The British government has refused to say whether telling people about the Christian faith could be a hate crime.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a UKIP peer, says when he raised a question on the issue on the House of Lords, the government failed to state clearly whether Christians cannot be prosecuted just for stating their beliefs.
“I said to the government ‘Will they confirm unequivocally that a Christian who says that Jesus is the only son of the one true God cannot be arrested for hate crime or any other offence, however much it may offend a Muslim or anyone of any other religion?’”
In response to the question, government whip Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: “My Lords, I am not going to comment on that last question from the noble Lord.” She added that the legal definition of “hate crime” has been the same for the past 10 years.
Yes, and that’s precisely the problem. Here are screenshots from a UK government document defining “hate crime”:
Do you see the problem? Simply stating publicly that someone’s religious beliefs are incorrect can be construed as a hate crime, based on the perception by the alleged victim. If a statement is “perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s religion or received religion” (or sexual orientation), then the person making the statement can face charges.
Lord Person [sic] has urged for a discussion on the issue because he believes what constitutes a hate crime has not been clearly enshrined in law.
“It depends how much they feel hated, that’s what’s so stupid about it.
“What about free speech? That’s where I’m coming from. I just want to talk about it and I want the government to answer.”
If you stood in Trafalgar Square and read these texts aloud from the Bible:
Romans 1:24-27: Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
You could be brought up on hate crimes charges in the UK if a gay person, or gay rights supporter, was offended by what you said, or, in the second case, if a non-Christian felt victimized by your “prejudice” against non-Christian religions. Right?
Wrong, said Home Office Minister Lord Ahmed when Lord Pearson brought this up in 2016:
Home Office minister Lord Ahmed replied stating that reading the Bible in public would never become a criminal offence. He said: “Reading texts from the Holy Bible in public or preaching the divinity of Christ is not a crime and never will be in this country.
I hope he’s right. I welcome correction by my UK readers, but I assume that there haven’t been many hate crime prosecutions of Christians for publicly stating ordinary Christian teaching, even the kind that stands to offend gays, Muslims, and others. But the law is sufficiently vague that it’s easy to see how this could happen, if the government wished to make it happen. In any case the Baroness Vere’s flippant response — remember, she represents a Tory government — is hardly reassuring.
It is likely the case that she took the question as trolling, based on the fact that Lord Pearson asked the same kind of question last year, and received a clear response from Lord Ahmed. That said, it is worrying that the “hate crime” law is so broad in the UK that it easily could be applied against Christians in the way Lord Pearson said it could be. And for that matter, it could be applied against Muslims, or any other person exercising freedom of speech.
Again, I invite clarification and correction from UK readers if I’m not understanding anything.
UPDATE: Reader James Nicola comes through:
I’m afraid that you are misunderstanding the situation – a lot of the UK does as well, having been het up by rags like the Daily Mail.
The confusion is caused by the failure to understand the difference between incidents and crimes in police terms.
To the police, basically anything that gets reported to them is classified as an incident. If, for instance, someone calls the police to report they saw a man breaking into a house, but when the police get there they discover that this was the owner breaking a window and climbing in because they’d forgot their keys – this would *still* be recorded as an incident, despite the fact that nothing illegal had taken place. Nobody is punished for an incident; no action is taken; it’s simply a record that something happened which was reported to the police.
A hate incident is simply an incident which someone reported and noted that they thought it was caused by hatred for one of the groups which are protected under UK law. Keeping the previous example – if the house owner in question was black, and came down to the police station the next day to complain the report had only been made because they were black – this would be recorded as a hate incident.
Again, though, the important thing is that all the recording of an incident means is that something has been reported to the police; all the recording of a hate incident means is that something has been reported to the police which the person reporting it said they thought was caused by hatred for one of the protected groups. Unless the incident is then upgraded to a crime nothing further happens.
An incident is only upgraded to a crime when the police believe and have evidence that something has been done which is actually against the law (there are some subtleties to this but nothing relevant). This is not affected by whether it’s considered to be caused by hatred or not; that comes later. If they believe it to be a crime they then have the usual discretion to warn/caution (which the person accused can accept or reject) or take proceedings in the criminal court. Only when it has either been accepted by the accused that they committed a crime or they’ve been convicted in court is the question of whether the crime was motivated by hate relevant. If the court believes that it was, then a harsher punishment can be imposed than might otherwise be.
As such, the only way someone can be convicted and punished for a ‘hate crime’ is if they did something which would ALREADY be illegal, no matter what this was motivated by. As simply reading out the Bible aloud in public is not illegal, nobody can be convicted for doing so, and so no one is going to receive an extra punishment for this being motivated by hatred, no matter what anybody reporting it says or believes. If some such idiot did so report it it would simply be recorded as a hate incident – no crime – and nothing would happen to anyone.
It is possible that a particular police officer or force might make a mistake, but these are the rules, and if a mistake is made there are plenty of ways to complain and have it put right.
It is also possible that some obnoxious person might walk into – say – a gathering of gay men who had come together to discuss their applications to adopt children, and start reading Leviticus out loudly, refuse to leave and disrupt the meeting so it couldn’t continue. That person could and, in my opinion, should, be convicted of a hate crime – but the underlying crime would not be reading the Bible, it would be trespass, harassment, and probably a couple of other things depending on the facts of the case. If you feel like reading the Bible out loud in Trafalgar Square, provided you’re not committing any other crime while you read it out loud, all that’s going to happen to you is that you’re going to get some mildly strange looks – and probably not that many of those; the tourists won’t understand and the Londoners won’t care.