Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Religious Hatred Law is back
As an aside - Sorry I've not been posting.. too busy with real work and my laptop is bust.
All a pity, as there's been a lot to talk about.
The criminalization of 'inciting religious hatred' is back as a separate Bill. It still offers me no protection from 'hatred', this dreadful harm, whilst offering special deference to religico-political beliefs.
The debate is here. Almost all the Conservative interventions are absolutely devastating and the Home Secretary provides no answer to any of them. His performance would be laughable if it were not so clear that to defend the logic of the Bill is neither possible nor relevant to his intentions.
Consider carefully the Home Secretary's response on the apparently hackneyed issue of Scientology, raised, alongside a succinct depiction of that organisation, by John Gummer (see also his subsequent interventions, which are brilliant). Charles Clarke's reassurance is false.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): May I take the Home Secretary back to the point about who defines what a religion is? When Lafayette Ron Hubbard set up scientology, he found it convenient to call it the Church of Scientology, but it is actually a dangerous organisation that preys on people with mental illness, and most of us would want to make that clear. However, it would be difficult to do so without indicating that one was very unhappy about those who promulgate scientology and make money from it. Self-certification of religion could be a means for outrageous and sometimes criminal organisations to protect themselves, which must be of considerable concern.
Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman and I have never discussed scientology, but on the basis of what he has just said I suspect we hold a similar view of the nature of that organisation. I must return to a point I have made already: the fact is that the Bill is about incitement to hatred, so for the right hon. Gentleman, or indeed me as Home Secretary, to set out our views and approaches about scientology is perfectly legitimate and will continue to be so.
OK, maybe MPs are safe in the House. But read how the police stopped an anti-scientology protest in Birmingham last October:
"Today, myself and 6 critics picketed the org Birmingham, England. Immediately the police arrived, and due to complaints by OSA the police moved us away from the org, turned our amplified sound system off, and BANNED us from distributing Operation Clambake Webmsaster Andreas' Xenu Flyers to public - claiming they incite religious hatred!"
(Can't get a link to this.. go here and follow International Pickets/ Europe/ Xenu Banned)
The police do not of course have the right to make any such judgement (the leaflet, which is informative and entertaining, can be viewed here.) But it seems that they did so, despite the fact that:
1) The law 'against promoting religious hatred' has not been enacted.
2) The law in any case will supposedly apply to promoting hatred against persons only.
3) Scientology is not, in the legal sense required for a charitable status, a 'religion'.
So the Home Secretary is wrong. Even in this supposedly most extreme case, that of the scam-cult of Scientology, the law (or could it be the existing offence of 'Religiously Aggravated Harrassment'? On the key point about the definition of 'religion', it is irrelevant which) is ALREADY being applied to protect Scientology from legitimate criticism.
UK picket reports can be found at http://www.tingleff.org/jensting/duke_tour/index.html
Fortunately prosecutions under the proposed law have to be approved by the Home Secretary. His remarks would indicate that he is unlikely to give undue weight to complaints from the Scientologists.
Lots of leaflets can be found at this secret webpage should any of your readers wish to be a religious bigots for a day and hand some out :-)
It is good that the Police appear to have reconsidered their response. However, I would not take too much comfort that the Home Secretary will make decisions: The office changes hands and any holders, including the current one, are led primarily by political instincts.
The HS's role contradicts the principle of the separation of powers. Rowan Atkinson is right to point out that this will leave freedom of speech at the whim of political convenience. This will change with time.
Perception is a crucial issue here: These police perceived that COS was a religion. Other decision-makers or 'victims' could do so in other cases quite arbitrarily.
The Bezhti terrorists in Brimingham also thought they were in the right; that they, not the ones who received death threats and had their property damaged, were the victims. The new law gives all such people new impetus, and tells them that the law, as well as 'right', is on their side.