Historic water-shed or Wasted Opportunity?

During 1999 the Labour Government asked the University of Derby School of Education and Social Science to conduct definitive research into Religious Discrimination. The SAFF were originally approached by researchers for the Project for our expertise and data on religious discrimination and were delighted at the prospect of this opportunity to reduce the tide of intolerance against unorthodox beliefs which had been promoted over the past decade by the activities of fundamentalists who seek an absolutist theocracy which outcasts all other religious alternatives. The project appeared to be a superb and visionary opportunity to break through centuries of religious persecution and find common ground to nurture the diverse religious and spiritual beliefs held by the populations of England and Wales. The Project is symbolic of the governments' intention to recognise the increasingly pluraslitic nature of our society in the 21st Century. If handled sensitively and thoroughly we believe it could be a historic wat ershed which will usher in an age of tolerance and therefore we support the idea in principle. However when the SAFF looked more closely at the parameters of the project we found several other agendas surfacing to complicate the issues. Although ostensibly aimed at discovering the extent of Religious Discrimination per se, it became evident that contributions from the big five orthodoxies were imbalancing this great opportunity by switching the emphasis away from personal religious freedom and concentrating instead on the empowerment and special requirements of the big-five beliefs. We see this as entirely the wrong way to proceed and presented our objections in an extremely insightful paper published in January 2000 entitled THE INDIVIDUAL'S RELIGIOUS RIGHTS MUST COME BEFORE ORTHODOXY. (Available for £3.95 including postage) Unfortunately since publication of this excellent piece of research, SAFF fears have been compounded. When published, the extensive questionnaire produced by the governments' projec t was scoped to provide statistics on a racial/religious curve, did not provide definitions of religious prejudice to refine the data, did not define the terms 'belief' or 'religion' (thereby excluding new religious movements, techno-religions and non-spiritual beliefs about the meaning of life). The project also did not provide responses for collecting specific data on personal discrimination but appeared to be focussing on generalisations and the collective perceptions of religious discrimination by racial and orthodox groups. Finally the project virtually ignored the problem of inter-religious discrimination which is where SAFF research data shows that the majority of complaints arise. Since we sent the Project our questions, cautions and recommendations we appear to have been totally ignored by those who are running the project and our letters have remained unanswered. There is now more evidence to suggest that the research was commissioned to provide biased data to further political requirements , than to cure the growing problem of religious intolerance. As can be seen from the Home Office's official response published below, it appears that contributions from outside the project are being sidestepped by the government. Any decisions the Home Secretary makes based on this projects' research may actually serve to exacerbate religious divides and increase social stress and tensions. It appears that those minorities which have the most to contribute and which are most at risk are being sidelined yet again. If you want to contribute your views on the matter to the Constitutional and Community Policy Directorate of the Home Office we append their email address at the bottom of this page. Similarly, if you want to question or contribute to the Project we give their website address also.

HOME OFFICE CONSTITUTIONAL & COMMUNITY POLICY DIRECTORATE 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1 H 9AT Direct Line: 0171 273 3349 email Philip.Colligan@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
23 February 2000 Angela Malham Subculture Alternatives Freedom Foundation Leeds, Yorkshire U.K.

Dear Angela

Thank you for your letter of 3 February to the Home Secretary, enclosing your submission to the University of Derby research project on religious discrimination. I have been asked to provide a reply as my section is responsible for issues of religious discrimination within the Home Office

I am grateful for a copy of your interesting submission to the University of Derby project team, which I know they will consider along with the many other materials they have received.

As you know the Home Secretary has commissioned the University of Derby to conduct research to assess the current scale and nature of religious discrimination, and the extent to which it overlaps with racial discrimination, in England and Wales. The research, which will run for 18 months , will look at the evidence of actual and perceived religious discrimination, including its scale, nature and the main victims and perpetrators; it will also examine the overlaps between religious and racial discrimination and identify the range of possible policy options available in tackling religious discrimination. The results, due in autumn 2000, will help to inform the Govermnent's thinking about the appropriate response


The SAFF's reply follows:

From: Tony Rhodes To: <Philip.Colligan@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk>Subject: Derby Uni.Religious Discrim. Project; Email From The Sub-culture Alternatives Freedom Foundation (S.A.F.F.)

Dear Philip Colligan,

Thank you for your letter of February 23 to Angela Malham. I am sorry that our reponse has been slow but we have been gathering background information and trying to make contact with the project team. As assistant director I have been asked to reply because it appears that you have either not read our submission, or have not undeerstood its content. What follows will be posted on the SAFF website for public scrutiny and therefore we hope you will consider our reply in detail.

(1) Your official response appears to be saying that it is the Home Office itself which has set the parameters of the research to include an investigation into racial and religious overlap. Can you confirm that this is the case? If not, can you provide us with the names of the people who presented the research terms to the HO and define what these were?

