A fifteenth century Protestant handbill entitled 'The Papist Devil'depicting the Pope as a clawed handed horned devil with eyes instead of nipples holding a trident and a rope noose. The enmity between Protestant and Catholics is still a crucial conflict in Britain today in Ireland and Scotland which the government often turn a blind eye to. Yet the current Religious Hatred Laws were based on those put in place by the British government in Northern Ireland 20 years ago during 'the troubles' to try to stem the generational intolerance endemic over there. The burning of an effigy of Guido Fawkes on November 5th is a sectarian remnant of the fifteenth century Protestant ritual of burning an effigy of The Pope. Will burning Guy Fawkes now be seen as an act of Religious Hatred?

How unworkable are they?

The Orthodox religions have for centuries used religious dissenters as whipping boys to enforce their temporal power over their own followers.   Attacks on alternative faiths within and without Christianity are so interwoven into our history and culture that representatives of the orthodox religions seem to feel as though they not only have a right but a 'duty' to lambaste, denigrate, criticise, disinform, repudiate and ridicule many minority beliefs.    They are aided and abetted in their wicked  statements by the papalling British Media ,who almost daily jump on the moral bandwagon to unfairly demonise those whose spiritual beliefs are not mainstream, and  of course, the inevitable opportunist MPs who are always ready to play to the gallery if they think it will get them noticed.  

Whenever anything connected with occultism occurs the media immediately trot off for opinions from some Christian activist who, without a shred of evidence, jumps to confirm their worst fears , blames it all on ungodliness, and demands that Witchcraft or Satanism should be outlawed.   But do the Media  ever consult an Occultist for his views in the frequent instances when a Christian priest is found guilty of  assault,  fraud,  or abusing children?    

If any were needed, the classic proof of the existing religious hatred built into our society can be seen in the way the Christianised British Media responded to the proposed new laws on religious hatred -   'Now you can't even be Nasty to Satanists' - their headlines screamed - as though it was taken as read that anyone who believed in Satanism was a worthless person who could be summarily disposed of out of hand as some kind of sub-human entity.     When one adds to this the verbal restraint of  the language itself with, for  example, the constant pejorative use of the word 'Witch'  as an insult against women, young and old . it makes one wonder why a Religious Hatred Bill has been formulated by the government now, after so many hundreds of years of abuse of minority belief  by the Christian Church right under their noses?    

The government simply has not given enough thought to the implications of such a law because anyone in the know realises that most of the priesthoods of  the thousands of extant sects are at each others' throats 100% of the time anyway and will seize upon any new law to enlarge their market share.   The law is bound to be misused.

What for instance is going to happen to those fundamentalist Christians who preach Deuteronomy 18:20  to warn off visitors to a Psychic Fayre

' But the prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die!'

Will that Christian Minister be prosecuted?

If a fundamentalist Christian  begins a pro-active campaign against the pagan observance of Halloween by preaching Leviticus 20:27 and inciting people through letters to the newspapers to:

'Any man or woman that is a wizard shall surely be put to death - you shall stone them with stones and their blood shall be upon them'


Will that Christian be prosecuted under the Religious Hatred Act as being 'likely to stir up religious hatred'?

In an attempt to assuage criticism of it, the government has given an example of the nuances they say are necessary to breach the new law.  If one says:

"I hate Buddhism (Christianity, Islam etc), it's a nonsense religion that serves no good."

then one is in the clear - but if one says:

"I hate Buddhists (Christians, Muslims etc) - their ideas are dangerous and we need to do something about them"

then one could be imprisoned for up to seven years.

This is supposed to assure us that the new law will not suppress freedom of speech!

This farcical attempt at pasteurising the effect of  this new law shows just how stifling it could be.  Basically, if anyone tries to persuade anyone else to take action against some aspects of a religion which one believes wrong then that may cease to be seen as dissent and instead  becomes a criminal offence.

It would, for instance, stop the parents of  people who have been 'inculcated' into cults from campaigning to discredit the cults' methods.   It would, for example,  stop people from campaigning against religious circumcision.

There are a whole host of  practical problems with this ill-thought-out, law which is barmier than the Dangerous Dogs Act.

What about the anti-abortion extremists (already responsible for the killings of obstetricians in the U.S.A.)?  Will the government prosecute them when they justify their opposition using religious texts which say that doctors who perform abortions are doing the work of Satan and should be stopped?    Or will the heads of fundamentalist groups who urge such actions be imprisoned?

Well technically they should of course and the government already has other laws it can use to stop this kind of activity, but in fact there would be no prosecution of religious hard-liners under the new law because the government would not dare to come into direct conflict with the authority of the bible and alienate a very large swathe of its voters in the process.    In order to  win a prosecution Biblical Laws would have to be overturned, diminished, deleted and demeaned.   It might even mean that bookshops could not sell bibles as they would , (as described in the new law) be 'material likely to stir up racial and religious hatred'  (Similar to racist leaflets put out by the National Front !)  People possessing and distributing bibles would be technically guilty of a crime (as they are today in China). Would all Bibles and copies of  the Koran have to be censored in the U.K.?    

