What is it about men named Green?

Oh dear, David Green – a director of Civitas, apparently – thinks we’re heading towards totalitarianism:

Until 1967 gays could be sent to prison. Now, 40 years on from liberalisation, one gay pressure group wants people who criticise gays and lesbians to be put in jail. The gay community is now divided between liberals who respect privacy and freedom of speech, and authoritarians who want their critics to be silenced by police action.

Oh fuck me, its another tendentious rant about ‘political correctness’ masquerading as a defence of liberal free speech and freedom of expression.

Under pressure from the campaigning group Stonewall, the justice secretary, Jack Straw, has announced that the government intends to extend the existing offence of incitement to racial and religious hatred to cover hatred against people because of their sexuality. He said: “Homophobic abuse, lyrics and literature are every bit as abhorrent to those concerned as material inciting hatred based on race and religion, and have no place in our communities.” The maximum sentence is to be seven years.

And the problem with this is, exactly?

Look, this is all very simple and straightforward in legal terms.

First, it is not the case that, in law, in this country or even in the United States of America, where the right to free expression is enshrined – quite rightly – in its Constitution, that the right to free speech is treated as being either absolute or free from consequences if exercised injudiciously; hence the often quoted legal maxim about the US First Amendment affording no defence should one recklessly shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

Second, the law – common and, more recently, statute – has long recognised that the deliberate or reckless incitement of criminal acts, or actions taken that are deemed, in law, likely to incite such actions are unlawful.

Incitement is, at its most basic, an anticipatory common law offence amounting to the act of persuading, instigating, pressuring, encouraging or threatening in such a way as to cause another to commit a criminal offence and belongs to the same general class of offences as conspiracy and attempt, in which the Police are permitted to intervene before a criminal act is completed and the harm/injury actually caused.

So far as the general offence of incitement is concerned, there is case law stretching back over more 200 years setting out the legal basis of the offence and the legal tests that must be applied in determining whether such an offence has been committed.

So far as the use of incitement in statute law is concerned, other than in the case of ‘hate crimes’ – i.e. racial hatred (introduced by the 1986 Public Order Act) and religious hatred (introduced by the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act) the other notable instance in which incitement found its way explicitly into statute was in the offence of incitement to gross indecency, under the Indecency with Children Act 1960, which as the name suggests covers inciting unlawful sexual activity with minors.

Implicit in the offence of incitement is, therefore, the sense that the actions of the individual committing the offence are intended to, and have the capacity to, induce a third party to commit a criminal offence, either directly or indirectly, which is the substance of the hatred-based offences – you stoke up feelings of hatred towards a particular group in a third party who then goes out and acts on those feelings by carrying out an assault on a member of that group.

This is all very well established in law and, if applied correctly and judiciously, markedly uncontroversial, not to mention that – and here’s a point that seems to escape those who fallen into the habit of blaming the Human Rights Act for any and all legal decisions they disagree with – that one of things that HRA introduced in British law is an explicit requirement that the courts consider and take into account its provisions for freedom of expression, which provides an added layer of surety in dealing with concepts such as incitement and hatred.

Until 1967 the police could arrest gays and imprisonment was the likely outcome. Reformers had called for homosexuality to be legal in private and, because their demands were compatible with the live-and-let-live attitude that most people already took, the law was changed. But since then the demands of some gay campaigners have become less liberal to the point of totalitarianism.

Really? In what sense exactly?

Campaigners continue to value privacy but they now also demand the political affirmation of gay sex and the punishment of anyone who criticises it.

Sorry, but no.

What is being suggested here is a quite specific offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexuality and that is neither a ‘political affirmation of gay sex’ – if there have been any such ‘affirmations’ they lie in the legalisation of homosexuality, equalisation of the age of consent and the repeal of the offence of buggery – nor does it seek to punish legitimate and reasoned criticism of homosexuality.

In doing so they have obliterated the distinction between the public and private spheres, the hallmark of totalitarianism, acknowledged by no less a figure than Giovanni Gentile, the inspiration behind modern fascism. He summed up the essence of fascism with the words “nothing private, and no limits to state action”. Liberalism insists on the right to privacy where the essential interests of other people are not affected, but authoritarian gay activists are no longer content with a right to privacy.

Godwin’s Law, anyone?

