YOUTH SENTENCED FOR RELIGIOUSLY HARRASSING A PAGAN
In the first test case of pagan religious rights to come before a British court a youth who had mounted a campaign of harrassment against a pagan because of her beliefs has been given a referral order, put under a curfew, banned from going to her place of work and was also given a restraining order, banning contact between the teenager and his victim.
The Pagan woman from Essex was continuously harassed at work by a customer for more than 6 weeks.
The case is a legal precedent and shows that legal protection given to other faiths applies to Pagans too.
The Crime and Disorder Act includes an offence of religiously aggravated harrassment. Prosecutions under the act are increasing for other faiths but it is the first time it has been used to protect the beliefs of pagans and is therefore a watershed in human rights.
Pagans have historically been one of the most persecuted social groups and recognition of the religion of paganism combines with other progressive breakthroughs in the last two decades to give people who choose the pagan way of life equality with others.
In this test case, despite being told that he was causing distress by both senior staff at the McDonalds where the victim worked, and by the victim herself, the 16 year old continued to harass her, leading to the prosecution.
The offender pleaded guilty and claimed he did not know that Paganism was a religion.
He was convicted and magistrates extended an existing referral order by three months.
He will have to report to a panel of youth workers and may have to do unpaid work. A restraining order was also issued to prevent him contacting the victim until November 2012.
Pagans take note that his defence counsel made enquiries to make sure that Paganism was recognised as a religion as the case could have stood or fallen on the perceived level of recognition. No religion, no offence basically.
Despite this breakthrough, or perhaps because of it, the persecuted pagan has astonishingly been criticised on line by various groups both religious and non-religious, who presumably do not want Pagans to have such protection.
One of the main refuters of the need for a law protecting people from religious harrassment was the cross-denomination Christian action group The Evangelical Alliance which mounted a campaign to stop the law being brought in. Presumably the EA still wanted the historical right to slander other religions in order to agrandise their own whilst retaining the archaic law of Blasphemy which protects only Christianity?
One person who posted on www.rationalskepticism.org (a website maily for atheists) said
“Let's face it, she's still working in McDonalds. Just how much control over the black arts can she really have?”,another wrote,
“FFS, why didn't she just turn him into a frog for seven years?”,showing the complete lack of concern for a victim's distress purely because she holds a different set of beliefs to their own, and the reason why a law protecting people from religious hatred is necessary.
And, sticking to this theme, on www.rawstory.com, one poster said
“I don't get it why not just turn him into a toad or something?”.One Ian Cowan commenting on the Mail Online website said
“Farcical. Paganism is not a religion, it's a load of looney tunes.”- Ian Cowan, Hadleigh UK,presumably meaning he endorses criminal harassment.
Yes folks, there's a long way to go. One contributor to www.paganwiccan.about.com said
“I was fired from my last job because someone saw the pentacle I usually keep under my shirt.”and we are sure there's many more untold stories like that to be found.
The SAFF has for decades kept a file of cuttings of cases of religious hatred against Pagans and other esotericists which prove conclusively that protection is necessary under the law both in employment and in everyday situations. If you have undergone a similar experience you can outline it anonymously on our forum here:
How The SAFF Successfully Fights For Your Rights
Prejudice against pagans is still quite common and following hundreds of years of lies and Black propaganda by the church, (the most recent example being the campaign against witches by Geoffrey Dickens MP for imagined acts of cruelty to children) many nominally Christian people tend to assume without thinking that the tenets and beliefs of paganism are somehow unlawful or unacceptable or unreal or undeserving. Yet Paganism is the oldest religion known to mankind and almost every other religious belief and orthodoxy stems from it.
Decades ago the U.N. conducted a project to define the fundamental aspects of any belief to qualify it as a religion. The SAFF took part in that consultation and produced a paper on it. We have been involved in the development of the British Human Rights Act out of the European Convention on Human Rights out of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and we have given our continuous and unfailing support to law-makers, the Lord Chancellor's office, The Home Office, The Department of Education, The United Nations and many other bodies who were accepting information during the consultation periods; changing entrenched views and prejudices about alternative religions and in particular paganism.
Our paper was eventually used by the Commission for Racial Equality, with our help, to lobby government to bring religious and racial harrassment under one law and widen the CRE's scope to police it.
The Act which protected the Pagan woman in this latest case is the ultimate result of that work. All pagans know their religion is genuine but it is nice to know that Paganism is recognised as a genuine belief internationally under these UN rules on a par with all other religions.
There is ample evidence in these and other areas of the official acceptance of paganism as a genuine and valid religion.
Although there were a small number of citizens who recorded their religion as 'pagan' during the last census many more pagans refrained from doing so being frightened of the repercussions. Now that Pagan rights have been recognised in court more may choose to express their religion in the next census and a true perspective of the re-emergence of this most ancient religious belief may become apparent.
