Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)|
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
440. Perhaps it would be possible for you to
let the clerk have a note of it.
(Dr Horrocks) Possibly. But there is an issue there.
The actual work involved wishes to keep going and it does not
wish to make a public scandal about it. This again is one of the
problems: they do not wish it to go into the public arena but
it is, nevertheless, a real effect. I was visiting it only a few
441. Could we ask more generally about the position
of trusts which are of a specifically religious character. One
would imagine that if local authorities were asking a trust to
appoint somebody from a religious denomination which was inappropriate,
that that would have come to wider public attention. We certainly,
so far as I am aware, have not had any other evidence on the matter.
(Dr Horrocks) There was the widely publicised case
of the Christian prison work which was almost closed down recently
because of its distinctly Christian approach. That was widely
publicised. That is in the public domain and the Home Office and
the prison service were directly involved in that.
442. You are referring to the Kairos project.
It was not closed down because of its specifically Christian approach,
although the prison service did decideand you may consider
this to be wrongthat they would not entertain applications
for offending behaviour programmes which were from any religious
group whatsoever unless they were financed by the group concerned.
In the case of Kairos they were re-introduced in the two prisons,
The Verne and Leyhill, I think, when they agreed to assume the
burden of paying for the people involved. So the prison service
attitude, correct me if I am wrong, is that first of all they
need to know what works. In other words, in offending behaviour
programmes there has to be some guarantee that there is an improvement
in the recidivism statistics arising from the work done by these
outside groups and, secondly, that there is an improvement in
behaviour of the inmates concerned during the period when they
are under the supervision of the programme. Those are the two
criteria which are applied rather than whether a particular denomination
comes within the approval of the prison system. They are not discriminating
in any way in favour or against any particular group. Is that
(Dr Horrocks) I do not want to speak for any particular
group this morning, but I can assure you that there would be a
different way of seeing that. But I am not here to speak for particular
Chairman: I think that is rather a long way
away from religious offences.
Bishop of Portsmouth
443. I would just like to pick up on that last
point. I have much sympathy with what you say about this tacit
discrimination and hear about it. This is not the context in which
to be specific but I do know that it goes on. It is as if Christians
in the past had privileges supposedly and now they have to be
treated in a negative way in certain situations. My problem is
that this is one thing; religious hatred is another. What this
Committee is trying to doand there is no pre-arranged agendais
to define what religious hatred is and then to define the incitement
of it. Incidentally, if I can just add, on this issue of transsexualism,
there is no way in which parliament could force, for example,
the Church of England to re-write the marriage serviceif
I may just cut lots of corners there. There is no way the European
Court of Human Rights could force Christian churches to redefine
their own internal and, in the case of the Church of England,
rather open but internal rules. That is a kind of reassurance.
It is not strictly relevant to the Committee but I think it is
important for me to make that point. But I want to go back to
the question which I think is occupying other people's minds around
this table, which is how can you help usbecause this is
why you are hereto define what religious hatred is and
how can you help us to define what incitement is. That is fundamentally
what this mixed bag of people, of different beliefs and backgrounds,
is trying to wrestle with.
(Dr Horrocks) I understand the question.
444. We did ask you on paper to deal with any
issues arising from religious discrimination and I think you have
answered that. It would be very helpful to hear from you and your
colleagues about religious hatred because that is a very difficult
matter to get one's head around.
(Dr Horrocks) Yes, it is. Perhaps I should ask my
colleagues if they would like to come in.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: Are we going
to tackle blasphemy first, or not?
445. We are trying to answer question 1 really.
If we could ask you the question on blasphemy, because you did
say that you were quite clear that you did not want it abolished,
and then ask you to move to religious hatred.
(Dr Horrocks) On the question of blasphemy, the big
question in my mind, and I suspect in the minds of my colleaguesalthough
they may not be as aware of the legal background as I amis
where this definition has come from that is in front of us. Certainly
it is not a definition that we have come across before or recognise
at all. I would like to throw a question back to the Committee,
asking them: Where has this definition come from and why are we
not going by the definition, with which I thought everybody agreed,
which was reinforced by Lord Scarman in the Gay News case?
446. What is there about this definition that
you feel is different?
(Dr Horrocks) It omits probably the most important
part as far as ourselves and the Christian world is concerned
and the Evangelical Alliance in particular; namely, that it appears
to suggest that it is just the formularies of the Church of England
that are affected here, as if this is some kind of narrow sectarian
question when in fact, as Lord Scarman said, blasphemy or the
publication of blasphemy is "anything that contains contemptuous,
reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus
Christ or the Bible or the formularies of the Church of England
as by law established." I do not see any mention of God,
Jesus Christ and the Bible here, which are the fundamentals of
the Christian faith, and the suggestion that it is simply something
about the doctrines of the Church of England that one can offend
by blasphemy. Certainly, as a non-conformist, I have quite strong
views on that and I suspect that my colleagues may have as well.