So far as the public-private interface is concerned in relation to laws on hatred related offences, the relevant parts of, in this case, the Public Order Act 1986 are:

(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the written material is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling.

And

(4) In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for the accused to prove that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the written material displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling.

Dwelling has the quite precise meaning here of being a private residence – someone’s home – and if you’re wondering about the reference to ‘another dwelling’ then just think ‘telephone conversation’.

So the privacy of the home is preserved in law, but not necessarily certain other privacies: those, for example, of a ‘private’ meeting in a club or venue that might otherwise be thought to be a public arena.

So where’s the privacy issue here? Ah, I see…

It began with “outing”. Fellow gays were not allowed to be gay in private. They were forcibly “outed“. Now it has gone beyond private campaigns to expose fellow gays.

Now I can’t really say that I’ve ever been keen on this whole business of ‘outing’ closeted gays, except in very rare instances where there is an element of obvious hypocrisy and a clear public interest. A closeted Member of Parliament who votes for anti-gay legislation or spouts anti-gay rhetoric in the belief that it will further their political careers while concealing their true sexuality from the public would be an instance in which ‘outing’ – and an invasion of privacy – might be justified in terms of exposing their personal hypocrisy as a matter of legitimate public interest, but otherwise its a private matter and should be left as such.

Quite what this has to do with a proposal to outlaw incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexuality is another matter, and one on which I’m not entirely clear, other than as an attempt to smear the proposal by association with the past tactics of some its supporters rather than deal with the proposal on its legal, social and political merits.

To pull another common and contentious line of argument out of the bag, this all has rather the character of arguing that the involvement of a number of what were to become prominent Israeli politicians in what we (the UK) regarded as terrorist activity in support fo the creation of Israel, in the late 1940s, amounts to solid grounds for questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel, today…

…which is, course, complete and utter rubbish.

Anyone who dares to criticise any aspect of homosexuality must be arrested and punished by the state.

Again, the legal basis of the offence of incitement and the premise of ‘hatred’ are well established in law and limited in scope – they certainly do not extend to criticism of ‘any aspect of homosexuality’ howsoever expressed or well founded.

But isn’t it just a matter of equal treatment under the law? The gay pressure group Stonewall claims that the measure is necessary to protect gays from violence. But everyone, gay or not, is already protected against violence and incitement to violence.

But incitement to violence is quite specific offence in which it must be clear that violence is being specifically incited and there is clear intent to give rise to violent acts.

But what of those instances in which the individual undertaking the act of incitement specifically avoids any reference to violence – circumventing that specific offence – but proceeds on the clear understanding and knowledge that in inciting hatred they can rely on the capacity for violence in others to have the same basic effect. At the risk of violating Godwin’s Law myself, it seems rather ironic and short-sighted of Green to cite Giovanni Gentile and his definition of one of the central characteristics of fascism as justification for part of his attack on these proposal while disregarding the role and relevance of another central characteristic of fascism; that of stirring up and inciting the prejudices of the mob, in providing a measure of justification for just this kind of legislation.

This is not a call for equal protection. It’s not about protection from crime at all. It is a demand to be able to use the power of the state to put down unwanted criticism.

And, again, there is a clear and unequivocal difference, in principle and in law, between legitimate – and legitimately expressed – criticism and incitement to hatred, a distinction that, thankfully, the courts appear to recognise even as Green appears not to.

Liberals in the gay community should reflect on the origins of these demands for laws against hate speech. They were started by Muslim fundamentalists who were accustomed to deploying the police against opponents in their own countries, where sharia law reigns.

Funnily enough., and being old enough to remember the introduction of the Public Order Act of 1986, which introduced into law the specific offence of incitement to racial hatred – and I should point out that, back in 1986, the Prime Minister was, of course, Margaret Thatcher and Douglas Hurd was Home Secretary – what I don’t seem to recall was any great clamour for these laws from ‘Muslim fundamentalists’, in fact I doubt very much that the majority of people in the UK, back in 1986, had the first fucking idea what a Muslim fundamentalist was – other than some who lived somewhere else – let alone what how they might be relevant (or not) to British law.

In places like Egypt and Tunisia, Muslim countries where liberal traditions have emerged, the law has repeatedly been used to suppress the emerging champions of freedom and democracy. Journalists and academics calling for equal educational opportunity for women and toleration of gays have been arrested, imprisoned and even executed.