We are not out of the woods yet, but this is an important milestone along the way.
by David Southern and John Freedom.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
Along with many other human rights groups the S.A.F.F. has spent many years tirelessly working to promote the widespread acceptance of freedom of belief, thought and religion. The recently enacted British Human Rights Act is a welcome milestone which, after 50 long years, at last puts Britain on a par with other civilised countries. However, though the BHRA is a watershed of sorts, it falls far short of a full acceptance by government of the pre-eminent rights of its citizens
It is welcome, but it is not all that we hoped for. Hedged-about , as it is, with provisos which have not been found necessary in other countries. Whereas other Europeans' rights are specific in fact (i.e. the law prescribes them) British peoples' rights under the BHRA are dependent upon interpretation by the judiciary (e.g. the rights are 'assumed' but may NOT apply in YOUR situation depending upon the cultural focus of the presiding judge). In short the BHRA does not provide British minorities with full rights; it instead effectively gives 'paper' rights to the majority who of course do not need to exercise them. Rights which are denied to individuals cannot be demanded until they have been TESTED in law, so the outcome depends upon the world-view of the judges. As judges are promoted almost exclusively from the existing ruling class having proven their worth in supporting the status quo, experience shows that they are inherently unsympathetic to the very minorities which human rights are suppose d to protect.
The acceptance of human rights should, of course, come automatically with any democracy, but most countries suffer from anachronistic legal frameworks, and powerful self-interest groups which have interferred with the enshrining of full human rights within their respective constitutions. Hence the application of Human Rights Laws differs dramatically across the globe. For free-thinkers and non-conformers to exercise their freedom of choice and belief in peace they must be aware of the extent and limitations of their lawful rights and, as Perez de Cuellar said some years ago, must be responsible for defending and promoting them whenever possible. This booklet has been produced as a guide to those rights and is in four parts.
(1) A revealing history of human rights.
(2) The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
(3) The European Convention on Human Rights
(4) The British Human Rights Act and a comment on its applicability.
The Half-baked History of Human Rights
Although the Magna Charta (1215) is held as a shining example of the divesting of power to the people in fact it was nothing of the kind. It was an agreement between the ruling classes and the monarchy which simply deferred absolute power from the monarch and disseminated it amongst the Barons instead. Ordinary folk could still be executed for trivial crimes on the command of the Barons and Bishops without trial by jury. Citizens remained 'plebs' and human rights law remained non-existant until the next watershed which was the Bill of Rights, put in place by William of Orange in 1689. Again the main purpose for this 'Bill of Rights' was an attempt by the ruling class to reorganise ancient laws to suit its own political purposes and individual human rights were a corollary. The Bill of Rights limited the Monarch's power, giving the power of origination solely to Parliament.
The most important individual human right bestowed at that time was the right for individual citizens to petition the Monarch. In effect this was a political device meant to apply solely to the organisers of the ruling class and break the Royal monopoly. Interestingly, the sting in the tail of this 'Bill of Rights' was that it specifically applied to Protestants and not to Catholics. It was of course a (highly successful) political skullduggery to disenfranchise Catholics and create an absolutist Protestant state during the period when the country was ridden by internicine squabbling amongst Christian sects. Religous intolerance was institutionalised within the state with this 'Bill of Rights'. Here perhaps we have the true origin of the holy conflict in Ireland between Protestant 'Orangemen' and Catholic 'republicans'.
Politicians have to work hard to produce a genuine Bill of Human Rights even if they are sincere, in this instance this first cynical attempt has had manifold historical ramifications for us all. Interestingly, the 2nd right it gave to individuals (Protestants only of course) was the Right to Bear Arms for Self Defence, and this was transposed almost verbatim into the American Constitution in 1787 along with other aspects of the British constitution which they felt necessary. Thus religious intolerance and persecution infected the New World on the back of a Bill which ostensibly was supposed to increase human rights.
After the horrors of WW1 and its economic aftermath, democrats in all civilised countries saw the need to establish an organisation which could intervene and intercede between nations to avoid mass conflicts which resulted in human disasters and to improve the living standards of populations. This resulted in the League of Nations which was formed on January 1st 1920. The LofN was effective in many areas related to economics and how countries related to each other and in particular set up the International Court of Justice in The Hague which established the idea of a universal international law which was not dependent upon or usurped by anachronistic legal requirements in individual countries but instead relied upon an ideology of universal justice which governments as well as individuals could not contravene. Although the spirit of justice was evident the political situation had its own inertia and unfortunately the LofN achieved little for ordinary mortals during the lead up to WW2.