I have a Baptist on my right and I have a black Pentecostal on
my left, and I would leave them to comment.
Chairman: This is the definition given by our
legal expert of what the law actually covers. As I understand
it from all the legal advice we have had, the law of blasphemy
does only protect the Church of England. But I am not a lawyer
and there are other much cleverer people around the table.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: I have gone back
to read the initial paper we had. I am not a lawyer, let me make
that comment. While originally the law of blasphemy protected
the Crown, I sense that practice since then is slightly different
and I am not sure whether I could say, hand on heart, that actually
the law today simply defends the Church of England. I think that
is a legal interpretation and my own conclusion is that the definition
of the law of blasphemy is of necessity arbitrary. There are a
number of definitions and, in terms of what was used last in the
High Court, I think what is being stated here may be actually
correct. That is just my personal view as a member of the Committee;
other members of the Committee may share different views, but
I certainly think this is something which we should explore because
I do think that the people who have given evidence to us have
actually given evidence on a different definition of blasphemy
from the one which we as a committee have been using.
Chairman: That is very much an internal comment,
so perhaps we will not ask you to comment on that.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: I am not a lawyer.
Could I just check this out with someone who is a lawyer. I thought
that the blasphemy issue in all circumstances only relates to
the Church of England.
447. That is my understanding. I think the problem
is driven partly by the fact that this is a common law offence,
not a statutory offence. I think the reason for this definition
is that it has been formulated with a view to try to state it
in modern language and to try where possible to rid it of ambiguity
or ancient terminology. Your complaint is that it does not achieve
(Dr Horrocks) I would have to say that if God, Jesus
Christ and the Bible are ancient terminology to be got rid of,
we would be pretty upset.
Lord Grabiner: No. I perhaps did not express
myself sufficiently clearly. It would be perfectly possible to
have a definition that went to several paragraphs and I think
that the endeavour was to try to reduce it to some proposition
which was, broadly speaking, acceptable as an accurate definition
of an offence, of a criminal offencewe have to be very
precise about it. But if there are specific criticismsand
you have certainly indicated themI am sure we will take
account of what you have said.
Baroness Massey of Darwen
448. Can I come back on that, because you said
right at the beginning that you would recommend retention of the
blasphemy law but there seems to be a contradiction here, that
you have problems with the law because it does not cover enough
of what you want it to cover. Is that correct?
(Bishop Wayne Malcolm) Can I comment on this. Obviously
my background is not as a legal expert but there seems to be a
difference between the legal interpretation of the law and what
I would probably call the way the public perceives the law.
449. That has become very apparent to us.
(Bishop Wayne Malcolm) To me, representing a section
of the public, being our Pentecostal churches, we see it as stating
that it is wrong or illegal to insult our faith or deliberately
to attempt to outrage people of faith. We do not see it as it
is protecting the Church of England; we see it as making it wrong
to take any sacredly held belief and attempt to insult the people
who hold that belief by ridiculing it. We do not see it as academically
challenging someone's belief or philosophically challenging someone's
belief, but really publications or comedy or art that is intended
to outrage the people who hold those beliefs to be precious and
dear. To us, the reason why we would not want to see the law abolished
is because we believe that that would send out the opposite message
that it is now okay to do so. We feel that artists, comedians,
the media and almost anyone would initially just use that opportunity,
and there would become a wave of, Christians fundamentally would
feel, anti-Christian literatureyou know, on and on. We
feel that that would be wrong, that that is the wrong message.
Where I pastor there is also quite an Islamic community, and I
would like to talk about some of that a bit later on, but we do
not feel that anyone would be discussing removing a law that might
have the effect of sending a wave of anti-Islamic feeling, or
blasphemous statements that would outrage the Islamic community.
We do not feel that anyone would even consider removing that law,
even if it were ancient, even if it were not in force for many
years. We do not think anyone would consider removing it because
we think, as far as our non-legal position, that it would be reacted
to violently. Therefore, our feeling is that in some way we are
perhaps being penalised for being non-violent, that, because we
are non-violent in how we deal with blasphemy as a rule, it is
now being considered whether we should abolish this law, but we
do not think anyone would be considering abolishing a law that
might have the effect of outraging the Islamic community. Whatever
its legal interpretation, we feel that there is a collective perception
of the law as making it wrong to take a person's sacredly held
beliefs and deliberately try to insult them or outrage them.