But, of course, Britain isn’t Egypt, or Tunisia. Britian isn’t a Muslim country. Britain has a functioning – if not perfect – democracy and laws, such as the Human Rights Act, that provide for a specific right to free speech within the parameters of the law.

In short, Green’s discursive foray into the politics of North Africa is a meaningless pile of rhetorical horseshit. Rather than debate the substantive issues and engage in rational argument and debate, Green is resorting to the age of tactic of waving a popular bogeyman in people’s faces in an effort to stir up irrational and unthinking prejudice against the proposals.

Where, I wonder, have we seen the widespread use of such tactics before, I wonder?

What reason do we have for fearing that a new law would be abused?

What reason indeed?

Even without any such law, intimidation has already been attempted.

Has it really?

Glasgow firefighters, for example, faced discipline for refusing to man an information stall at a gay Pride event.

From the Guardian article in question it seems that reasons given by the men in question ranged from embarrassment – and I get some might see the combination of a gay pride event and firefighters uniforms as being a touch Village People – to the view that taking part in the event ‘would have contradicted their moral beliefs’. To which management pointed out that such duties were part of their contract of employment with the sharp observation that:

“Firefighters cannot, and will not, pick and choose to whom they offer fire safety advice,” a fire service statement said. “Strathclyde Fire and Rescue has a responsibility to protect every one of the 2.3 million people it serves, irrespective of race, religion or sexuality.”

And quite right too. If privacy is such an issue for Green then perhaps he’d care to explain quite what difference what people get up to in the the privacy of their own home makes to whether or not they should be handed a leaflet on how not to burn their fucking house.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie from the Muslim Council of Britain was questioned by police for describing homosexuality as “harmful” and “not acceptable”. The writer, Lynette Burrows, was telephoned by police saying that they were investigating a “homophobic incident” after she said on radio that homosexual men should not adopt children because there was a risk of abuse. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these incidents, do we really want the police called whenever controversial opinions are voiced?

Probably not, but one cannot legislate for the green ink brigade and the fact of the matter is that, like it or not, the Police are compelled to investigate complaints they receive now matter how specious or spurious those complaints may appear – and if I recall my [Lord] Denning correctly then, at least in part, their lack of discretion in such matters stems from principles laid down in Magna Carta.

The problem in both these cases is not the law itself – in both cases the Police and CPS quite correctly decided not to pursue their initial inquiries any further, but an apparently lack of reasonable discretion within the criminal justice system of a kind that could reasonably and fairly have dismissed these complaints quickly and with the minimum of fuss. This, in turn, is a very much a function of these complaints relating to relatively new issues in law, issues where there is a lack of applicable case law on which to base decisions as to whether its worth proceeding with an investigation, let alone a prosecution.

It is fair to say that the current situation has the Police in a fairly invidious position – they are compelled to investigate even spurious complaints and when those complaint involve a public figure they inevitably attract media attention, which only serves to highlight how ridiculous the complaints are and create the false appearance that the law, itself, is an absurdity – which it isn’t because once applied correctly the cases were dropped.

So the answer would seem to be to give the Police rather more discretion in such matters – expect that for various reasons there is currently a lack of trust in the capacity of the Police to exercise such discretion fairly and reasonably which would leave them wide open to allegations of discriminatory conduct.

These are, however, transient problems, as once sufficient case law has built up to provide adequate guidance as to the correct manner in which the relevant law should be interpreted and applied, then these problems will largely disappear, which suggests that, in the meantime, perhaps the best solution all around would be for lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service to ‘triage’ these kinds of complaints and weed out the specious and the spurious as quickly as possible and with the minimum amount of fuss – in both cited cases, the comments of Iqbal Sacranie and Lynette Burrows were matters of public record, having been made in the course of radio broadcasts, and both could have been ‘investigated’ and dismissed on the basis of merely listening to – or obtaining a transcript of – the broadcasts without the need to question either.

The experience of the Gay Police Association should have encouraged caution. It was investigated by Scotland Yard for committing an alleged “faith crime”.

The ‘faith crime’ appellation is a pure invention of the Evangelical Christian groups who complained about this advert to the Police, Advertising Standards Authority and just about anyone who stood still long enough to listen – there is no such thing in law as a ‘faith’ crime, unless one is perhaps referring obliquely to the seldom used laws of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, which any self-respecting liberal society would repeal anyway.

