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Religious Expression vs. Hate Crimes

When does religious expression become hate crimes in a secular society?

Obviously in our western secular societies religious expression and religious institutions are protect against government interference. This is not only good, but necessary. It is interesting, however, that such protection extends to exempting religious institutions from at least some of the laws of the land which protect hard earned rights. In Britain, for example, religious institutions are exempt from human rights laws that protect women and gays. While the State would never let the church,  synagogue, mosque or temple practice faith-based discrimination based on race, the State does allow for faith-based discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. In Britain the Church of England and the Catholic Church practice faith-based discrimination against women. With the exception of the Quakers and Reformed Judaism all religious institutions practice faith-based discrimination against gay people (I should add the ambiguous exception of the United Reformed Church which has no policy on the exclusion or inclusion of gays, thus some churches and denominational bodies practice exclusion of gays, some partial exclusion and partial inclusion and some full inclusion). In the case of faith-based discrimination against women the Church of England and the Catholic Church do not presume to demand that all of society follow their lead. However, in the case of gay people religious institution preach that all society should practice at least some discrimination against gays.

While the State allows religions institutions to ignore laws in their own communities, it does not give them complete licence. In England five Muslim men are being tried for hate crimes against gay people. They have been arrested for passing out leaflets threatening gays. As reported in The Guardian, Bobbie Cheema, arguing for the prosecution, said the jury the “leaflets you will see are not educational or simply informative. They are, we suggest, threatening, offensive, frightening and nasty." A fourth leaflet, entitled Dead Derby, was discovered by not yet distributed. “It described homosexuality as a ‘vile, ugly, cancerous disease’ and stated: ‘Gay today, paedophile tomorrow?’" Ms Cheema went on to say to the jury, "A word of warning. This case is not about, and we must not make it about, an interference with the defendants' freedom of religion or freedom to express their religious views in an attempt to educate or inform people.”

According to the law preaching and practicing hatred that may incite others to hatred and action is not allowed. In the case cited above, those arrested happen to be Muslim. I would hope if they had been Christian they would also have been arrested. When, for example, does the preaching of hatred towards gay people from a Christian pulpit become a hate crime? Ever?

In Britain it is the State moving forward the rights of gay people. In general religious institutions oppose full rights for gays. They should not, however, be allowed to preach hatred.

For those of you interested in the hate crime laws themselves this is what I found:

When looking for the hate crime laws in the England and Wales, I came across the following:

Definition of hate crimes

The Association of Chief Police Officers distinguishes between a hate incident and a hate crime. A hate incident is:

“Any incident, which may or may not constitute a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate.”
Whilst a hate crime is defined specifically as:

“Any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate.”

ACPO defines a homophobic hate incident as:

“Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person.”

This definition is similar to the definition of other forms of hate incident such as race hate incidents and religious hate incidents. Under these definitions a person does not have to be lesbian, gay or bisexual to be the victim of a homophobic hate incident, nor does the victim of a hate incident have to view it as homophobic for it to be considered a homophobic hate incident by the police.

Domestic violence can be considered a hate crime and some police forces have joint domestic violence and hate crime units.

A posting on the Justice website speaks of the extension of hate crime law and includes the following:

The Act will also be updated so that where any offence is shown to be motivated by hostility towards the victim on the grounds of transgender, as well as race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability, sentences must be made more severe. This will mean all five monitored strands of hate crime will be reflected equally in these provisions.  

Finally, Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 includes:

146 Increase in sentences for aggravation related to disability or sexual orientationE+W

This section has no associated Explanatory Notes

(1)This section applies where the court is considering the seriousness of an offence committed in any of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2).

(2)Those circumstances are—

(a)that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on—

(i)the sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim, or

(ii)a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim, or

(b)that the offence is motivated (wholly or partly)—

(i)by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation, or

(ii)by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability.

(3)The court—

(a)must treat the fact that the offence was committed in any of those circumstances as an aggravating factor, and

(b)must state in open court that the offence was committed in such circumstances.

(4)It is immaterial for the purposes of paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) whether or not the offender’s hostility is also based, to any extent, on any other factor not mentioned in that paragraph.

(5)In this section “disability” means any physical or mental impairment.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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