Should a public service accommodate belief?

Current UK law forces Christians to promote unchristian material contrary to their beliefs, but Virgin Trains has decided to stop selling the Daily Mail newspaper because it is not compatible with the Virgin Trains brand and its beliefs.  However, BBC Newsnight described it as ‘a culture war’.

What about Christian beliefs, the Christian brand and Christian culture?  Peter Tatchell, the homosexual activist, disagreed with the legal decision that forced Christian bakers to make and sell a cake promoting homosexual beliefs and practices.  He said that “the law should not compel businesses to aid political messages” adding that “in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with”.

When is a belief a brand or a political message?  When is an ideological position a brand, a belief or a culture?  The current law is sowing confusion into public life.

The inconsistency in the current law arises from a failure to understand that Christian toleration is very different from secular toleration.  Christians tolerate what they do not accept, but secularism wants to force acceptance of its views upon others, using the sanctions of the criminal law to do so.

Ever since the Macpherson Report into institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police re-defined racism in subjective terms –  “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person” Recommendation 12 – subjective ‘taking offence’ has become the stick with which to beat and harass other people, and Christians in particular who did not intend to ‘give offence’.  It undergirds political correctness.  Diversity training is used to enforce this subjective definition in the employment environment.

A private individual’s complaint can instigate a police investigation simply because a person has taken offence, when possibly no offence was intended.  Meanwhile Christians are offended every day with the use of Christian terms in swearing.

Subjective offence has worked its way through Equalities legislation and it will continue to stoke up charges and countercharges of being offended by each other’s speech and way of life. This will prove to be unworkable, and will itself contribute to louder and louder protests by disparate groups who are offended.  Those who can shout loudest and make most use of the judicial system will prevail – quoted from the Scottish Christian Party Manifestos.

Rather we need to introduce legislation to restore an objective definition of offence in order to restore free speech.

Update:

12 Sep 2012: the Jewish chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks interprets antisemitism as offending Jews, while Richard Dawkins distinguished offence from antisemitism; watch here at 23’00-24’40.  The law based on the Macpherson Report supports Sacks but Dawkins’ defence is correct.  If one offends Christians, Jews and muslims, this cannot be classified as antisemitic.  It is time to correct this legislative mistake.

7 Aug 2018: Freedom of speech in Britain.

22 Aug 2018: jailed for complaining.

10 Oct 2018: common sense from the Supreme Court has struck down the Northern Ireland court decision.

9 Nov 2018: I am told by a professor of European law that the Macpherson Report drew upon the European doctrine of harassment.  More’s the pity.  Christians are being harassed by the unequal Equality Act 2010.  The sooner we exit ‘European thinking’ the better.  Shirley Williams said decades ago that the social policy of Europe was based upon Roman Catholic doctrine.  Since then, Europe has encouraged redefining of marriage.  Too little thought is given in this secular age to the doctrines that are driving public agendas.  Occasionally a Reith Lecturer might touch on them, but there is no serious public debate and it is time for Christian preachers to come out of their ivory towers and to take to the field.

3 Dec 2018: the latest twist in the sorry Unequal Equalities tale is the attempt to have ‘ethical veganism’ declared a philosophical belief.  If it succeeds, then “discrimination against vegans in employment, in the provision of goods and services, and in education” will be the next round of disputes.  In the light of the Asher’s bakery case, how will ‘the provision of goods and services’ be affected?

Nick Spencer, from the think tank Theos, which debates religion in society, warned in an interview with the BBC : “The irony in all this is that rights are intended to be liberating but if we’re all turned into rights bearers, my rights clashing with your rights, we end up having to appeal to the courts to sort out our differences and that can become oppressive for everybody.”  The Scottish Christian Party has predicted this for a decade, but it seems that the BBC cannot appreciate this and that it will take many more examples before the follies in the unequal Equalities Act 2010 will dawn upon unthinking politicians.  At least the Supreme Court is beginning to bring common sense to bear upon a subject that lawyers and inferior courts seem unable to understand and which BBC Newsnight ignored.

Adding to the confusion of self-identifying one’s sex, judges have decided that one cannot self-identify one’s age.  The reason given is that “many rights in law are based on a person’s age, and changing it at will could cause many problems.”  Yet this was a primary reason against changing the definition of marriage to include homosexual couples, but it did not stop ungodly politicians doing that very thing.

