The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is about creating a new criminal offence in the UK (with a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail) of ‘stirring up hatred against people on religious grounds’. It does this by adding new parts to an older law: the Public Order Act 1986.
What is it about?
The government themselves have said that the new law is meant to be for the benefit of Muslims living in Britain who need protection from attacks on them which have been more common since September 11th.
What’s happened so far?
The Government have already tried on several occasions to pass this law, but have always been forced to withdraw it because of the strength of opposition, from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and outside pressure from a broad coalition of concerned groups. Now the Government are trying to push through the law because it was one of their manifesto promises.
What does the Religious Hatred Bill mean for Christians?
A law against stirring up religious hatred sounds like an excellent idea – the Gospel is a Gospel of love and all Christians would support measures to punish and deter those who deliberately create hatred of others on religious grounds. However, the way the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill has been written means it is very likely it will have dangerous consequences which the Government did not intend it to have.
- A very similar law passed recently in Australia has led to the prosecution of a mainstream Christian pastor who taught a seminar on Islam. The judge decided that the seminar incited ‘intense dislike’ of Muslims and this was enough to count as ‘hatred’.
Already in England, under existing law, a street preacher’s conviction for a public order offence was upheld by the High Court because he held a placard which said ‘Stop Homosexuality’ ‘Stop Immorality’ ‘Turn to Jesus’ and the court said those words were ‘abusive and insulting’ to a certain section of the community.
- Also, in certain areas of England with large Islamic populations, Churches have already been asked to take down posters saying things like ‘Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life’ because they could be considered insulting to people of other religions. If the Religious Hatred Bill becomes law it would be even more likely that the freedom for Christians to speak about such things would be removed.
- Because Christianity teaches tolerance and grace, it is likely that it would be people of other religions, extremists or activist groups, who would try and prosecute Christian leaders, rather than Christians prosecuting others. There are already examples of this sort of behaviour – the Mysticism and Occult Federation monitored Premier (Christian) Radio in order to find grounds for complaint. They then sent those complaints to the Radio Authority. That Authority upheld some of the complaints that it was offensive for Premier radio to warn of the dangers of the occult on air.
- In a recent case (August 2005) under the similar Australian law, a witch sought to prosecute the Salvation Army for using the Alpha course to preach the good news in the prison where the witch was serving time. The judge said the claim was ‘preposterous’ but criticised the law which allowed the Salvation Army’s time to be wasted as well as the embarrassment and bad publicity of a police investigation and trial, all of which happened even though they were eventually found not guilty. This sort of legal battle and publicity would almost inevitably happen in this country if the new law is brought in.
THERE IS A PUBLIC POLITICAL RALLY ON TUESDAY 11TH OCTOBER AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE HOUSE OF LORDS BETWEEN 1PM AND 4PM FOR WORSHIP AND PRAYER UNITED WITH THE CHURCHES. PLEASE PUT IT IN YOUR DIARY FOR PRAYER IF NOT FOR ATTENDANCE.
The sad thing about this is that the Army appears to support this Bill. Here is a response from the Public Relations Department:
——In a nutshell, the official ‘party line’ currently is that of somemonths ago – broadly supportive of the bill. It is in fact a line stillbeing maintained by all the mainline denominations. However, be assuredthat it is being monitored very closely at the moment and indeed hasbeen over the last couple of months. The rhetoric opposing the bill fromcertain circles is indeed shocking, and it is not being ignored,however, we are researching the issues carefully in order to ensure thatour own position, particularly if it ends up being different to theinitial stance taken, is meticulously researched. The bill has substantial overlaps with another piece of legislationwhich we are in close consultation with the Government on, and which isperhaps even more threatening if not addressed, so please rest assuredthat we are not ignoring the seriousness of the hour. Please continue to pray for the political process and thank yousincerely for engaging in it.——-
I have asked for further clarification and I will post it here. I would like to point out that there are some significant Christian bodies in the UK encouraging opposition to this Bill, including the Evangelical Alliance, the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, the Christian Institute, Premier Radio, Cross Rythms, and many other evangelical Christian Political groups. The Rt Honorable Baroness Cox (of Christian Solidarity) also has encourage lobbying and demonstration to safe guard free speech for all UK citizens. Mainstream denominations many not have problems, but then they have not always supported the Army on various stances so their support, or lack thereof can hardly be considered as grounds for inaction.
Let everyone and their granny know about this for prayer and action. Here are some websites with more info…..
(under Incitement to Religioushatred), at http://www.christian.org.uk/
The LCF has prepareda 19 minuteprogramme which can be viewed on any of the aforementioned sites.