Submission from the Maranatha Community
We state clearly that the Maranatha Community
condemns any form of verbal or physical violence, be it religiously
or not religiously motivated. We maintain that the command love
your neighbour, whatever his or her religious belief, is the fundamental
principle of our community and the work in which we are involved
We confirm that the current religious offences
(notably blasphemy laws) should be maintained. In our submission,
we would like to focus on the proposed new offence of "incitement
to religious hatred", which we oppose strongly for the following
1. We anticipate the following problems
with a new offence of incitement to religious hatred. This offence
is difficult or impossible to define and could therefore lead
to abuse, subsequently curtailing the rights of freedom of speech
and freedom of religion.
The definition of "religion"
or "religious" is problematic. Even the representative
of the Home Office's Race Equality Unit states in his verbal evidence
to the Select Committee that the Home Office does not have a definition
If the definition of "religion"
or "religious" is unclear, an offence incitement to
religious hatred is extremely problematic, since this offence
cannot be defined sufficiently clearly to allow for an intended
appropriate use but also to prevent inappropriate use, ie potential
abuse of this offence.
We recognise that there is a balance
to be struck between the fundamental human rights of freedom of
religion and freedom of speech.
We are concerned, that this proposed
offence might paradoxically curtail both freedom of religion and
freedom of speech.
We are concerned that the definition
of incitement to hatred may be a very subjective one, for example
a member of one religious community may claim that a statement,
even regarding one of the basic beliefs of this religion, made
by another religious community was meant to "incite religious
hatred", even though it was not intended as such. The difference
between intent to cause offence as opposed to actual offence being
taken is difficult or impossible to ascertain in retrospect.
We accept that the law may want to
restrict speech that, given its immediate context, is likely to
result in direct violence against others. However, this criterion
is not always possible to establish.
A Christian quoting from the Bible
go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28; 19) might
be accused of inciting religious hatred and be prosecuted, even
though this was not his intention. The interpretation of such
a statement, go and make disciples of all nations, will
also depend on the context. For example, if stated by a lecturer
in a University course on comparative religion, would this constitute
incitement to religious hatred, making the lecturer or the university
liable to prosecution? If the same statement go and make disciples
of all nations were proclaimed at the end of a sermon by an
enthusiastic preacher in front of a substantial and committed
congregation, would this constitute incitement to religious hatred,
making him or the church or his Bishop liable to prosecution?
Finally, if a street evangelist preaches go and make disciples
of all nations would this make him liable to prosecution in
a predominantly non-Christian area but perhaps not in a predominantly
Christian area, even though one could argue that a minority of
non-Christians could still be offended?
For this reason we are convinced
that this new proposed offence is unworkable and are seriously
concerned that this new offence could be abused and lead to miscarriages
of justice in the same way as false accusations of rape have led
to prosecution and prison sentences of innocent people in the
We are therefore concerned that the
introduction of a new offence of incitement to religious hatred
could be used to silence almost any religious statement and lead
to prosecutions of members of any religion simply for voicing
their beliefs. We recognise that this is not the intention of
the proposed legislation at this point in time, however we can
envisage the situation arising in the future where this would
2. We anticipate enormous practical difficulties
with the implementation of such a new offence as incitement to
religious hatred. This is likely to lead to injustice and may
in fact considerably worsen relationships between different religious
We maintain that for the follower
of one religion, any criticism, justified or not justified, of
his religion by a member of another religion could be construed
as incitement to religious hatred.
If this case came to court, would
the judge in order to appear to be "neutral" have to
be member of a religious group not involved in this case? If there
were a case where for example, Muslims could be offended by a
statement by Christians or vice versa, would a Jewish judge be
acceptable or would he be considered biased towards the Christians
because the Christian Bible contains part of the Jewish Holy Scriptures?
Or, would he be considered to be biased towards Muslims because
of Anti-Semitism by some Christians? On the other hand, should
a judge be an Atheist to be as neutral as possible? However it
might be argued that then members of different religions might
not feel understood by an Atheist judge and might not accept his
Some members of certain religions,
for example some Muslims, do not recognise a secular court ruling
as valid and would only accept Islamic law and Islamic jurisdiction.
We anticipate serious practical difficulties
with this proposed offence of inciting religious hatred. For example,
were the riots occurring last year in some northern cities about
religion, Christians against Moslems, or about nationality, English
against Pakistani, or about political opinion, British National
Party against other parties, or about perceived or real social
and economic injustices or a combination of all these factors?