And what about Humanists who have campaigned for years against any form of religion, considering it to be the root cause of all society's problems.   Is a Humanist free to say that Christianity is dangerous and that we should do something about it?  No, according to the government's new law.    It will be up to a judge to decide whether the Humanist was urging his followers to do something about it through democratic channels or whether he wanted them to go out and smash someone's face in.

This foolish government has breached one of the longest standing protocols of the Establishment - politicians should not mess with Religion.         

The implications of this new law are immense.  It will pop up at the most inopportune time.  Instead of protecting social harmony it will disrupt it.   So WHY did the Labour government rush through this new law even against mighty opposition in the Commons and the Upper House?    Because of pressures from the anti-racist lobby, particularly the Commission for Racial Equality.   The CRE has for many years been attempting to expand its empire and in the mid 1990s began research into bringing Religious Discrimination within their legal remit.    We know this because  during this period a team of researchers at the S.A.F.F. was asked by the CRE to help by sending them our then groundbreaking work with the U.N.A. relating to the definitions of  Belief and Religion.   (see for some background) and our volunteers worked with the CRE legal department for quite some time on it.    

In the view of our team leader the CRE was fishing for an angle to approach the government to expand its remit beyond race and into religion. This is because of the problem they had with defining Jewry. Not everyone who believes in Judaism is semitic. The Black Jews from North Africa for instance.  The Race Relations Act was a first attempt to legislate against hatred/prejudice and so included  Jews who were defined by virtue of their religion.  Of course their are plenty of black Christians and Black Moslems so defining further wasn't necessary.  Thirty years later the missionising of Islam has moved apace and now there are millions of white muslims around the world.  The Moslem lobby within the CRE is of course influential.   Therefore people who verbally attack Islam who could have been brought within the terms of the race relations act satisfactorily at the time the original legislation was drawn up cannot now so be so easily defined.  In order to expand their remit the CRE has spent the past few years pushing for an expansion of its power into the areas of religion.   One could justifiably complain about this because the coterie of people involved in the Commission for Racial Equality are not qualified or experienced in the immensity of  policing Religion - a far, far more controversial and complex area than simple racism. However they appear to have won over the government , which according to the BBC admitted that the legislation is a response to the concerns of faith groups, particularly Muslims.  One of the main planks of the government's justification is clearly set out in the new Racial Hatred laws.  That Jews and Sikhs already have full protection under the CRE and the Religious Hatred laws now give that protection to Muslims.   We feel that this extension of the CRE's power is a poisoned chalice and it is a mistake to tack it on to race descrimination laws just because they were partially formed in the first place.  We would all be  much better off  with a completely new system of religious freedom based on clearly set out rights  handled by a body made up of people who were truly qualified in Religion, sociology, Philosophy and anthropology -  that's the only fair and equitable way if the government wants to do it properly.

Some of our research was used by the CRE but they cherry picked the bits that furthered their political ends rather than accepting the overall conclusions which would have lead to a greater understanding of what belief is and put everyone's spiritual beliefs on an equal footing.  However, under executive powers the government have invoked a statutory instrument which expands  the existing race relations legislation substituting terms such as 'racial hatred' in the original bill with 'racial OR religious hatred' as a knee jerk reaction to the actions of  Islamic terrorists.  Thus the legislation is more about stopping the negative polarisation of our society than bestowing religious freedoms.     The intention of this bill is NOT really to protect a person's religious beliefs, whatever they are,  but to harden up and further expand the powers to stifle any incitement against  Moslems.  Obviously Moslems do need protection from any violent backlash - that is only fair but is this new law really the way to do it?  Whilst we do not condone incitement against anyone the government have clearly confused two separate issues in order to push past the people control mechanisms for public peace.   This can be seen clearly when one realises that the government has failed to even consider a definitive definition of what constitutes a Belief or Religion and has mystifyingly also applied the religious hate law to people who don't have a religion!

'hatred against a group of persons, defined by reference to a religious belief or lack of a religious belief'

  The entire law is completely unnecessary and unworkable and it will not be long before some troublemakers begin to hi-jack it to censor TV and Theatre performances, just as the 'Boyo' case brought the law into disrepute (a man was found guilty of nationalistic prejudice and fined a ridiculous sum because the word Boyo offended a Welsh person.). There are similar but lesser known cases.  In Scotland a man was prosecuted for flying a 'Nazi Flag' outside his home. His neighbour was Jewish and complained.  In court it turned out that the man was a  Bulgarian immigrant and was flying the Bulgarian State Flag (which contains an Imperial Eagle) on his National Day!  Instead of criticising the police for bringing the case to court in the first place the judge threw it out with a warning to the Bulgarian that he should have taken into account the sensitivities of his Jewish neighbour before putting out the flag!   Reading between the lines this was a case of the usual piffling antagonisms between neighbours where new laws enacted by the Scottish parliament, ostensibly to stop the growing sectarian hatred between Catholic and Protestants, had been hijacked by warring neighbours who simply disliked each other.  