The association placed an advert in a national newspaper in June 2006 claiming that an alleged increase in “homophobic incidents” was the result of the religious beliefs of the perpetrators.

What the advert actually stated was:

In the last 12 months, the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator.

Verbal abuse and physical assault against gay men and women is a criminal offence and should always be reported to the police.

Discrimination against gay people in the workplace is also unlawful and should be reported to employers, who have a duty of care to prevent it.

Homophobia can never be justified and must never be tolerated.

These being figures that the GPA has said it can substantiate with evidence, although the ongoing criminal investigation at the time prevented them from submitting this evidence in answering a complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority, a complaint that was upheld on grounds of causing offence and because – bizarrely – in the opinion of ASA the image usedwas judged to convey the impression that all the incidents referred to were violent, even though the text made it clear that this was not what was being said.

The advert showed a pool of blood next to a Bible under the heading “in the name of the father”. Christians complained that they were being falsely accused of encouraging violent crimes against homosexuals. The case never came to court, but the police wasted a lot of time making threats disguised as “words of advice”.

Having looked at some of the coverage of the case, including the typically and admirably complete coverage provided by MediaWatchWatch, I am rather at a loss to find any examples of these ‘threats’ disguised as ‘words of advice’ that Green alleges emanated from the Police and have to say, therefore, that on the basis of previous example of overblown rhetoric and misrepresentation in this same article, I have not alternative but to take the view that this allegation appears to be bullshit, unless Green cares to back his assertion links to the relevant source material.

In any case, its not actually clear what Green is arguing for or against here.

Some of the worst excesses of the original religious hatred bill were seen off by the House of Lords, but if the new amendment goes through we will have taken a step back towards a less enlightened age.

How so?

As yet we’ve not had sight of this amendment or the precise manner in which it will be worded and are therefore – Green included – in no position to judge exactly what impact it might or might not have or what exactly it represents.

And which ‘less enlightened age’ is it that Green is talking about. The one that existed before 1967 and the legalisation of homosexuality? The one where signs like ‘No Black, No Dogs, No Irish’ were commonly seen displayed on boarding housings and B&Bs?

How did Britain, the homeland of liberty, become a country in which police power can be used to intimidate critics?

Historically-speaking on several occasions – in fact IIRC sedition may still exist, like blashphemy, as an offence in common law. It was last heard at trial in 1947 – the case in question ending in acquittal – and used as recently as 1972, although in that case the charge was withdrawn during the course of the prosecution. However, while were on the subject, the 1848 Treason Act was used in 1981 to prosecute a teenager for firing blanks at the Queen during Trooping the Colour – he got five years and served three.

The process began in 1998, when the Crime and Disorder Act created the possibility that assault, harassment, criminal damage and public order offences could be “racially aggravated“. For example, the normal maximum sentence for common assault is six months. If racially aggravated, it is two years. Soon afterwards a booklet (pdf) produced for the Judicial Studies Board, the official agency that advises judges, told them that justice in a modern and diverse society must be “colour conscious”, not “colour-blind”.

Well, it does seem that Green has forgotten about the Public Order Act 1986 which introduced the crime of incitement to racial hatred and has skipped forward to the introduction of racially aggravated categories of offences in 1998, thereby erasing the part that the Thatcher government played in all this in the process in favour of a fore-shortened version of history that seeks to lay the blame at the door of the Labour party.

Initially preferential treatment was only given to ethnic minorities, but Muslims objected that they were not specifically included and so the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 stipulated that crimes could also be “religiously aggravated”. Soon other organised victim groups were demanding preferential treatment: hence the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires courts to consider disability or sexual orientation as aggravating factors when deciding the sentence for any offence. The proposed amendment to the criminal justice and immigration bill is just the latest attempt by self-defined victim groups to gain preferential treatment.

Lets start from first principles here.

There is nothing at all unusual in law about matters such as intent or motive being used to define aggravating factors that either delineate particular criminal offences, especially in terms of severity, or serve as a basis for apply differentials in sentencing. Premeditation is, to cite one obvious example, the line which divides the offences of murder and manslaughter. Similarly the law current distinguishes between simple wounding and wounding with intent [to cause grievious bodily harm] and if one looks at sentencing guideline for a variety of offence one finds that various factors come into play as aggravating factors that increase the minimum sentence.