Similarly, in a confrontation occurring
between supporters of two football teams with different denominational
support, eg Glasgow Rangers versus Celtic, it is not clear whether
the fight was about football, eg Rangers against Celtic or has
a religious dimension, eg Protestant against Catholics, a nationalistic
dimension, Scotland against Ireland or a combination of all three
or none of the above, for example some football hooligans just
fancying a fight?
While we accept that these examples
may appear to be peripheral to the debate about this proposal,
they do in fact highlight that what might be considered as "religious
hatred" is rarely "only" religious and other factors
such as identity, ethnic groupings, perceived or real past injustices
etc may play an important and perhaps even dominant role.
3. We maintain that the introduction of
such a new offence is not only problematic, but also unnecessary
within the current legislative framework.
We maintain that the motivation behind
a crime may be extremely difficult to establish, for example it
may not be possible to establish whether the main motivation was
racial or religious hatred. However, physical harm done or damage
to property, is comparatively easy to establish and can be dealt
with under criminal law. This is possible without resorting to
a newly created offence of inciting religious hatred.
We are convinced that the current
law is in principle adequate to deal with actual offences committed
causing for example bodily harm through physical attack, damage
to property, desecration of cemeteries, but also incitement to
4. The introduction of a new offence of
incitement to religious hatred could make it difficult or even
impossible to report to the relevant authorities criminal activity
including human rights abuses if these are connected partially
or solely to religious and perhaps ethnic conflicts. The person
reporting might even be afraid of being prosecuted for inciting
religious hatred. Even official authorities such as the Police
could be deemed to be responsible for inciting religious hatred
simply by investigating such cases.
We are concerned that the introduction
of a new offence incitement to religious hatred might prevent
criminal activity and human rights abuses being reported where
there is a religious dimension to the crime or the human rights
abuses. This may even be relevant if the human rights abuses occur
in another country outside the UK.
However, there already is reluctance
by some UK authorities to investigate and prosecute criminal offences
if committed by ethnic and religious groups if this was felt to
place further strain on already tense relations between different
ethnic and religious communities. It would be conceivable that
even the Police investigating crimes committed by a certain religious
and ethnic group might be accused of inciting religious hatred
and perhaps even prosecuted only for investigating criminal behaviour.
We therefore recognise the grave danger that this new offence
might offer protection from investigation and prosecution to criminals
belonging to certain religious and ethnic groups, especially if
these are ethnic or religious minority groups.
This issue is also relevant if there
are human rights abuses abroad: If in another country there exists,
as confirmed by independent observers, human rights abuses by
ethnic and religious group A against a different ethnic group
B which also has a different religion, then representatives of
religious group B in the UK might not feel to be able to speak
out against the human rights abuses abroad because this could
be construed as incitement to religious hatred in the UK and be
5. We recognise that the Government appears
to be determined to introduce into law a new offence of incitement
to religious hatred. Were this offence ever to be introduced,
great care would have to be taken to avoid the prohibition of
expression of fundamental or core beliefs of the different religions,
and to allow non-violent and non-coercive propagation of faith.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights needs
to be observed.
We maintain that, should this new
offence be introduced, there would have to be a safeguard allowing
religious groups to be able to state their fundamental beliefs
and quote from their holy book(s) without this being regarded
as incitement to religious hatred leading to prosecution. For
example, Christians should be able to cite the Bible and state
their core beliefs, such as Jesus is the Son of God, even
though other religions may disagree. Conversely, Muslims should
be allowed to state their fundamental beliefs, such as there
is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God and
quote the Qur'an, even though other religions may disagree. Equally,
Humanists should be allowed to deny the existence of God.
The fundamental freedom of speech
which we have enjoyed in the UK allows the open expression of
differing opinions, even though others may strongly disagree with
the opinion voiced. However, freedom of speech should not be curtailed
because differing opinions exist.
We recognise that the world views
of different religions are in many respects incompatible, therefore
differences of opinion will inevitably remain. We are not convinced
that the legal system should try to resolve these differences,
provided that no human rights violations have occurred as a consequence
of differing religious opinions.
We also maintain that adherents of
different religions should continue to be allowed to propagate
their faith, provided this is done without coercion or without
threat of violence or actual use of violence. To prohibit propagation
of faith would amount to the prohibition of very fundamental parts
of the belief system held by many religions and would be considered
almost equal to prohibition of this religion.
It is extremely important that Article
18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations
General Assembly, 1948) should be upheld without compromise: "Everyone
has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and
freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public
or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice,
worship and observance."
18 July 2002