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