Church Times: New legislation on sexual orientation may be divisive

Posted by Kendall Harmon

ANY uncertainty in proposed new legislation on incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation might provoke attempts to test the law, warned the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church this week.

A joint submission on the Government’s proposed amendment to the Public Order Act 1986 to create a new offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation says there must be “maximum possible clarity”.

The concerns are set out in a memorandum to the Public Bill Committee on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, from the Department for Christian Responsibility of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the C of E’s Mission and Public Affairs Council.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & CultureSexuality* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK

Posted November 30, 2007 at 9:51 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Jeffersonian wrote:

Outlaw thoughtcrime doubleplus good.

November 30, 11:23 am | [comment link]
2. Albany* wrote:


My thought exactly. So Orwell was off a few years but on the money.

November 30, 12:32 pm | [comment link]
3. Terry Tee wrote:

Not only Christians but also comedians are troubled.  Gays, like clergy, are frequently lampooned.  Is satire to be banned?  If, as with religious hatred, the trigger for a police inquiry is that someone felt offended, then we are in for a rough ride, and Lord have mercy on us.

November 30, 2:29 pm | [comment link]
4. Jon wrote:

On a funnier note, but one that is quite relevant to this article, roughly two years ago a drunken Oxford undergraduate told a cop that his horse was gay. 

“Moments later, however, [he] was sobered by the appearance of two squad cars. A posse of unmounted officers arrested him and charged him under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for making homophobic remarks.  His remark, it was alleged, was deemed likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.”

November 30, 2:31 pm | [comment link]
5. Jon wrote:

Here’s what I find fascinating, and which shows the huge gulf between America and other countries in terms of how we regard free speech.  The proposed law in Britain is one which criminalizes “incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation”.  Note what is being made illegal!  Incitement to hatred.  Not incitement to assault, incitement to murder, etc.  Just encouraging a person to “hate” another person is being proposed as something you can go to prison for. 

The very fact that this could be seriously proposed shows how problematic the phrase “Anglo-American” really is.  Historians of ideas like to think that the Americans and the British are very similar in regards to free speech.  They aren’t.  I remember that from my year in Britain.  I remember being completely dumbfounded by the ease with which dissident groups (e.g. Nazis) could be imprisoned simply for stating their beliefs – and how no one in Britain who I spoke with grasped the principle of why I might be opposed to that.  The only thing they assumed is that I was myself a Nazi sympathizer; the idea of “I disagree with you completely but will defend to the death your right to say that” was completely foreign to them.

November 30, 2:33 pm | [comment link]
6. alaninlondon wrote:

Have you guys posting above ever considered that you in the States may be wrong?  That we in England may have a different perspective on this which works for us?  Maybe it’s not one of you who is going to have to pay the price of death for the unbriddled free speech you so dearly wish to defend but somebody else?  (‘God hates fags’ spills over into ‘Kill the queers’.)  It’s easy isn’t it when we sit in our secure and comfortable homes to be able to spout platitudes when we are ourselves are not the objects of hate and vilification?  Nothing which is written on this site would be illegal here in England.  It is not an attempt in Parliament to curtail free speech but incitement.  Incitement to hatred and to violence.

November 30, 3:41 pm | [comment link]
7. selah wrote:

I’m not even sure what “incitement to hatred” means.

Hatred is a feeling, not an action.  Britain can’t be outlawing certain feelings…right?

What is the standard to prove that someone has incited hatred?  Can hatred be incited accidentally? (The Sudanese government, after all, has incited all sorts of hatred over the treatment of Gillian Gibbons.)

I am very confused.

November 30, 4:35 pm | [comment link]
8. Christopher Hathaway wrote:

Alan, I sense you are inciting hatred for our American understanding of freedom, and thus for those of us who defend that freedom. You statements reek of contempt for us. “You are wrong” spills over into “You must be silenced” just as much as “God hates fags” spills over into “kill the queers”. In other words, the argument is equally idiotic.

November 30, 4:51 pm | [comment link]
9. Jon wrote:

Many thanks for your thoughts, Alan.  Can you help us understand better what you mean when you say that the law will not in any way curtail free speech, but will curtail “incitement to hatred”?  It’s hard for many of us to understand how the latter won’t involve curbing the freedom of citizens to say certain things.  It seems from your email, for example, that you would very much like to see a British Fred Phelps silenced (Fred is the creator of the notorious GodHatesFags website here in the U.S.).  If so, it seems from our parochial American perspective that you are very interested in placing additional restrictions on speech.