And, of course, lets not forget the matter of judicial discretion in sentencing in which, within the framework of minimum and maximum sentences, individual judges have the discretion to take all manner of factors into account in deciding on the final tariff – including matters such as whether the offence was aggravated, in their opinion, by racial or other relevant motives.

Second, as written, if not always necessarily in practice, the specific laws to which Green refers cut all ways – racial aggravation is not, in law, confined only to instances in which a member of an ethnic minority is the victim of a racially-motivated white attacker. It can work the other way or it can apply to instances in which both attacker and victim are members of different minority groups – and the same basic principle applies when these principles are applied to religious motivations, etc.

Whether or not these laws are applied evenly in practice is a different matter and one in which there is perfectly reasonable scope for criticism if it appears that this is not the case, but it terms of the principle and the manner in which these laws are written and should be interpreted the idea that they represent a form of preferential treatment is nonsense. The law should apply equally to all, and where the law allows for factors such as race and ethnicity, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation to be considered aggravating factors it should be applied with a even hand.

That’s the ideal, and if and when the practice falls short of the ideal, then its time to complain but complain for the right reasons; that the law is being applied unfairly not that the law, itself, is unfair.

My one complaint about these laws is not that they afford preferential treatment to ‘self-defining minorities’ – as if there’s anything self-defining about being Black or having a disability – but that the manner in which they are couched and have been introduced in the piecemeal fashion creates the false impression that they do provide preferential treatment and, on occasions, do sadly seem to encourage such interpretations when applying the law. As a matter of general principle I have no problem whatsoever with irrational hatreds and prejudices being treated and used as an aggravating factor in sentencing as long as this is applied evenly and across the board in all circumstances where such hatred are found by a court to have played a significant part in a crime, regardless of the precise source and cause of the motivation.

Time and again during our history, liberals have had to fight off the authoritarians who want to abuse the powers of the state to suppress critics and promote their cause.

And rarely more so that today, but what is important is that such fights are conducted rationally and in the cause of combating prejudice and hatred, not in the name of facilitating it.

People have a perfect right to be ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced plain stupid and, within reason, to express opinions that are ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced and plain stupid, but when to translating those attitudes into practice in such a way as to cause harm to others or inciting others to do the same, directly or indirectly be fostering irrational hatred in the knowledge that it will, or it very likely to cause harm, then such criminal stupidity has its consequences as it does should someone reckless shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded theatre.

Campaigners always come up with clever disguises for their authoritarianism, but the dangers are the same. In the second half of the 19th century John Stuart Mill warned of the risks of suppressing the free expression of thought and criticism. When he was writing some people had just been jailed for saying only that they doubted the existence of God. We should be free, argued Mill, to speak our minds even if it is upsetting. We should conduct lifestyle experiments that harmed no one else, not out of any right of self-expression, but so that we might learn from each other. And we could only do that if we were not only free to experiment but also free to criticise.

What Mill also said is that:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others.

And in considering measures such as a proposal to outlaw incitement to hatred on grounds of sexuality, or on any other grounds for that matter, the question of whether what is proposed is good or bad in law rests firmly on the question of whether in both principle and application it adheres to the maxim set out by JS Mill.

Incitement to hatred has, in my estimation, the capacity to give rise to harm, to motivate certain individuals to carry out criminal acts even though the individual undertaking the act of incitement does not specifically solicit specific course of action and where it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that this is indeed what has occurred and has been sought – and the legal tests of Mens Rea and Actus Rea that apply in such situations are very well established and have extensively explored in case law (this being one of the major benefits of our common law system) then Mill’s maxim applies and power – the Police, Courts – can legitimately be exercised in order to prevent harm.

That’s not to suggest that we should be complacent about such proposals. They, of course, need to be properly scrutinised and take into account the need to ensure that people are free to express legitimate criticism.

Thus far, no firm wording for the proposed clause – which is set to be inserted into the current Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – has been published although it does appear from an exchange between John Redwood and Jack Straw that the model for the clause is likely to be the text of the Religious and Racial Hatred Act, which if correct, will limit the scope of the clause to situations in which there is an intent to incite hatred.

Its also worth noting the presence of Edward Garnier QC MP (is that the right order?) on the public bill committee considering amendments to the bill and on legislative matters Garnier has never struck me as being a fool or one to miss an important detail, which suggests that any proposed clause will be subject to quite serious and searching scrutiny no soon as it’s published.