The  government say it will be up to the courts to interpret the new religious hate laws and that there is a 'high test' for what constitutes incitement but the examples quoted above show just how unsafe these reliances can be.    What a pity - if the government had really wanted to do this properly they could have achieved so much with a little more thought and attention..  


The SAFF has been in existence since 1988 championing freedom of speech and thought in spiritual areas.  We seek the freedom for any individual to pursue their beliefs, no matter how unpopular or strange, without persecution or victimisation by people who have different beliefs.  We are pluralist in approach.  It is not our purpose to incite hatred of any person's religious belief but to counter the disinformation and lies put out by intolerant people who under the banner of one religion, seek to disenfranchise or undermine the well-being of people who hold another belief.    We seek to overturn lies with truth.  We seek to comment on situations when we believe the government, the police, the media  and other authorities have got it wrong. We do not and have never sought to amass support for any form of physical action or violence. Our intention is to inform and educate, not provoke. We repudiate violence in every form.   

There have been many cases where sectarians have employed violence.  We have thousands of example in our files.  Take the case of  Dr Gunn, the American obstetrician who was shot dead by an anti-abortion campaigner (the perpetrator has since been executed). Various Christian anti-abortion groups wound-up the murderer with self-righteous talk about Dr Gunn being a 'mass murderer of children' and that his life was not worth the lives of the hundreds of babies he 'killed', and suchlike, clamouring for something to be done about it.  These groups picketed Dr Gunn's clinic, smashed windows, put up posters in his home neighbourhood featuring his face and  name on them and with text accusing him of 'killing' babies.  It only needed one stupid man who was involved in all this to decide to take the law into his own hands and kill Dr Gunn for God.  So he  shot him dead. No clearer case of incitement could be found, yet after the deed, the anti-abortion groups disappeared to leave the killer to take the wrap, denying that they had actually sent him out to do the killing.  They got away with it and are still campaigning against other doctors.  Of course they hadn't actually sent him out to kill Dr Gunn - but the inference was clear enough to push the killer into doing so.    Now that's what you call incitement to religious hatred, yet the U.S. police were involved and stood by watching the fundamentalist activists harangue and victimise Dr Gunn for weeks before the fatal shooting..   That's a classic example of how religious extremists (in this instance Christians) act, but of course the government don't need NEW laws to stop that kind of thing - they already have long-existing laws against threatening behaviour, breach of the peace, unlawful assembly, offensive weapons, etc,.  What they need is the guts to actually challenge the religious extremists - courage which they seem to be wholly lacking.

We do not and would not do anything of that kind.  We do not campaign in that way.  We do not want to stop anyone from believing in what they want to believe in - quite the reverse - we want everyone to have the freedom to be able to believe in what they want as long as it is legal and harms no one. We uphold the provisions of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the European Directive on Human Rights.  What we don't want to see is gangs of religiously motivated fanatics beating up nurses in maternity clinics, victimising the local Witch at Halloween, or setting off rucksack bombs on buses.   Because we know what happens when people like that are allowed to justify their self-righteousness. The S.A.F.F. was founded after Christian fundamentalists viciously undertook a year long campaign of terror to put a New Age Bookshop out of business in 1989 and, when that didn't work, they firebombed it.  All whilst the police and government looked the other way. The point is this:  Would the new law about religious hatred have stopped that evil campaign?  Probably not because there were occasions then when the government could have invoked laws to attenuate the situation  and didn't.   We want to stop religious victimisation of that kind happening anywhere, to anyone..   We do not seek to criticise ALL people who believe in Christianity - just those activist Christians who seek to agrandise themselves at the expense of other beliefs.  We do not seek to Criticise ALL people who believe in Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism. The vast majority of people are good and well meaning human beings.  Even the fanatics are only fanatics because they are not clever enough to see another way.   We do not seek to Criticise any other belief or religion per-se but we will criticise, comment, draw attention to and generally inform the debate on the issues that matter in relation to freedom of belief in the U.K. as we always have done.   Our views are valuable and progressive. We have a unique non-aligned approach to the problem because we seek the harmony of all spiritual and religious beliefs on an equal footing.  We are probably the only non-partisan human rights group around.  

Ironically under the new religious hatred laws the kind of  victimisation which caused the firebombing of the bookshop which brought the SAFF into being might have been useful in attenuating the media and Christian activists from winding up the hysteria before any harm was done, IF the government had had the guts to  use it.   Personally we fear that there is more  of a chance of them using it to silence free speech than criminals of that kind.


Mortlake, September 2005

Use this link to read the part of the Criminal Justice Bill which ushered in Religious Hate laws, (United Kingdom Parliamentary Publications & records)

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