeated a lot of people over the years and I am not sure we have some easy, ready answers to it.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  482. Why have you doubts that it can be done? Is it because of the clash between freedom of speech and what may be termed as incitement? Is it impossible to draw the line?
  (Dr Horrocks) We have not said it is impossible, but very difficult. That is where we would see the difficulty. Could it be drawn up in such a way as to maintain the balance? We would seek to defend the Moslem community, for example, from any attacks and hatred following 11 September. Of course we would, but at the same time we would be concerned that historic freedoms that are fundamental to this country could be lost. In other words, the freedom to preach the gospel for Christians, because the threshold of tolerance could come down so much that even just declaring one's faith—and Christians are under a mandate to share their faith and to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. Nothing at all will stop Christians doing that. No legislation in the world will prevent Christians from obeying the gospel—not that I am suggesting that the Evangelical Alliance is advocating civil disobedience today. Not for a moment. That is the gospel and that is what worries Christians.

  483. Is the Attorney General the right person to try and draw this line?
  (Dr Horrocks) We believed not during the Anti-Terrorism Bill, but we had nothing to go on. There were no guidelines that were brought before the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

  484. There were.
  (Dr Horrocks) Only at the last minute and too late for us to comment on. We were not convinced by them. I think they needed revisiting and placing on the face of the Bill.

  485. It is a tough job for the Attorney General, is it not, to have to make these decisions and there is not necessarily going to be any consistency over a period of time. Can you think of any other trigger that would allow freedom of speech but would catch incitement to hatred, any other device?
  (Dr Horrocks) My Lord, this is where I find difficulty. Perhaps on some questions God alone can judge.

  Bishop of Portsmouth: I wish more Christians believed that.

  Viscount Colville of Culross: I do not think we can write him into the discussion as being the answer.

Earl of Mar and Kellie

  486. You have raised the issue about preachers being drawn into and charged with inciting religious hatred. This featured in very many of the letters that we got. I read that as being somewhat far-fetched. I certainly cannot see such an incitement to religious hatred charge being made for someone who is preaching a religion, but I can see that occurring when such a preacher starts criticising other religions. Remember that we are considering a criminal conviction with all the necessary evidence. How likely do you really think that would be? Is it possible to preach one religion without in some respects criticising some others?
  (Dr Horrocks) It is happening. The Christian broadcaster, Premier Radio, has been censured for some of the things that it has broadcast. Preachers preaching the uniqueness of Christ have been interpreted by some as an offence because it relativises other faiths. There has been pressure based upon Premier Radio, for example, to be very mindful about what it says and they are aware of that and are trying to follow some internal code of not gratuitously offending other religions. I do not think I know any preachers who go out of their way to offend other faiths deliberately, but very often that offence is taken rather than given and that is one of our difficulties. Incidentally, that is another area of discrimination. Whether we would hate it or not, we do not allow tele-evangelism in this country as would happen in the United States and other parts of the world, for example, which is in a sense a discrimination against proclaiming the gospel in this country as it is. That is something that is being looked at now under the broadcasting laws, but it is tangentially relevant to what you said.
  (Bishop Malcolm) I think there is a difference between criticising someone else's belief and inciting hatred. By virtue of the fact that you have your beliefs and you do not share their beliefs, you find fault with their beliefs and at some point you will have to teach that and explain that to your members. Whether it has the effect of inciting hatred or whether it is perceived by the other group as stirring up hatred, I do not think you could be held responsible for teaching what you believe. If you are challenging another religion academically, that is different to inciting hatred.

  487. Presumably, when you are inciting hatred against someone or against a group of believers, particularly in the context of the criminal conviction, the evidence would have to show that you were actually giving instructions to people to go out and do things against the other believers?
  (Bishop Malcolm) I would think so. If it could be proved that you were encouraging acts of violence or intimidation, that is incitement to hatred.
  (Dr Horrocks) That is not part of the Christian religion. The Christian religion emphasises tolerance and respect for other people's views and consciences.

  488. Therefore, the suggestion made in the letters which we received that preachers can be convicted for preaching that their religion was the one true religion is a far-fetched assertion because you have to do far more than that?
  (Dr Horrocks) Providing that the high level of offence under the present blasphemy laws is maintained. If that threshold comes down, I do not think it is so far-fetched.