But for Green’s absurdly overblown commentary, most the current chatter about this proposal is coming from the usual [evangelical] suspects; Colin Hart of the Christian Institute and Annette Minichiello Williams of ‘Christian Concern for Our Nation’ and the ‘Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship’. The latter organisation, some may well recall, supplied much of the ‘legal’ argument around the provisions of the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations, arguments that were ruled by the ASA, after appearing in a campaign adevert, to have breached the ASA’s code on grounds of substantiation and truthfulness.

And, as you might expect they’re at it again:

The law is unnecessary. All people are protected from assault and threatening words or behaviour under the current criminal law. In addition, the law concerning incitement to commit a criminal offence would make it an offence for any person to incite an act of violence against another person, for whatever reason.

Oh, where have I heard that argument before?

Although it is not good to hate another person, nor is it a criminal offence to hate somebody – for reason of their sexuality or for any other reason. This law is another step towards ‘thought crime’, as it outlaws the act of trying to make someone hate something or someone else.

While it certainly isn’t a criminal offence to hate someone, it already is a criminal offence to incite hatred with the intent to cause them the commit a criminal offence and its in the knowledge (mens rea) that that is the likely outcome of the incitement that the offence lies.

Does this amount to ‘thought crime’? Not if there’s a clear knowledge, understanding or belief that such a course of action will lead to commission of an actual offence.

Although Christians do not hate homosexuals but are commanded to love them, they are instructed in the bible to hate sin. The bible is also clear that God intended sex to be kept in a marriage relationship between one man and one woman. Many people may find such teaching offensive. They may even find it threatening. But it is an orthodox belief of the Christian Church, and the propagation of such teaching should not be criminalised. Many advocates of free speech would ascribe to the motto ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it’.

And prohibiting incitement to hatred on ground of sexuality will do precisely nothing to prevent Christians from expressing such opinions, although it may curb the thoroughly unChristian practice adopted by some of the more extreme and absurd fundamentalists of conflating homosexuality with paedophilia, which would be no bad thing given the mob mentality that too easily springs up around the latter subject.

Christians and others are already living in an atmosphere of fear when it comes to being allowed to speak openly about their beliefs regarding sexuality. There have been a number of examples in the media where people have been reported to the police, interviewed by police, taken to court and even prosecuted for speaking openly about sexuality, lost their positions at work. For more details of these cases see our previous briefings, or go to the CCFON cases briefing – see in particular cases numbers 2, 10, 11, 12, and 17

The cases in question are. in order:

2. A decision by Edinburgh University Student Union, since rescinded, to ban a course promoting sexual purity for being run on SU premises. The SU has since backed off, but insisted that material promoting an alternative view be present in the room when the course is taking place.

Honestly, when overheated bouts of idiotic student politicking become the benchmark for wider social values then we might as well all give up.

10. The case of Harry Hammond, a 69 year old street evangelist (wish Aspergers) who was arrested and convicted of minor public order offence after a fracas in which he appears to have been as much the victim as anyone else, although anyone who has ever been on a demonstration and dealt with the Police when it comes to these kinds of minor public order offences will hardly be surprised at either the case or its outcome.

This is less a threat to free expression of ‘biblical values’ and more an expression of the capacity of the law covering minor public order offences to act as a bit of an ass in as much as the easy option for Police is often to arrest the poor sap who provokes a reaction, not those actually reacting to the situation.

11. Stephen ‘Christian Voice’ Green was arrested for handing out some pretty banal and mundane anti-gay leaflets at Cardiff’s Gay Mardi Gras – the case was later dropped by the CPS.

Again, the issue here is one of the absurd use of a minor public order offence to arrest someone who’s doing no more than being a minor pain in the arse and getting in people’s faces. Often the justification for such arrests tends to be that the ‘offender’ has been advised by the Police to back off in case he manages to piss someone off sufficiently to start a fracas – and find themselves on the wrong end of smack in the mouth – only for them to get shirty with the Old Bill and start mouthing off about the rights.

In both these last two cases, the subject matter is pretty much incidental to the vague nature and use of public order offences by the Police in the interests of having a quiet shift.

12. Turns out to be our aforementioned Glasgow firemen, as as I noted previously I really can’t see what even the most deeply held moral views on homosexuality have to do with handing out fire safety leaflets to members of the public.

