From this day forth it is a crime to incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation
The Torah says:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination (Lev 18:22).
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them (Lev 20:13).
The New Testament says:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:9f).
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (Rom 1:24).
The Qur’an says:
Lut: he said to his people: "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? "For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds" (7:80-81).
Of all the creatures in the world will ye approach males. And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay ye are a people transgressing all limits!" (26:165-166)
Please note, this is not a post about the theological divergences between Hasidic/Orthodox/Haredi/Masorti and Reform/Reconstructionist Judiasm; or between Orthodox/Protestant/Roman Catholic and Liberal Christianity, or between Sunni/Shi’a and Sufi Islam. And Cranmer is fully aware of the hermeneutic complexities, exegetical difficulties and socio-theo-political debates over the Sitz im Leben of all of these passages. Sexual ethics is not the point.
We are concerned here with the religious conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the perception of ‘hatred’.
Whatever one’s interpretation of the above scriptures, as of today it would be a bold preacher who so much as jokes about homosexuality.
Today is the appointed time by our wonderful Government for Section 74 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to come into force. It creates the new offence of intentionally stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
What is ‘hatred’?
OED: ‘intense dislike’.
It is not a matter of inciting violence or grievous bodily harm: there are already laws against that.
So it is now a crime to ‘intensely dislike’ homosexuality.
Or to ‘intensely dislike’ homosexuals.
Because the two are so easily confused in the mind of the victim (if not the perpetrator) that the mildest disapproval of the behaviour might be mistaken (or purposely distorted or misinterpreted) as vehement disapprobation to the extent that it becomes an irrational attack upon the person.
It is true that the Lords won an important ‘freedom of speech’ amendment, but it will exist only on paper. In practice, the culture will shift towards an auto-self-censorship: people will be so afraid of transgressing the law (or, worse still, of merely being accused of transgressing the law) that the jokes will subside, humour will diminish, drama will avoid the subject and real life will consequently be impoverished. Debates on sexuality will become taboo, not because of a statutory prohibition but because of an impediment to negativity, questioning, accusation and allegation.
Did you hear the one about the gay guy who…?
Call the police, report the crime.
And you can be very sure that the police will treat the allegations with the utmost urgency.
God forbid that Her Majesty’s Constabulary might be accused of being homophobic.
What is ‘hate speech’?
Is not literature full of it? Not only the religious texts from just about every culture, but also the greatest works of Shakespeare, Marlow, Webster, Ford, Tourneur…
And that’s just the Elizabethans and Jacobeans.
This manifestly illiberal legislation is not only designed to prohibit the use of words or behaviour and the display, publishing or distribution of written material which might be deemed to constitute ‘hatred’ towards homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered: it also covers the public performance of plays; distributing, showing or playing a recording; broadcasting a programme and the possession of inflammatory material.
Is the Bible ‘inflammatory material’?
Is the Qur’an?
Is it not ironic that forty years after the Lord Chamberlain ceased being the official censor of theatrical performances, with the primary responsibility to uphold public decency and morality, that we now have an entire Government dedicated to inflicting upon us the very indecency and immorality from which they used to guard us?
Or is it now a crime to say that?
Should one really face a seven-year jail sentence for voicing an opinion in an inappropriate way?
Who is to decide whether that opinion is justified or not? Who is to judge the propriety?
Let us not be deceived that this legislation has been rationalised by Parliament or that it will be fairly interpreted by the Courts. It is the police we must fear, for it is their heavy hands, hot heads and over-zealous authoritarianism that will descend upon the religious, with allegations of incitement, condemnation and ‘hatred’.
And then they will descend upon the school playgrounds where children do what children do: tease, cajole, hurl insults… slugs and snails and puppy-dog’s tails. That’s what little boys are made of.
And who then judges the level of ‘threat? Who predicts the likelihood of violence?
Cranmer can do no better than to reproduce the speech made by Rowan Atkinson in the context of New Labour’s religious hatred laws. The parallels are self-evident:
My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Those of us who have opposed this measure since its introduction in 2001 have never had a problem with its alleged intent, viz. to counter the expression of racial hatred under the disguise of religious hatred. Rather, our problem was always the legislation’s breathtaking scope and reach far beyond that intent.
