Submission from The Christian Institute
The Christian Institute is a registered Charity
which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK. We have
a particular interest in religious liberties. This response considers
the two questions outlined in the call for evidence.
Should existing religious offences (notably blasphemy)
be amended or abolished?
1. Existing laws on religious offences should
not be amended or abolished.
2. The blasphemy law recognises the unique
contribution and status of Christianity in Britain. To remove
the blasphemy law, or extend it to other religions, would challenge
this. Any reform or abolition of the blasphemy law cannot be looked
at separately from the constitutional role of Christianity in
3. We believe the blasphemy law should remain
unchanged in recognition of our Christian constitutional settlement.
British heritage, culture, laws and democratic institutions have
all been profoundly influenced for good by Christianity and cannot
be understood without reference to it. The Head of State is the
Supreme Governor of the Church of England, which is established
by law and common law is the law of the land. The Coronation Oath
sworn by the Monarch is profoundly Christian. Christian oaths
are taken by MPs, others in public life and by witnesses in a
Court. Both Houses of Parliament begin their proceedings with
Christian prayers. The law requires Christian teaching and assemblies
in schools. The UK is not a secular state.
4. Furthermore, while legislators and individuals
have embraced secular values and beliefs in many areas, Christianity
is still by far the largest faith in the UK. Widespread offence
is caused when the person of Christ is blasphemed. A survey in
found that three-quarters of Britons regarded themselves as Christian.
One in six claimed no religion. Only 5 per cent belonged to a
Should a new offence of incitement to religious
hatred be created and, if so, how should the offence be defined?
5. The Christian Institute strongly opposes
the creation of an incitement offence. Unlike the blasphemy law,
which is only invoked in very rare and extreme cases, there is
a real threat that a religious incitement offence would criminalise
widespread and legitimate religious expression, cults or any extremist
religious group could use the new offence to silence their strongest
6. A new incitement offence would seriously
harm freedom of speech because it would be used by those who are
hostile to certain religious ideas. The Mysticism and Occult Federation
recently conducted a campaign of complaints to the Radio Authority
against Premier Christian Radio in London. They objected to them
airing preachers warning of the danger of dabbling in the occult.
Surprisingly, the Authority upheld some of their complaints. In
June, Bill Beales, head teacher of a secondary school in South
Wales, faced calls for his suspension after he told a school assembly
that society was turning its back on God's rules. Recently
a church was told by police that putting evangelistic leaflets
through letterboxes in a partly Muslim area was a "serious
racist incident". There have already been cases where Christians
have actually been convicted of criminal offences simply for preaching
in the streets. In 1999 Alison Redmond-Bate was found guilty of
wilful obstruction after allegedly "unsettling" a crowd
in York by warning them not to turn their backs on God. She
was cleared on appeal. Harry Hammond, an autistic pensioner, was
recently convicted under the 1986 Public Order Act for preaching
in the street while holding a placard with the words "Stop
7. Many Christian people already feel afraid
to publicly speak about their faith. These examples show how some
people cannot tell the difference between promoting different
religious beliefs and inciting hatred. It is important that such
people are not handed a legal mechanism for attacking opposing
beliefs. Britain's tradition of free speech actually stems from
our Christian heritage and the Christian principle that people
should not and cannot be forced into religious belief since it
is a matter of the conscience.
8. Religion is completely different to race
and it is wrong to apply incitement offences to religion. Religion
is all about ideas, beliefs and philosophies. People can change
their beliefs. They cannot change their race. Beliefs govern the
making of moral choices. Race does not. Everyday controversy about
religious belief is healthy, good and necessary, just like political
controversy. The law must not infringe on freedom of speech and
the right to argue that certain religious ideas are better than
9. There is no need for this new offence.
It is already a criminal offence to incite violence against another
person or his property, whether or not religion is the cause.
The existing law needs to be enforced properly, instead of the
state entering into an unnecessary and unjustified intrusion into
freedom of speech, criminalising ideas rather than actions.
10. At The Christian Institute we are well
aware of the unpleasantness of religious hatred. We ourselves
are often subjected to abusive letters and phone calls because
of our beliefs. We also help individuals who suffer because of
their beliefs. To silence those who disagree with us we could
easily make use of a law forbidding incitement to religious hatred
but we do not believe it would be right to do so. We urge the
committee to recommend the maintenance of the legal status
quo and the better enforcement of existing laws to protect
those who are victims of violence, criminal damage or other offences
motivated by religious hatred.
5 July 2002
2 The Tablet, 22/29 December 2001, p.1857. See
also The Daily Telegraph, 20 December 2001. Back
See The Spectator, 14 November 2002. Back
The Daily Mail, 4 June 2002. Back
See, P Iganski, The Hate Debate, Institute for Jewish
Policy Research, 2002, p.124. Back
The Times, 25 April 2002 and The Mail on Sunday,
28 April 2002. Back