This is bullshit from start to finish.

And finally…

17. A bit of an internal spat within the Police, for which I’ll give the full text from their briefing:

The Christian Police Association were being challenged by the Gay Police Association and are being reported to  head of  human Resources in one of the leading Police Divisions in the count[r?]y.

GPA state CPA should be free to meet but not as an affiliated society because they require members to sign a statement of belief which GPA say is discriminatory. Initial letter from HR sided with GPA. GPA say Christian Police Officers are free to believe but there should be limits on their manifestation of belief because their views will make them prejudiced in the way they carry out their official police duties.

This is another example of the privatisation of the Christian Faith.

Handbags at dawn in the Police service, then – although quite how this all amounts the the privatisation of the Christian Faith rather escapes me as it doesn’t appear that the police are planning to the float the CPA on the Stock Exchange.

Okay, so I’m being a tad facetious here, but the fact is that the GPA has a definite point in arguing that Christian police officers should face certain limits on the manifestation of belief where it would prejudice their performance of their official duties. The Police are there to uphold the law of the land and when it comes to such matters I doubt that anyone would reasonably argue that they should get to pick and choose which laws they do and don’t enforce and precisely who they do, and do not, deal with based on religious beliefs or just about any other kinds of personal beliefs you might care to mention.

And the same basic principle applies, equally, to gay police officers, and to police officers from any other minority community, so this all seems to be a bit of general silliness than anything of real substance, unless the GPA can put forward evidence to show that some of the fellow officers are allowing personal beliefs to exert an undue influence over the performance of their duties.

There’s hardly cause for claims of ‘living in an atmosphere of fear’ in these or any of the other ‘cases’ cited by CCFN in their briefing, which include – as you might expect – the absurd human rights case brought by Lydia Playfoot, the passage of the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations and one or two bizarre absurdities, such as contesting a trademark application by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for the name ‘Dignity in Dying’ which they consider to be ‘misleading’ and an attempt by Rev George ‘So Macho’ Hargreaves to seek a judicial review of ACPO guidance on arrests for possession of Cannabis, based seemingly on evidence supplied by the Daily Mail offshoot, ‘The Metro’.

However my personal favourite is this one:

The Centre for Contemporary Ministry have received notice from the Charity Commission of a complaint made against them.

It began in June 2006 with a letter from the Charity Commission which stated that they had received a complaint against this ministry concerning statements made in their spring 2006 newsletter and in papers on their website that are alleged to be anti-Islamic.

So the Charity Commission have received a complaint about content on this group’s website, alleging that this content is ‘anti-Islamic’ and has, as it is required to, notified the organisation of the complaint.

They threatened a Charity Commission inquiry and required that their letter be copied to each of the trustees of the organisation.

It is entirely standard practice for the Charity Commission to require that all trustees of an organisation are notified if there is a complaint against a charity of which they are a trustee – they do have legal responsibility for the Charity after all and may well have some comment or feedback on the complaint that may be relevant to the Commission’s ‘inquiries’ – which at this stage would amount to establishing whether the complaint had any basis in fact and any relevance in charity law sufficient to bring the matter under their jurisdiction.

This is all absolutely standard practice and not a threat at all – in fact because of the way the Commission work, if the complaint is shown to baseless and the need for inquiry is ruled out, then the fact that complaint was made will not even become a matter of public record.

Mr Paul Diamond who is a barrister specialising in charity law advised the ministry to ask the Charity Commisson to define their use of the term anti-Islamic. The Commission replied ‘We do not have a definition of the term anti-Islamic it is a matter for the trustees to determine in accordance with their understanding of that term…”

So what has actually happened is that the Commission has said to them – look this is the complaint we received, we’re not judging it at this stage we just want to know what you think it means and whether you think there’s any basis to it – in many cases complaints and inquiries to the Charity Commission prompt trustees to recognise the existence of a particular problem that, in some cases, they may not have previously been aware of and to ask for advice and guidance from the Commission on how to sort things out. A Charity Commission inquiry is not Police inquiry and is conducted in a very different manner.

The matter is now resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

In other words, its a complete nothing issue and barely worth mentioning as the only story here is ‘Charity Commission does its job’.