The prime motivating energy for the Bill seemed to come not from communities seeking protection from bullying by the British National Party but from individuals with a more aggressive, fundamentalist agenda. Those who have sought, from the very day of the publication in 1989 of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, to immunise religions against criticism and ridicule – or at least to promote legislation that is so sinister and intimidating, it can provide that immunity without even the need to prosecute anyone. In other words, to impose self-censorship.
The starting point for my objections to this Bill is to argue with its supposedly inarguable premise: the ‘ooh Yes Religious Hatred, that sounds like a bad thing, let’s have a law against that’. As hatred is defined as intense dislike, what is wrong with inciting intense dislike of a religion, if the activities or teachings of that religion are so outrageous, irrational or abusive of human rights that they deserve to be intensely disliked?
The Government has often spoken of how under existing legislation, Jews and Sikhs are protected from religious hatred on the basis of their race and that this Bill seeks merely to extend that protection to others. The problem that that ignores is that race and religion are fundamentally different concepts – you cannot choose your race, you can choose your religion – and even if for many the line dividing their race from their religion is blurred in the eyes of the law. A sharp line can and should be drawn.
If Jews and Sikhs are protected from criticism of their religious beliefs or religious activities, then that is a wrong and the idea of extending that to other religions is also a wrong. To criticise people for their race is manifestly irrational but to criticise their religion, that is a right.
The freedom to criticise or ridicule ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is a fundamental freedom and a law which says that you can ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas, is a very odd law indeed. It promotes the idea that there should be a right not to be offended, when I think that the right to offend is far more important than a right not to be offended.
The only moderating influence on this legislation will be the Attorney General, who can veto prosecutions. Yet how can the Office of the Attorney General, an instrument of government, be expected to take only a judicial view of cases brought before him and not be influenced by the political ambitions of his employer?
The ease with which one religious group or another could be favoured or disfavoured is clear. You many not know that there is an Anti-Vilification law in a state in Australia, where a Witch successfully brought a prosecution against a Christian pastor for vilification of her religion. Now the government has assured us that our Attorney General would veto such a frivolous prosecution.
However, you can imagine that if, one day, electoral research by the party in government revealed that there were a surprising number of witches living in a number of marginal constituencies whose votes could be of considerable benefit to the party at the next general election, then such a prosecution might suddenly seem a more attractive and less frivolous idea to the Attorney General than it had previously. The potential for abuse is manifest.
It is time for the Government to listen. It has made no attempt to address any of these concerns – other than to deflect the criticism with the most anodyne rebuttals.
The Government says you will continue to be able to criticise or ridicule religion. Where in the Bill does it say that? Where is the clause that even implies that kind of freedom of expression? How can such bland reassurances carry any authority when there is no wording in the bill to support them and the chief promoters and supporters of this legislation, in consultation with whom the thing was drafted, have always taken the opposite view. They don’t think that religions should be ridiculed. They don’t think that religions should be criticised or insulted. That is why they have lobbied for this legislation for so many years and unlike the government are not blind to its potential to achieve those aims.
The problem with this Bill is its imbalance. It represents the relentless pursuit of the interests of a tiny minority of the population with, so far, no consideration or quarter being given to the concerns of the baffled majority. This is not to belittle the concerns of the minority which can be and should be accommodated but good government is also about doing everything in your power to accommodate the concerns of those most affected by your legislative ambitions. And this is simply not happening.
That is what these amendments are about. They do not affect the essence of the Bill – they seek only to provide reassurance and above all to protect freedom of speech, from which not just a minority will benefit, nor just a majority, but every single one of us.
It is undoubtedly irrational and illegal to state that black people are somehow disordered or in any sense inferior: that is racism.
It is undoubtedly irrational and illegal to state that women are less able than men and ought therefore to be paid less: that is sexism.
It is undoubtedly irrational and illegal to prevent the disabled from the fullest participation in education and wider society: that is disability discrimination.
And now it must be illegal to state that homosexuality is ‘an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’.
The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning or good-intentioned it may be.
"...if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God..."