450. Can I be clear, you are saying that you
feel that not only Christians believe this provides protection
for them but people of other faiths also.
(Bishop Wayne Malcolm) Yes, we think that people of
other faiths, as a rule, think it is illegal to blaspheme, that
there is some legal recourse if you get up and start speaking,
based on the existence of a law of blasphemy.
451. That is not the question I asked. Do you
feel that people of other faiths also feel that they are protected
from people outraging their religious beliefs in speech or action?
Do you think that Muslims and Sikhs and Jews also feel protected
by the law of blasphemy?
(Dr Horrocks) Two chief rabbis certainly do and have
stated that fact.
452. Where is that to be found?
(Dr Horrocks) I have certainly read the former Chief
Rabbi Jacobovits, who felt that, although it was understood that
the Christian religion was protected by the blasphemy law, he
saw it as a kind of umbrella protection that was so much part
of society that other faiths also came under its umbrella protection
and it was for the good of society as a whole, and he stated quite
clearly that he felt that the Jews did not need to seek any special
protection for themselves.
453. Are you aware that when the Satanic
Verses was published there was a case filed in the court by
a Muslim. It was turned down because it was said very clearly,
as far as I can recall, that it did not protect anybody else except
the Christian faith. I am not sure whether it was only Christian
or Anglican or other churches, but the case was turned down on
that basis. Are you aware of that?
(Dr Horrocks) Yes.
454. There is a contradiction in what you are
(Dr Horrocks) No, what I am saying is that if that
had been a book that had been aimed at the Christian faith then
it would not have even come to court. The Christian tradition
is much more open to intellectual argument and, indeed, to gratuitous
comment in a kind of semi-academic environment, whereas there
is a much lower threshold of tolerance in the Muslim world.
455. In terms of the lawand let us just
stick with the lawthere is a blasphemy law. If a book was
written similar to the Satanic Verses talking about the
Christian religion, it appears to me, from the ruling that was
given by the court, that if a Christian chose to take it to the
court it would not be dealt with on the same basis as if a Muslim
took Satanic Verses to the court. That is the difference
I just wanted to point out to you.
(Dr Horrocks) In response, if I might, I do not deny
that there could be a perceived discrimination there, but in practice
I think that it does not happen. And that is our view.
456. So you do not think there should be something
equivalent of blasphemy for other religious groups. I thought
you said you did.
(Dr Horrocks) We are not in favour of extending the
blasphemy law to other religious groups.
457. At all?
(Dr Horrocks) At all.
458. Your position is that you simply want to
retain the blasphemy law, period.
(Dr Horrocks) Yes.
Bishop of Portsmouth
459. Do you want to have a law on religious
hatred? The trouble with the blasphemy law is it is from another
age. It has the wrong title or shorthandhence our mail
bagsand it only protects the Church of England. The dilemma
with which we are faced around this tableand no minds have
been made up about this and we have not talked together about
itis: Do we leave it as it is, quaint benevolence, and,
in the way which is perceived by some leaders of other faiths,
providing an umbrella under which we can shelter, or do we say
this is not actually working, it is not real, we need to move
on to something else which is more focused or more specific? That
is the dilemma we are in and no mind has been made up.
(Mr Masom) I think I would endorse what my friend
has said. I think the challenge for you as a committee, if I may
say so, is that there appears to be an existing blasphemy law
which focuses on the Christian religion and there is not a blasphemy
law which focuses on other faiths. To discuss what you might have
if you had a blank sheet of paper and were starting from square
one, I think, is a different issue from considering the message
it sends if you look at removing the provision that is there already.
Certainly in terms of the discussion on whether this protects
the Church of England or whether it protects the wider Christian
community, I am not an expert, as has been made clear, but certainly
I would be far happier with the quote from Lord Scarman that my
colleague read to you earlier. But, regardless of that, I think
the historic precepts of the Church of England are broadly in
line with other mainstream Christian faiths, so from that point
of view I think it is unlikely that something that would offend
somebody in the Church of England would not offend somebody in
the Baptist communion and vice versa. But my concern, as a lay
member, would be the very strong message it would send if you
did seek to repeal or modify it in any significant way and I think
it would create open season, quite frankly, for a certain section
of particularly the media and entertainment community that all
bets were off in terms of this now being an acceptable target.
That may be, of course, an unfair and unreasonable fear but I
think it is a fear that would be quite widely held.