After WW2, the League of Nations was transformed into the United Nations (1945) with a wider remit. The new world order arising from the defeat of the Nazis acknowledged that some legal device was required to protect minorities from prejudice and victimisation on an individual and mass scale so that the atrocities could not happen again. Thus the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed on 10th December 1948. The idea was to enshrine individual human rights within International Law but astonishingly it was many years before the British government actually signed up to it. Even then the concord was only partial. Crucial aspects of the UNDHR were vetoed by Britain and it has taken 50 years to enshrine (some of) those human rights in British Law.
The idea of a pan-european economic community began to develop around the same period. By 1957 the Treaty of Rome appeared but political harmony between all budding EEC participants was not possible and so some countries who would not wait for the others started the European Free Trade Association in 1960. This was later converted into the Common Market. During this period the emphasis was on economic development but in 1966 the United Nations published its Covenant on Civil and political Rights which enabled people worldwide for the first time to petition on violations of their individual human rights.
As the Common Market grew from a cartel of trading partners into a fledgling European State it began to consider its responsibilities to individual european citizens and adopted the European Convention on Human Rights. This was virtually a copy of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights but was not law, rather recommendations for tolerant and just behaviour which member states were expected to uphold. In reality this somewhat diluted the main thrust of the UNDHR and had the effect of allowing politicians to avoid the UNDHR by picking and choosing their commitment to the ECHR instead. As in all cases, the true value of individual human rights is dependent upon the spirit with which each state accords them.
From then until the 2nd October 2000 when the British Government finally enacted the British Bill of Human Rights, it was left to countries other than Britain to set the standards and promote the principles of individual human rights. Ironically, after joining the EU and having to abide by its rules the British Government was found repetitively defending itself in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after Britons were forced to take tests cases there. Britain breached its citizens rights so often that it has been held to account in the European Court more than any other country! This continual embarrassment was magnified by the extensive costs and damages which the British government had to pay whenever it was found guilty of breaching its citizens' rights.
The enactment of a British Human Rights Act using the ECHR as the primary compliance document provides Britain with a mechanism to intercept these test cases before they reach the European Court of Human Rights and a cynic might say that this was its prime purpose. 'The Government's immediate aim in introducing the Human Rights Act is to allow cases concerning the rights given under the Convention (ECHR) to be brought in the U.K. Courts. '. Only when the results of the first few test cases are published will the British governments' true intent become clear.
SO IS THE BRITISH HUMAN RIGHTS ACT ANY GOOD?
Yes and no. The BHRA is shot through with provisos and exceptions which can undermine a citizen's rights based on abstract values decided by a judge. If a judge thinks that your right will somehow breach the bounds of 'decency' or 'morality' then he can rule that they do not apply in your instance!
For example, in the case of an extended family of witches he may decide that the family does not have a right to worship its gods naked when children are taking part, because that is morally decrepit, and accordingly legally condone the religious victimisation of the family by Social services.
In the case of a planning application for a sect to open a temple, a judge could rule that the worship which might take place there is likely to be generally considered immoral or subversive and therefore the local authority was right to refuse planning permission even though every other criteria had been properly met.
You can see the problem here. A suppressive government need only create an intolerant atmosphere for certain test cases to set a countrywide precedent about modes of worship or lifestyle with which they disagree. Very much depends upon the spirit under which these new laws are applied. In short our personal rights still rely on interpretation by others and there is no extra protection. In practice the BHRA may simply turn out to be a method of intercepting individuals who do not adhere to the status quo and sidestepping the public embarrassment of being taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Unpopular minorities or eccentric beliefs must realise that test-cases may be counter-productive and that it would be wiser to invoke the BHRA as a protective device very early on in any conflict with any government or local authorities to remind them of their responsibilities under it. Furthermore, successful persuasions of this kind set precedents which may help greatly if a stubborn legal conflict de velops later.
There is still a provision for citizens who have been ruled against under the BHRA to take their case to the European Court but only on very exceptional circumstances. It is therefore of paramount importance that freethinkers are able to differentiate between the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the deficiencies of the BHRA and realise that precedence gives the UNDHR a global influence. In short when deciding whether rights have been breached an international court is more likely to pay attention to the UNDHR rather than the BHRA and consequently those individuals, politicians or authorities who might want to mis-use the BHRA to minimise your rights, will be disallowed from doing so.
As Perez de Cuella said - it is up to US to defend and exercise our inate human rights. Consequently the rest of this booklet will explain already established human rights in the UNDHR and the ECHR (those which are relevant to freedom of belief and worship) . We then compare these with the requirements of the BHRA and lastly comment on the details of the new Act and how it may affect YOU in the coming years.