Just for clarity, and it’s unfortunate that defenders of free speech always have to go out of their way to say this, many of us at T19 would like Fred Phelps to have that freedom not because we agree with him.  Indeed, many of us traditionalists would sharply criticize Fred as being cruel and Pharasaical and deeply uncharitable; and we’d emphatically say that we think that (even if we all agreed that homosexuality was sin) that God loves sinners—he doesn’t hate them.  And we’d add that ALL straight people are sinners.  So the desire of us in a free society to defend a person’s right to say possibly quite monstrous things doesn’t stem from a sympathy with those things.

Actually Americans do pay for these freedoms.  We are not all safe and secure.  There’s virtually no one in this country who isn’t villified by someone.  We have Jews who defend the rights of Nazis, blacks who defend the rights of Klansmen, women who defend the rights of pornographers, and yes gay people who defend the rights of Fred Phelps.  Its not that we LIKE the people we are called to defend or agree with them: its that we think the cure of imprisoning people for wicked (or perhaps simply unpopular) speech is worse than the disease of letting it happen (save in the case of what is known in American jurisprudence as a “clear and present danger”).

You are of course right that Britain is not the U.S. and it has a right to have its own policy on the issue of silencing dissidents.  We also reserve the right to criticize the policy as wrong.

November 30, 5:38 pm | [comment link]
10. Jeffersonian wrote:

Have you guys posting above ever considered that you in the States may be wrong?  That we in England may have a different perspective on this which works for us?  Maybe it’s not one of you who is going to have to pay the price of death for the unbriddled free speech you so dearly wish to defend but somebody else?

In that case, why stop at gays?  I mean, isn’t it just a hop, skip and a jump from “The Tories are nutters” to “Let’s string up David Cameron?”  Why not outlaw incitement of hatred of Tories?

November 30, 7:29 pm | [comment link]
11. azusa wrote:

# 6: You are talking rubbish. The Bishop of Carlisle was ‘visited’ by the police, so was a pensioner couple who complained about a leaflet in as public library - the drift to intimidate Christians in England is inescapable. OTOH, how many imams in England calling for homosexuals to be killed have been charged? Hmm, thought so… So much for the 1689 Bill of Rights ...

November 30, 7:47 pm | [comment link]
12. Jon wrote:

#11…. you echo the thoughts of a friend of mine who writes:

What really interests me though, is to imagine how this law, if enacted, would be enforced.  Yes, orthodox Christianity treats romantic love between persons of the same sex as sin, but the C of E does not advocate the criminalization of homosexual acts or otherwise advocate that gay people be punished.  Muslims, on the other hand often speak out in the most incendiary terms against gay people, sometimes even advocating that sodomy be punishable by death.  If that’s not “incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation,” I don’t know what is.  It would be really interesting to see if the Brits ever applied this law to Muslim clerics.  My prediction is that if this law is enacted it will be enforced quite selectively—by white liberals against other white people— and that the mosques, madrassas and other Muslim haunts would be isolated islands to which the Queen’s writ does not run.

November 30, 8:06 pm | [comment link]
13. Jeffersonian wrote:

OTOH, how many imams in England calling for homosexuals to be killed have been charged?

I don’t think it was against gays in particular, but a number of Islamists in Britain were tried, convicted and jailed for publicly calling for the beheadings of certain people, and justly so.  Of course, they were inciting actual violence, not just ill will.

November 30, 11:14 pm | [comment link]
14. azusa wrote:

#13: That was a public demonstration. A UK network called Channel 4 secretly filmed imams in Brimingham calling for homosexuals to be thrown off mountains. What did the Birmingham police do? They complained about the program to a public body, alleging ‘lack of balance’! The complaint was thrown out, but $25,000 in public money was wasted by the police on this fraudulent action. Now they are being sued by the producer for harrassment. It seems clear that the UK police are afraid of Muslims and will bend over backwards to mollify them, while picking on elderly Christians.
‘alaninlondon’, this is what’s happening to your dhimmified land. Your mayor, Ken Livingstone, even spends public money to bring sharia-spouting clerics like Qaradawi to London.

December 1, 4:56 am | [comment link]
15. Terry Tee wrote:

You know, speaking as a Brit, I would say that the above amounts pretty well to game, set and match to the American team.

December 1, 8:06 am | [comment link]
16. Terry Tee wrote:

Though I should add:  The Gordian is a knotty problem.  He always comes across to me as a Brit.

December 1, 8:07 am | [comment link]
17. Jeffersonian wrote:

You’re right, #14, I had forgotten about that Channel 4 program that so interested the constables.  Things are rather topsy-turvey in Albion these days.

December 1, 11:42 am | [comment link]
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