Anyway, after all that we’ll get back to Green who concludes with…

It’s time for gays and lesbians who value liberalism to speak out in defiance of the authoritarians who falsely claim to be the sole voice of their community.

Frankly I think its time for “gays and lesbians’, liberal Christians and pretty much anyone who values not only liberalism but rational and reasoned debate to ‘speak out in defiance’ of those who manifestly seek not only to appropriate the principle of free speech and free expression as a means of legitimising their own personal prejudices but who do so on the back of a stream of piss-poor, hypocritical and tendentious argument.

Especially when the one thing that’s most obviously escape the attention of David Green is that, currently, there is no single group that is investing more energy in assuming and playing out the role of the self-defined victim in an effort to obtain preferential treatment than the loose cabal of Evangelical Christian organisations in which the likes of Colin Hart and Annette Minichiello Williams play a leading role.

And with that, I’ll leave the last word to HL Mencken.

“Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration – courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth”

Exactly.

  • Menken got it dead right but…. as for the rest of this article….have we a sub editor in the house?

    Several of the Greens I have known appeared to be of jewish origin…..but their views and personalities were as various as any open minded intelligent person would expect…..if they weren`t trying to make a snide and feeble attack on Migration Watch for daring to tell a truth our Ministry of Truth prefers us not to know!

  • MarkF

    “a stream of piss-poor, hypocritical and tendentious argument.”

    Au Contraire — It’s a jump between what a complainant perceives as “homophobic literature … inciting hatred” and your crowning of Jack Straw’s intent as purely “prohibiting incitement to hatred on ground of sexuality … giv(ing) rise to harm” in recklessly or “intending to cause (others) to commit a criminal offence”.

    You’re further undermined by Jack Straw’s eye on song “lyrics” (www.freemuse.org/sw7765.asp); this Government’s past loose-worded attempt to fulfil a promise to Muslims; and the breakdown between your wishes to “give the Police rather more discretion” and your final-say to “speak out in defiance” at such Bible-centred misuses of the “principal of free speech”.

    AFAIK, some Met Police voice expressed concern (The Sun) at the number of homophobic reports not meriting their investigative-resources due their Home Office categroisation. Posters inviting reports of sexually-oriented targeting are rather glibly worded. You also awarded scant attention to the arrests of Lynette Burrows (and their questioning the Bishop of Chester), etc.

  • Sorry?

    You’re saying that merely because something is sung it cannot be held to constitute incitement? No, doesn’t work like that – such as assessments are qualitative and depend on what is sung, not on the medium itself.

    Look closely and you’ll find that the Police’s complaint is precisely down to the lack of discretion they have – they get a complaint and they have to investigate it, even if it seems absurd. The Police are not empowered to interpret the law here – and have little or no case law to help them with that anyway – which is where the problem lies.

    What is needed, is for complaints to be ‘triaged’ by the CPS before an investigation takes place. In the cases of both Lynette Burrows and the Bishop of Chester, it was self-evident from their remarks that a case of incitement could not be made, all that was needed was for the Police to obtain a transcript, run it past the CPS and be given the word to drop it without going to the trouble of investigating further.

    The critical thing with all new-ish laws is the development of a body of case law, which defines the detail of what does and doesn’t substantiate the claim that an offence has occurred. That hasn’t occurred as yet and until it does then I’m afraid there will be a few absurdities – in some respects what’s actually most needed is a decent test case, one that permit the judiciary to law down a few precise rules of interpretation to clear the situation up.

  • MarkF

    “You’re saying the merely because something is sung it cannot be held to constitute incitement?”

    Incitement gauged by what; promoting prejudice; the likelihood of public disorder by jiving ANL placards; the potential acts of a homicidal teenager? The “incitement” Laws have a pattern of being diluted to fit what Kilroy coined “the Metropolitan Elite”. More than one Telegraph columnist has found (e.g. http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/002522.html etc) they should’ve crossed-bench over to The Guardian, before we even delve the gay-activist thought-bubble in our State and broad institutional conscience. Trends in the State-policing of speech will likely be codifications of instituional bias — particularly inside the Home/Justice Offices. AFAIK, any bruises from “anti-gay” and “homophobic” lyrics are thankfully as “metaphorical” as their Reggae artists, whos lyrics “never killed anyone”. Is there a timeless common-good out of Colonial influence upon Reggae music? I don’t defend nor criminalize Reggae artists.