Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from The Council of Christians and Jews


  Religious literature abounds in polemical statements that are very hurtful for those whose faith is abused or derided. Such statements can certainly be a source of religious hatred, particularly in a context of inter-communal conflict when they often provide scriptural warrant for extremist or militant rhetoric.

  These statements frequently reflect the passionate intensities of religious commitment and sometimes document historic conflicts that remain significant in communal identity, narrative and memory. It is important to note that such texts need not, of necessity, provoke hatred. They can be understood in historical, rather than contemporary contexts, or read in the light of ethical or psychological wisdom that ensures they are not translated into aggressive conduct. For example, the more violent utterances in the Psalms help us understand and verbalise violent feeling in prayer, rather than in real conflict with our neighbours. Citing such material in appropriate contexts, therefore, need not necessarily be a cause of concern.

  Furthermore, it is not possible to legally proscribe this material without giving grave offence to religious communities for whom it is sacred scripture. Legal proscription would simply drive the offending material underground, leaving intact the sentiments that inspired it, and the material would remain freely available in libraries all over the world, and on the internet.

  But, if an individual or group uses such material in a manner that is clearly intended to foment hatred, in sermons or writings that explicitly advocate violent courses of action, then such people must not be exempt from legal consideration on the grounds that they are citing religious material, or exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression.

  Finally, it would be helpful for the Select Committee to formally refer to polemical religious material and encourage communities to address its inherent dangers, particularly in the contexts of preaching and education. It is important for the communities to handle such material sensitively in order to promote greater understanding and ensure that ancient prejudices are not perpetrated in future generations.

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