DECEMBER 24 last year was the closing date for the Government’s consultation process on the Law Commission’s proposals to amend hate-crime laws. Dr Joanna Williams, director of the Freedom, Democracy and Victimhood Project at the Civitas think tank, argues that the proposed amendments ‘would hand to the State frightening new powers to police speech’.
A major problem with the proposals is the principle of regarding a crime as being more serious if the victim belongs to a group possessing ‘protected characteristics’. This attacks the whole concept of equality under the law. If the victims of crime are deemed not to possess a protected characteristic, the offence done to them will not be treated with the same level of seriousness as if they did. The plight of the grooming gang victims in Rotherham is surely a case in point.
The Law Commission’s proposals include, for example, expanding the protected characteristic of transgender to incorporate cross-dressers and those who identify as non-binary. If a Christian minister, endeavouring to give pastoral guidance to someone who favours a fluid approach to gender identity, asserts that there are only two genders, and that they are irrevocably fixed by God, will he then be deemed guilty of prejudice, bigotry and hatred?
This writer’s particular concern is the effect of changes to hate-crime laws on the freedom to proclaim the teachings of the Christian Scriptures. As an open-air preacher, I can vouch from personal experience that things are bad enough already without any further tightening of the law to feed the Establishment’s hunger to promote the values of cultural Marxism.
Just before Christmas I was preaching in the high street of my nearest town, supported by a number of lady church members, one of whom is in her 80s. Just as we were winding up, two uniformed ‘street wardens’ approached me. They asked for my name and address, telling me that I would be committing an offence if I did not give my details, which would then be passed to the police. I was told that I had been identified that day by a member of the public as having expressed hate-crime sentiments in the same place some weeks earlier. I was amazed that I had to give personal details to council employees (who presumably have no authority as law enforcement officials) on the basis of a single individual who did not personally like the preaching.
Two police cars then arrived on the scene. An officer quickly got out of one and said that he also needed my details because of what I had been saying, not on the previous occasion, but upon that very day, because there had been a further complaint about inappropriate comments. This was quite possibly from the same individual as before, who was not present to support his complaint when the police spoke to me. As no crime had been committed, and as there was no citation of any words actually spoken by me, and so no evidence, and since the police had not personally witnessed any wrongdoing, one suspects that there was no legal obligation at all to give out personal contact details. Nevertheless, the attitude of the police was such that I felt it wiser to comply.
What was behind all the concern about hate speech from the street wardens and policemen? I had made a brief reference in a temperate and reasonable manner to the Biblical teaching that homosexuality is sinful. I had also stated that the success of LGBT activism, including the redefinition of marriage and the taking of its message into the schools, represents a rejection of Scriptural truth, and is indicative of the nation’s general rebellion against God.
Now some readers of this article may disagree with that viewpoint, but have we really reached the stage in progressive and enlightened modern Britain that an ordained Christian pastor, supported by his church, cannot give public expression to such a viewpoint, even though it is what the Bible teaches?
Those who support the principle of hate-crime laws, despite their frightening effects upon freedom of speech, would do well to remember that once upon a time Christians in this country had to fight the State and mainstream establishment opinion for the freedom just to read the Bible in English. They would do well to remember that William Tyndale had to flee the country and ended up being burnt at the stake for the crime of translating the Scriptures into the tongue of his countrymen. Are we now to ban the public proclamation of that same word of God as being hate speech?
The tightening of hate-crime laws provokes another question. Will a gospel preacher who declares that Jesus Christ is the only truth and the only way of salvation be accused of being unnecessarily offensive to those of other faiths, especially when he does so in multicultural town centres, as I frequently do?
The hate-crime legislation, as we have stated, is based on the premise of protected characteristics. Even though religion is listed as such a characteristic, it seems that conservative Bible-believing Christians will in practice end up being the victims rather than the protected ones.