(2) As you have seen from our submission, we strongly object to any attempt to piggy-back research into the genuine problem of religious discrimination on a racial basis. A minutes thought will show that it is scientifically unmethodical as well as being unnecessary. It can only lead to a fudging of the issues and a waste of a historic opportunity. How are we to know whether the massive amount of religious discrimination which we believe exists, actually occurs, if subjective anecdotal evidence is taken based on race? How is a filler of the research forms to know whether the discrimination he or she suffered was racially or religiously motivated?

For example, as there are plenty of black people who are Christians and a greater number world-wide who are pantheists, of what significance is their skin colour to their belief? During the terrible days of slavery West African tribespeople were treated sub-humanly by Christians who considered their religious beliefs to be devilish. Today the vestiges of that West African religion (Ackavoudoun) are also considered (just as incorrectly) devilish, but by just as many Christian Blacks as Christian Whites, therefore how does race play a part in the discriminatory aspects of religion?

The political confusion over this issue has undoubtedly been created by the virtually unique situation of the Jewish religion which has been used to define their race. Like Christianity, Islam covers all races and cultures therefore the racial significace of a believer is of no consequence. However, because of their historical displacement it is the religion of Judaism which identifies Jews as being Jewish - hence, in order to extend the race relation laws to Judaism and protect them, rightly, from anti-semitism, a precedent was made which has proved fragile in law. Many activist Jews and anti-fascists see a law against religious discrimination as a weapon against anti-semitism but this will not solve the very great problem of religious discrimination which exists in the U.K. today

The S.A.F.F. has done research which shows that the culture of anti-semitism has been enshrined within the religious mores and teachings of Christianity for two millennia but the hatred which the Nazis and others reserved for Jews was not perpetrated simply because the majority of Nazis were Christian (had been brought up as Catholics) because equally there were just as many Christians throughout Europe who helped, protected, fought and gave their lives to liberate Jews from suffering. Rather than disguising new laws limiting hate under the banner of religious rights wouldn't it be better if we had seperate laws for both?

There are GREAT dangers in using bi-polar laws against racial and religious discrimination for they could lead to the suppression and censorship of alternative religious views and new religious movements. Modern day Christians would be appalled to find a new religious movement proclaiming that Jesus was not the Messiah and that everyone who worshipped him as Christ was in error. This would be a direct attack on the main cannon of the Christian Religion. Such a religious group could very well be prosecuted under a law to protect orthodoxies, yet that position, basically, is what the Jewish religion says about Christianity. It is this conflict which has created a great deal of institutionalised anti-semitism throughout history and it cannot be resolved 'in law' without one or the other of the parties being suppressed or religiously discriminated against.

Equally we have discussed the difficulty of defining a religion. If an orthodox definition is imposed there will be many new religions which will not be recognised, and many beliefs which will be demoted or discriminated against. Will it become illegal for an atheist to point out the scientific absurdities of most religions? Will it become illegal for communists to seek election if their manifesto calls for state atheism? Could Protestants sue Catholics for misrepresenting Christianity, or vice versa? In short laws against religious discriminaton would need to be EXTREMELY carefully written both with regard to race and theology if they were not to institutionalise religious prejudice and create more intolerance. The crux of the matter is that they would need to protect the principles of belief and not established religions. However the focus of the research project is directly aimed at the orthodoxies and appears to be being supported by them in the anticipation of new collective powers or protect ions. New laws to protect INDIVIDUALS against religious discrimination could be workable, but laws to protect religions en-bloc are a minefield and will simply recreate the Star Chamber mentality. We discuss this in great detail in our submission but we do not believe anyone is taking any notice.

Our message is that the Home Secretary should tread very carefully indeed and we urge him to shy away from any suggestion of a council of religions or a list of scheduled or recognised religions. We hope that you will ensure that our views are conveyed to him because your letter appeared to leave the matter entirely to the Derbyshire research project. Surely the Home Secretary has a duty to accept evidence from anyone who wishes to contribute it and not limit himself to whatever the project recommends?

You say that you are confident that the project team will consider our evidence. I have to tell you that this does not appear to be the case. A long and detailed letter plus a dossier of evidence was sent to the director in January of this year and has not been acknowledged or replied to. Further evidence was sent to named people in the project in February along with a letter asking when we would receive a reply from them. That communication also appears to have been ignored. As the close-out date for effective input to the project appears to be May 2000, the question to be asked is why have the organisers not spared some time to communicate with the only relgious rights organisation which has looked after the interests of minority beliefs (i.e. those with the highest incidence of discrimination)? We have after all offered them masses of documentary evidence and case histories for their research

Perhaps you could suggest a reason to us? We will place your letter of Feb 23 and our response on our website www.saff.totalserve.co.uk and look forward to hearing from you about the points raised above

.Yours Sincerely Tony Rhodes

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