The House of Commons is to debate the final stages of the 'Racial and Religious Hatred Bill' on Monday. The African and Caribbean Churches have issued a call for a mass lobby of Parliament on that day and a demonstration in Parliament Square starting at 1.30 pm. Christian Voice is privileged to support them. No doubt some of us will stay there until the final vote is taken. That could be 10.30pm. But don't worry. Come along when you can, go into the House of Commons, ask to see your MP, and then join your Christian brethren outside. I have given notice to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner of the demonstration (as one has to do now), so it is all go. Praise and prayer taken out to the battlefield is powerful! (2 Chr 20!)
Talking of notice, I know it is short notice for all of us, but there is time for you to bring this before your church on Sunday and all transport will be back to normal on Monday after the horrific events of yesterday. Travel to Westminster on the Jubilee or District line. "Because that for His name's sake they went forth" (3John 1:7) Even if the House of Commons displays contempt for free speech and the Gospel of Jesus Christ by passing this wretched Bill, our presence in numbers will encourage the House of Lords to stand up to the Commons when it goes to their House later. Banners should be Bible verses - John 14:6 is a good one here.
Christian Voice was accused of being against freedom of speech because of our opposition to Jerry Springer the Opera. In fact it was freedom of artistic expression which was taken too far by the BBC and the producers of the musical. However, if anyone wishes to see what stifling freedom of speech really looks like, they need look no further than The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
The Bill makes it a criminal offence to say anything or distribute literature which is 'likely to be heard or seen by any person in whom it is likely to stir up ... religious hatred.' That could be anybody. 'Religious hatred' in the Bill means 'hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief,' - which must include followers of all other religions as well as sinners in general - but neither 'hatred' nor 'religious' is actually defined. The Courts will have wide discretion to interpret such a provision in a way which would criminalise virtually every genuine Gospel preacher. If it is passed, preachers will need to be quick off the mark to be the first to be arrested under its provisions. Who is also seeking the distinction of becoming the first freedom of speech martyr under the Religious Hatred provisions of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill? Step forward Mr Nicholas Griffin of the British National Party.
Our fear is that of ‘self-censorship’. Ministers of the Gospel will be afraid to say anything against other religions for fear of a fine or prison. This is in fact the Government’s aim. They hope people will ‘moderate their language’ so as not to be arrested. Note that neither the truth of what is said nor good intentions will be any defence. If a preacher is, like Daniel Scot did in Australia, raising human rights concerns over the treatment of Christians in Muslim countries, or unpacking the Qu'ran, or denouncing Muslim extremism, he will be caught by the new law, as Scot was by the State of Victoria's 'Religious vilification' law. Ironically, Scot suffered under Islamic persecution in his native Pakistan.
It is not just Islam which is the problem. If a preacher is explaining the horrors of Hinduism, and the oppression that results from the practical outworkings of Hindu mythology and the caste system, as we do in our paper 'Diwali - a parents' guide', a charge of 'stirring up religious hatred' would be almost inevitable. As ‘religious belief’ in the Bill includes ‘Lack of religious belief’ then preaching against sin in general or adultery or homosexuality in particular, may also land a preacher in Court. Thus will there be a clash between Christianity and ‘Religious Hatred’. Our Saviour commands us to go and preach the Gospel. If we are to preach the Gospel we shall inevitably speak against the claims of other religions and atheism.
The Bill will criminalise preaching the Good News that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and land Christians in jail. It will also prevent the free expression of religious views, and the robust criticism of religion. The frank and passionate exchanges between Christians and Muslims at Speaker's Corner could become a thing of the past.
BILL WILL DESTROY GOOD RELATIONS
At the same time, a measure whose proponents claim is necessary for good relations between followers of different religions will, when the first case is brought, set those followers at each others' throats. Christians and Muslims in Victoria are now attending each other's meetings, jotting down the slightest indiscretion. The Government know all this, but it would be too Machiavelian to suggest that causing trouble is their real aim, so they can bring in more oppressive measures to satisfy the ‘need’ created by their own measure later on.
It is much more likely the need for the new law was the electoral necessity to appease the Muslim vote. In the wake of 9/11, with Palestinian terrorism fresh in the mind, and bombings in Iraq happening almost daily, Muslims wish to silence any criticism of the way in which their faith encourages the taking of innocent infidel life. In an article for 'Muslim Weekly' in March 2005, Minister for Energy Mike O'Brien MP listed a string of examples of how much Labour was doing for Muslims, mentioning the religious hatred legislation in particular. For Muslims, despite its illegal war in Iraq, Labour was "the best friend they have ever had in government". The general election was "about considering what a Labour Government rather than a Conservative Government has done and will do in the future for Muslims."
NEW LABOUR FRIEND OF ISLAM
Tony Blair, according to Mike O'Brien, remains the one leader who can influence George W Bush to persuade Israel to concede West Bank and Gaza Strip land for peace and establish a Palestinian state. Mike O'Brien even reminded Muslims how, when at the Foreign Office, he shot off to reassure Yasser Arafat that Britain was still with him when Israel and the Americans refused to negotiate with the old terrorist. Tony Blair reads the Qu'ran and quotes from it, gushed the North Warwicks MP. Labour had the first Muslim peers and MP's and now has more Muslim local councillors than any other party. "We are proud of this achievement," O'Brien went on, "but we have not yet finished." Thanks for the warning.
Then, during the General Election, Home Secretary Charles Clarke MP wrote to every mosque in the country, blaming the fall of the original Bill (which was then Clause 124 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill) on the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
WILL PEERS SAY ‘NO’ AGAIN?
Political expediency has driven Labour's enthusiasm for the new Clause, and that must help our cause in the House of Lords. Labour have created over 1,000 new offences since they came to power. This one is just a sop to the Muslims and will create more problems than it solves. Every time Labour tries to introduce such a measure, in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Bill and just before the election in May 2005, peers are not impressed, and throw it out. Peers can recognise an attempt at political expediency, and a Bill which is unnecessary, illiberal and oppressive.
Both the Conservatives and the LibDems oppose the Clause, for which we must thank God. But will their peers oppose a New Labour manifesto commitment in the House of Lords? The arithmetic is worse now as well. Labour have now as many peers as the Tories, and Tony’s cronies are still queuing up for their coronets, past favours or cash donations in their hands. Thank God that He is mighty. There is everything to pray for.
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