the Disillusioned kid: Ego Fum Papa
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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ego Fum Papa

Usually the fact that Christian Voice were opposed to something would be reason enough to support it. The idea of an opera about Jerry Springer is something approaching my conception of hell, but after seeing CV get themselves worked up about the production I have to confess that I did flirt with the idea of going. Fortunately, good sense got the better of me, but only just. Rules, however, are made to be broken. Its just that some of them leave you feeling dirtier than others when broken.

The subject of our atypical agreement is the government's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. CV supporters were amongst 1,000 protesters who rallied against the Bill outside Parliament on Tuesday as the House of Lords subjected it to its Second Reading. Most of the demonstrators were evangelical christians, but there were also a number of representatives from the National Secular Society (no doubt feeling slightly out of place). The fact that two groups, who could hardly be more different,have come together against the bill goes some way to demonstrating how deep concern about its potential effects runs.

The Bill is widely understood as a sop to the Muslim community alienated by the invasion of Iraq, racial profiling and the disproportional effects of anti-terror legislation. Ironically though Muslims may well be among the first to be targetted by the legislation. Despite their ostensible opposition to the Bill, CV fuhrer Stephen Green warned on Tuesday they if the legislation were passed they might take legal action against bookshops selling the Qur'an:
If the Qur’an is not hate speech, I don’t know what is. We will report staff who sell it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that unbelievers must be killed.
The government apparently doesn't expect much of this sort of thing. Rohan Jayasekera suggests in his masterful critique of the Bill that they predict only 2-3 cases to come before the courts a year.

Furthermore, they have included a provision requiring Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC to authorise any and all prosecutions under the Act. Jayasekera warns that the faithful will be mobilised, as they have been previously against Jerry Springer the Opera, Behzti and the Satanic Verses, leading Goldsmith to "become ringmaster of a medieval circus":
Calls to prosecute the blasphemous will become rallying cries. Religious extremists will lead, fired not by fear of violence or threat of crime, but by the desire to bring their apostates and critics to court to be punished and silenced.
Cue a proliferation of cases and not insignificant harm to inter-faith relations. It may just be me, but Goldsmith's role in all this is less than reassuring. The Attorney-General's commitment to principles was amply demonstrated, you may recall, by his supine acquiesence to the demands of power in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Can we really rely on him to stand firm in the face of the assembled ranks of God's foot soldiers?

The government claims that the legislation is necessary to fill a loophole in the law against incitement to racial hatred which exempts religious hatred. They have been hard pressed, however, to come up with a situation which would not be covered by the present legislation. Intriguingly the fact that in the 19 years since that law came into force only 67 people have been prosecuted under it and a 44 convicted. You might have thought that if we were serious about dealing with racial/religious hatred (as opposed to, say, securing the support of Muslim voters) ensuring that legislation already in place was effective might have been a better place to start than introducing a new piece of legislation widely viewed as unnecessary, unwise and ill considered.

Concern about the legislation is wide spread and growing. Even former Archbishop George Carey has come out against it. A number of organisations have mobilised to try and stop the bill. Whether any of this has had an effect will be clear soon enough.

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