9 May 2019: Subjective definitions are discussed in the Sturrock Review into bullying and harassment in NHS Highland.

14 Feb 2020: subjective definitions are used in the College of Policing guidelines, which define a hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”.  This subjective definition continues to stoke questionable accusations that the police are required to investigate.  No wonder they get it wrong when the definition is wrong.

The judge in the Harry Miller case thought that the guidelines “serve legitimate purposes and [are] not disproportionate”!  We will see.  However, the judge did use strong language to describe the police action.

15 Feb 2020: the Thought Police and non-crime hate incidents.

20 Nov 2020: the debate about subjectivity and objectivity arose on BBC Newsnight tonight in discussing the Home Secretary’s behaviour and breach of the Ministerial Code. Catherine Barnard, Professor of Law, University of Cambridge, said that the law addresses the subjective feeling of the victim and the objective assessment if it is reasonable to feel that way. This is not how law enforcement operates in practice, which assumes guilty till proved innocent, and it would be interesting to know what is this objective assessment and where it can be found. The next item discussed in BBC Newsnight was the subjectivity involved in assessing evidence, in the context of Covid-19. Slowly, slowly, subjectivity is rising up the agenda.

21 Dec 2020: at last common sense is catching up with the law. The difference between objective and subjective definitions is beginning to be recognized. A High Court judgment by Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Warby on 16 Dec 2020 quotes current legislation to the effect:

“The Court’s assessment of the harmful tendency of the statements complained of must always be objective, and not swayed by the subjective feelings of the claimant.”

“It would be a serious interference with this right [to freedom of expression] if those wishing to express their own views could be silenced by, or threatened with, proceedings for harassment based on subjective claims by individuals that they felt offended or insulted.”

High Court Queen’s Bench Division [2020] EWHC 342

The problem is that, until now, subjectivism has reigned. I learned as a child: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” but it seems that “live and let live” has died a death. Incitement to violence and racial hatred is already covered by the law.

It is interesting that the homosexual lobby notes that “This ruling will not change the law but some are fearful that this type of judgment could affect future rulings.” True, it has not changed the law. It has re-established what the law is, which has been so overlooked that Lord Justice Bean concludes his judgment: “This appeal illustrates the need for decision-makers in the criminal justice system to have regard, in cases where they arise, to issues of freedom of speech.”

Mr Justice Warby states: “… the well-established proposition that free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another.”

Op. cit. para 43.

The SNP Scottish administration should take note, which is trying to introduce a Hate Crime Bill. Problems have arisen necessitating changes to the Bill, reminding us of the SNP failed attempt to introduce its Named Person policy, although it is very much alive and living in a school near you. The Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament has also indicated the need to clarify that “the right to freedom of speech includes the right to offend, shock or disturb”. Besides, hate is not a crime but a sin.

The debate will continue, but Justice Warby is unwise in his High Court judgment to say that “free speech encompasses the right … to [verbally] abuse another.” This is over-the-top and simply opens a flank for a counter-attack. I would be interested to know where this right comes from “to abuse another”. I assert that it does not exist or should not exist. The right to offend exists simply because people take offence, sometimes unjustifiably, but the same cannot be said of abuse. One needs to notice the difference between giving offence and taking offence.

14 Mar 2021: Non-Crime Hatred gets recorded and can be held against you. Laurence Fox points out the danger of subjectivity in the law.

10 Jun 2021: another court judgment upholds the common sense view that beliefs may offend other people and must be tolerated. An employment tribunal’s contrary opinion was overturned by a judge-led panel.

“beliefs may well be profoundly offensive and even distressing to many others, but they are beliefs that are and must be tolerated in a pluralist society.”

Mr Justice Choudhury

However, just as Justice Warby (above) opened a flank for counter-attack, Justic Choudhury’s panel opened another one by suggesting that some beliefs or opinions are sufficiently offensive as to be “unworthy of protections for rights of freedom of expression and thought”. This suggests a secular form of blasphemy that will not or cannot be tolerated. Who determines this?

I was surprised to discover that there is an Index on Censorship, reminding me of the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books! The Index on Censureship is 50 year old, but it poorly titled – it is an Index against Censureship and “campaigns for and defends free expression, promotes debate, and monitors threats to free speech worldwide”.

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