Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
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 faithand 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 gospelnot
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
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
(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
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.
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 hatredyou intended to stir up hatred against members
of a religious groupor 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
(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 constituencyyou
have made some very strong statements todayhow 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
(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
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.