Submission from the Christian Peoples
The Christian People's Alliance (CPA) is a party
in the Christian Democratic tradition with a cross-denominational
membership. At the Greater London Authority elections in 2000,
we carried support from across the faiths and from leading business
figures, winning votes from nearly 100,000 people in the capital.
The CPA favours keeping the present blasphemy legislation in place.
The author of this submission has been an ordained
minister for six years and pastor of a church in Hackney, East
London, for over four years in a predominantly black church. He
is also a member of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance
and involved with the majority black churches for over nine years.
He attended one of the Committee's meetings on 18 July 2002 and
this paper addresses some of the points that were raised at this
2.1 The meaning of "religious hatred"
as defined by the Religious Offences Bill is open to ambiguous
interpretation. Unlike racial groupingswhich can be genetically
definedreligious views, values and culture often encompass
much more than may be observed with the naked eye, or down a microscope
comparing different types of blood groups. Any suggestion that
certain types of mannerisms are typically black or white because
of the colour of a skin type are racist and offensive. This point
cannot be made with religion, which is not measurable by laboratory
science methods and which involves much in the way of an individual's
personal culture and worldview. Some of these values are chosen
by the individual himself or herself or defined for them before
they were even born by the type of society that they grew up in.
2.2 To attempt to bring on to the statute
book a crime called "religious hatred" (which has been
described as hatred "against a group of persons referenced
by their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs")
would be either unenforceable and unworkable, or draconian, depending
on how it was interpreted by the courts. Religious beliefs, cultural
values and heritage are much too diverse to define in the way
the Religious Offences Bill attempts to do. Religion in the western
world is increasingly harder and harder to define. The process
of securing a successful prosecution would be fraught with difficulties.
There are hundreds of sects and sub-sects of main religions, along
with New Age, Animistic and Pagan-centred religions, many of which
are individualistically orientated. They have their own individually
tailor-made beliefs to suit their own personal perceptions of
the world around them and would probably not be covered by the
Bill's definition on "religious hatred". Because they
do not belong to "a group of persons defined by reference
to religious beliefs."
2.3 Culture is typically defined as the
totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs,
institutions and all other products of human work and thought.
The idea of hatred towards a particular aspect of culture, again
in this case religion, is comparable to hatred against an idea
or philosophical thought. It would be illiberal and against the
long-standing British tradition of free-speech to put at risk
of prosecution someone standing at Hyde Park, Speaker's Corner
saying: "I hate your religion because it is inferior to mine."
2.4 Introducing the crime of "religious
hatred" will stifle public religious free expression, free
speech and debate, which are all protected under UN resolutions
and European Convention on Human Rights Article 10. The present
blasphemy law distinguishes between the speaking or publishing
of opinions hostile to the Christian religion and speaking or
publishing of anything reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter
relating to God, Jesus Christ or the Bible. This has already been
demonstrated in R. v Lemon (1979), commonly known
as the "Gay News" case. The matter was then debated
in the House of Lords. This distinction fails in comparisons between
"hatred" towards a religious group and what is a view
based on freedom of expression. The question arises: "How
do you define what is simply a hostile opinion from that which
is reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to hundreds
and thousands of different religious beliefs and values system?"
If the proposed legislation conflates this distinction, the courts
will have been passed by Parliament the onerous task of distinguishing
between vexatious and justified prosecutions.
3. THE BENEFITS
3.1 The Christian Peoples Alliance sees
a range of benefits in retaining the current blasphemy law legislation.
The law at present is treated with contempt on the one hand by
secularist and humanist groups wanting repeal and indifference
by those who regard it as both toothless and from an ancient and
bygone era. The CPA does not share these negative views.
3.1.1 The laws help buttress Britain's Christian
constitution from being unravelled. They signal the importance
of having regard for such aspects as the Coronation Oath, Christian
symbols on the Crown Jewels and the centrality of prayer, the
Bible and highly intense Christian art, decoration and symbolism
in Parliament. They point to the long-standing importance of Judeo-Christian
laws and customs, which underpin democracy, shared social and
moral values and Britain's open society.
3.1.2 As the blasphemy laws are so very
rarely invoked, their moral strength, integrity and deterrent
effect are shown to be effective. The law has been tested in the
courts and has been shown to demonstrate tolerance of other faiths,
cultures and customs without any sense of feeling of national
moral threat or hindrance to the Christian religion of this nation.
The point is made by the fact that the first Islamic mosque was
approved and built in England in the 19th century when all current
blasphemy legislation was originally written.
3.1.3 The effect of the law is similar to
the public recognition in schools of Christianity afforded by
the Education Act 1944. It serves to create a sense of "public
space" in which all religions can express their views without
fear of ridicule or being reviled. If the Religious Offences Bill
became law, then some Christians will feel there was no appropriate
or proper protection afforded to them. But just as importantly,
members of other faiths will judge that the notion of the sacred,
which has been part of the spirit of tolerance integral to the
good of society, has been rejected.
3.1.4 Repealing the blasphemy laws would
be like taking away the fire grid from the fire. Society benefits
when there is in place legislation that ensures the basic protection
of freedoms as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights
Article 10(2). The "benefit" is not because God's "feelings"
are in some sense protected, (never the intention of the law).
It is the educative force of a law which declares that social
relationships are damaged when regard for the holy and sacred
can be openly reviled without fear of legal sanction.
4. CLOSING REMARKS
The privileged position given by the law to
the historic doctrines of the Church of England affords protection
not just to other Christian traditions, but also helps maintain
a regard for the faiths of others. The Christian Peoples Alliance
opposes the replacement of the present law by something universal
in effect, which would prove unworkable and illiberal. It is not
necessarily a weakness that a law is clumsy or limited in scope.
Lack of "neatness" is not problematic if the law's primary
intentionthe maintenance of respect across society for
the importance of faithis made to work. For this reason
we would favour retaining the present law, although we would judge
the merits of any future reform bill on the basis of the principles
24 July 2002