Lord Avebury

  489. You have veered back on to blasphemy and we are talking about religious hatred. This is nothing to do with blasphemy. This is to do with what you can say in the pulpit and what you can say about other religions. You have agreed that you can contradict in the most forthright terms what is said by members of other religions and you can use extremely strong language in criticising their beliefs. What you cannot do, if that law were to be passed, looking at the Attorney General's guidelines which merely summarise what were the ingredients of the offence, is to use threatening, abusive and insulting language or write threatening, abusive or insulting publications such that either incitement to hatred—you intended to stir up hatred against members of a religious group—or that was the effect of your remarks. If you did not remember what the Attorney General said, he actually merely recapitulated what was in the clauses that were struck out of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Do you not agree that that gives an enormous latitude to preachers of whatever religion to say what they like about other people's faiths in the pulpit?
  (Dr Horrocks) We are thinking about the law as it may be in 10, 20 or 30 years' time and how that will be interpreted and perceived. Our view was that there was a risk in subjective judgment and possibly open to political interference as well that that threshold could come down in the future, which was why we suggested that, on the face of the Bill, it was clearly spelt out what constituted hatred.

  490. Do you not agree that the word "hatred" has been exhaustively used and interpreted in the courts in the context of racial hatred? Why do you think that the courts would have any greater difficulty in interpreting what is meant by religious than what is meant by racial hatred?
  (Dr Horrocks) Simply because I think there is a world of difference between the two. Religious hatred can often be a very subjective thing. It is perceived offence. Who measures that? Who measures intent? Who measures likelihood to stir up? Whereas with a racial offence it is far more clear that hatred is being expressed against the person himself rather than the beliefs that they hold. I think there is a wide difference between them.

  491. Are they not in both cases hatred against a group of people? In one case, it is defined by their ethnicity and, in the other case, it is defined by their religious beliefs. How can there be any difference between the two?
  (Dr Horrocks) For the reasons I have said. I do not see it as clearly as you do.

  492. The language surely would be the same in either case in order to attract criminal penalties?
  (Dr Horrocks) Yes. But the idea that we simply add "religious" to the Bill which was suggested was what we were worried about. We felt it had to be much more clearly defined because it was in the area of subjectivity, leaving it to somebody's judgment, which we felt was far too open ended.

  493. Would you agree that the conduct which was prohibited or stopped in the case of Premier Radio had nothing to do with any law against religious incitement because it does not exist at the moment? That was under the existing law regulating radio transmissions of all kinds.
  (Dr Horrocks) We were worried about the tendency of it. Certainly, there is no intention to gratuitously offend other religions, but the difficulty is that we could see that as the thin end of the wedge and that really is our whole case.

Bishop of Portsmouth

  494. I would have much sympathy with that last point. We have talked about religious hatred between different religious groups and widening that to include protection of humanists. I wonder if I could push to a less comfortable area which is the way in which some Christians behave publicly against other Christians with whom they passionately disagree. I can see that becoming quite a difficult issue if we go down this line. Could you help us?
  (Dr Horrocks) I do not think we have very much to add to that. Certainly Christians disagree. No one would argue about that. Speaking for myself and for the organisation I represent, if we are going to disagree, we believe in doing it nicely. That is the Christian way.

  495. Not all do.
  (Dr Horrocks) As with everything, you get extremists.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

  496. You started by commenting on the definition of the law of blasphemy given to you. What is your advice to the Committee regarding that definition?
  (Dr Horrocks) Stick to the one we have.

  497. Secondly, when you say you represent a constituency, you speak on behalf of that constituency—you have made some very strong statements today—how widespread would you say that the views that you are stating reflect the views held in that constituency?
  (Dr Horrocks) It is a bit difficult for me to comment specifically on that because we have not carried out a survey of our members. We represent over a million Christians and that would take some organising. Speaking personally, my judgment is that it is very widely held that the blasphemy law, as it stands at the moment, should not either be abolished or extended. I would regard that view as widely held.

Viscount Colville of Culross

  498. Or restated, because one of the troubles at the moment is that it is very difficult to find out what it is.
  (Dr Horrocks) Of course. I am not suggesting that the Christian world would be against restating it because we all accept that there is much language involved in it which is arcane and people do not understand it today. We are not against bringing the blasphemy law up to date. What we are more concerned about is the content in it.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

  499. You were unable to do a survey of the million people that you are representing. Were you able to give any advice about this Committee's activities in any form?
  (Dr Horrocks) We have simply notified our members that this Committee is working and let them know about it in the usual way.

  500. Any advice about how they should respond?
  (Dr Horrocks) We have told them what our position is, which is freely available on our website, so they would know what we are officially saying. I would have to say not everyone would agree with every little point but I would suggest that the vast majority would go with the bulk of what we are saying.

  Chairman: Can we thank you very much indeed. I hope the fact that we have overrun our time exceptionally does reinforce for you how important we felt your testimony to be. We have had a very large post bag, a lot of it from members of the Evangelical Alliance or people who believe themselves to be part of the evangelical, Christian movement and we have read their letters with great care along with many other letters we have had in our post bag. We have looked forward to hearing from you today and I hope you feel you have had a fair opportunity to give us your views. Thank you again for coming.

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