Thursday, June 30, 2005


Racial and Religious Hatred Bill: Amendments to Define Religion

Scientologists, Jedis, and Child Murderers not offered protection

Two amendments have been proposed which define 'religion', in an attempt to negate some small proportion of the vast array of devastating criticisms that an average child could raise against this Bill.

The first lists included religions:

For the purposes of section 17A a religious belief is confined to— (a)
Christianity; (b) Islam; (c) Hinduism; (d) Judaism; (e) Buddhism; (f) Sikhism;
(g) Rastafarianism; (h) Baha’ism; (i) Zoroastrianism; (j) Jainism.’.

the second lists excluded beliefs whose adherents are not protected:

17B Groups not protected by Part 3 For the purposes of section 17A any group of
persons holding the following religious beliefs or lack of religious belief
shall not enjoy the protection of this part of the Act— (a) Satanists; (b)
believers in human sacrifice to propitiate a deity; (c) believers in animal
sacrifice to propitiate a deity; (d) believers in female genital mutilation to
live in accordance with the rules of a religion; (e) believers in violence as a
means of proselytising a belief; (f) believers in the supremacy or superiority
of one race over another; (g) believers in the supremacy or superiority of one
gender over another; (h) Scientologists; (i) Jedi Knights.’.

My first reaction is of course to applaud the recognition that Scientology deserves its ignominious place alongside 'pretending to be religious as a joke' (being a Jedi) and 'murderering children'.

However, the Bill is not improved by either of these definitions, which miss the point of the scientology example.

(As an aside, I don't believe any such lists will be approved. An exclusive list would be more likely. Such a list could actually improve the Bill, for example, by saying, "No persons are protected on account of any belief which has political implications, i.e., implications for the disposition of law or the organisation of society).

In any case, here's some reasons why they don't improve the Bill (the first three look at the amendments on their own terms; the others follow secular criticism of the Bill in general):

1) The lists are inspired by convenience, contemporary events and the limited knowledge of MPs, rather than legal principle, and will therefore soon look outdated: 'Child sacrifice' has been recently in the news in relation to voodoo. (It is notable that the drafters had the wit not to include 'Demonic Possession/ Exorcism' amongst the exclusions: the Catholic Church still believes in them!)

2) The items on the list themselves require further definition; and they can only be enforced partially to have the intended effect. Amongst the exclusions, Islam and Christianity 'believe in violence' by any rational interpretation of their scriptures, but obviously won't get excluded. For the inclusions, will the Bill really attempt to reach definitive conclusions about whether Unitarians; Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons are Christians? (Theologically, none of them can be, but all claim to be).

And what on earth is 'Islam'?! (Hadeeth or no Hadeeth? Perhaps we can invite the Ayatollahs and the Mullahs to thrash the matter out on someone else's planet).

3) Religions are conspicuously excluded for no reason: Why shouldn't pagans get the same protection? What about Falun Gong, surely the most persecuted religion in the world? Likewise, there's many hideous cults worse than 'Jedi', and many yet to be invented. Why should a religion that proposes death by various means for all homosexuals be protected, but one that says women are superiour to men not be?

The Aum cult that murdered random people on the Japanese subway claims to have reformed, but what can this mean? Where is 'Islam' on this curve?

4) Any such amendments accentuate, rather than negate, the nature of the Bill as a protection for religion (rather than people, as is pretended): There will be a list of beliefs which are worthy of protection, or not. 'Persons' or 'Groups' are then defined only according to these beliefs. If it can be shown that there is one person who holds a protected belief, then the belief is protected.

5) The question of Scientology 'not being a proper religion' is one of the greatest absurdities that jurisprudence has ever been faced with. It is well documented that the organisation is malevolent and harmful. It cannot matter to the public interest whether the participants genuinely share theological or metaphysical notions: Pretending to be a Jedi has little ill effect. Whether or not Jediism, Zen, Freemasonry or Gaia-are 'religious' are knotty philosophical questions with no profound political significance.

The proposed amendments fail to grasp the significance of this: It would be impossible for them to do so without undermining the whole purpose of the Bill, which ultimately must demand special deference for religious ideas.

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