Christian groups force the SNP to delay ‘Sectarianism Bill’
It is bemusing that it took court action by the Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland to force a climb-down on the legislative timetable: the day after the papers were issued to the Court, the SNP announced that the Bill will now be postponed by six months in order to permit time for proper public consultation.
Legal papers urged the court to delay the legislation and ‘allow everyone to take a breath and make sure crucial mistakes are not made’. Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, said: “We all wish to see the stain of sectarian hatred removed from our society but we must not act in haste. This is too important to get wrong.” They want to see a free speech clause inserted to prevent the unintentional criminalisation of religious jokes, atheists criticising Christianity, journalists debating fundamentalist Islam, or peaceful preaching.
Mr Judge added: “Rushed legislation that inadvertently impacts on free speech could be divisive and damage community cohesion. That’s the last thing anyone wants to see.”
He’s not wrong there. But His Grace is bemused that the SNP do not appear to grasp that there is already adequate legislation granting sufficient powers to deal effectively with sectarian disorder.
Traditionally, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland have objected to anything sung by Rangers fans, from the ‘Hokey Cokey’ (a ‘faith hate’ song) and ‘Follow, Follow’ (from the old evangelical hymn ‘Follow, Follow, we will follow Jesus’), to the more recent No1 hit on the terraces ‘The Famine Song’, to the tune of the Beach Boys' ‘Sloop John B’, which includes the refrain ‘The Famines over, why don't you go home’, dedicated to the many Celtic fans of Irish descent domiciled in Scotland.
Now His Grace will agree that the ‘Famine Song’ is more than a little insensitive to those Scots of Irish descent. But there is not usually any objection from Celtic Park (or the Scottish Roman Catholic Church) when ‘The Fields of Athenry’ is sung by Celtic fans. Originally a rather sad ballad about the Irish Potato Famine and a man who was exiled to Botany Bay for stealing corn to feed his starving children, the Bhoys (Hoops, Celts, Tims) have ‘enhanced’ it with a couple of chants lauding the IRA. They also sing ‘Boys of the Old Brigade’ which glorifies IRA murders. Now the Gers (Bears or Blues) are no innocents with songs rejoicing at ‘Being up to our knees in Fenian Blood’, but it does seem that protests against sectarianism in Scotland – whether from the Roman Catholic Church or the Scottish Parliament – have always been a tad one-way: anything sung by Rangers’ fans is blatant bigotry, while the melodious music of the Celts is but an expression of their culture.
It becomes more evident when you consider the words of Roseanna Cunningham MSP, who has refused to rule out that her party’s ‘Sectarianism Bill’ could criminalise the singing of ‘God Save the Queen’. And not only the national anthem, but also ‘Rule Britannia’ could be outlawed and deemed an expression of ‘hatred’ on the terraces or in pubs. And (here’s the best one) making the sign of the cross ‘aggressively’ could also land you in prison. Ms Cunningham said: "I've seen hundreds of Celtic fans making the sign of the cross in a manner I can only describe as aggressive.”
Talk about making windows into men’s souls.
And it is moot whether a woman is fit to judge what constitutes ‘aggression’ when the testosterone-charged male of the species is gathering to participate in his ritual ball-kicking cult. Indeed, is he then able to do anything un-aggressively?
It beggars belief that a constituent nation of the United Kingdom is intent on making it a criminal offence to sing the national anthem when a football is present. It is even more bizarre that someone blessing themselves could be arrested for making the sign of the cross. Supporters of Rangers and Celtic become McMontagues and MacCapulets:
JOCK: Do you cross yourself, sir?And it will then be for the Prince to sort out who did what to whom and with what motive and intent. And whichever man is judged to have crossed himself ‘aggressively’ could be sent to prison for five years for bigotry.
HAMISH: I do cross myself, sir.
JOCK: Do you cross yourself at us, sir?
HAMISH [Aside to MUNGO]: Is the law of our side, if I say ay?
HAMISH: No, sir, I do not cross myself at you, sir, but I do cross myself, sir.
Where this legislation will leave defence of the Act of Settlement 1701 or the Act of Union 1707, His Grace cannot begin to imagine. Will it become a criminal offence to make a defence of the Constitution of the United Kingdom?
Or will it only be when a football is present?