EXTRACTS FROM THE FINAL AUTHORISED TEXT OF THE UNITED NATIONS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
ARTICLE 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status
.ARTICLE 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family . home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the. right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks
.ARTICLE 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom, to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching practice, worship and observance
.ARTICLE 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
THE U.N. INTERNATIONAL BILL OF HUMAN RIGHTS
FURTHERMORE: THE U.N. INTERNATIONAL BILL OF HUMAN RIGHTS contains other important elucidations on alternative beliefs so:
ARTICLE 18: (2) No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. ... (4) The states Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable-, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
ARTICLE 20: Any advocacy of national racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
FURTHERMORE: Mr Peter Archer PC QC MP former British Solicitor-General and member of the UNA's Human Rights Sub-Committee has stated, in response to SAFFcorrespondence , that there is a wide spectrum of ideas and practices relating to the occult which are Religions or Beliefs within the terms of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ARE THEREFORE PROTECTED.
NOTE: It is incumbent upon member states (that includes the U.K.) to publicise the text of this declaration and to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational establishments and furthermore to educate its civil servants and administrators about its contents. As far as we judge, the enactment of the British Human Rights Act does NOT alleviate the state from its responsibility to promote the UN Declaration of Human Rights in this manner which was agreed by all signatories.
The British Human Rights Act 2000
The extracts contained hereunder have been limited primarily to articles of the BHRA which concern freedom of belief, freedom of choice of religion and the ability to pursue that religion or belief in company with others. The descriptions, amplifications and comments have been paraphrased from the government's official Core Guidance for Public Authorities. If you come into conflict with a government department, or a local authority, or any civil servant over these rights, then you can not only quote these guidelines to support your position but can 'legally rely on these rights in the course of any othe proceedings involving a public authority, judicial review, criminal trial, care proceedings, housing, possession proceedings etc., ' [Core Guidance]. When we have added our own comments this is made clear by the use of [brackets].
(a) You have to bring proceedings within a year or less of the act complained of (the court can specially allow extended dates)
(b) The Act is not retrospective but it can be applied in proceedings which are ongoing and have yet to be adjudged.
(c) Damages will follow the Strasbourg norm and are therefore modest.
(d) Proceedings can only be brought by victims of a breach of the convention rights but they can be assisted by interest groups.
(e) Under this new law you have redress against 'Public Authorities' which include, Government Departments, Local Authorities, The NHS, Police, Prison, Immigration officers, Public prosecutors, Courts & Tribunals, Non-departmental public bodies and 'any person exercising a public function'. Public Authorities can be of three types. e.g. (1) Government Departments (i.e. The Police), (2) Hybrid agencies (i.e. Railtrack) and (3) Courts and Tribunals.
(i) Courts and Tribunals can grant any remedy which is within their powers and which is just and appropriate. This may involve Damages ( Damages will follow the Strasbourg norm and are therefore modest.); A quashing / overturning of the unlawful decision; The quashing of a conviction and release of a defendant on a criminal charge. Lastly they can order a public authority not to take proposed action which, if taken, would be unlawful.
(ii) Public Authorities have an obligation to check and correct their procedures. Hence obvious discrepancies should be immediately put right upon being discovered. Anyone feeling that they are being prejudicially treated should state their complaint under the BHRA quickly and formally in writing to the official who is responsible for the authorities' compliance.
(iii) Many existing pieces of legislation may 'inadvertently' breach our human rights. There is provision for the government to amend such laws by executive order if there is a compelling reason for doing so.
RELEVANT ARTICLES OF THE BHRA
THE RIGHT TO RESPECT FOR PRIVATE AND FAMILY LIFE, HOME AND CORRESPONDENCE
This Article is very broad and has wide-ranging implications. Public authorities may only interfere with someone's private life where they have legal authority to do so, the interference is necessary in a democratic society for one of the aims stated in the Article and is proportionate to that aim. This Article covers matters such as the disclosure of private information, monitoring of employees' phone calls and email, carrying out body searches and restricfions on entering a person's home. It also touches on issues such as the fight for families to live together or the right not to suffer from environmental hazard. It is important to note that the rights and freedoms expressed in Articles 8 to 1 1 may be limited where this is necessary to achieve an important objective such as protecting public health or safety.
THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION
People have the right to hold whatever thoughts, positions of conscience or religious beliefs that they Wish. Article 9 guarantees the right for everyone to manifest their religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Article 9 points may be raised, for example, where a person's religious or other beliefs require or prevent them from carrying out a certain activity, such as wearing particular clothes or working on a Holy Day. [ed: Typically the Act does not define what is meant by a religious organisation but precedence has ruled that a church or congregation can enjoy the protection of Article 9 if it is representing its individual members. The thorny get-out-clause used by authorities when approaching new religious movements is usually to say that the church or belief is not recognised by other religions or the state therefore does not qualify. Be aware that the SAFF has done extensive work with the UN and the Commission for Racial Equality on the definition of religions and be liefs and your belief DOES qualify under this article if it (a) is sincerely held and (b) purports to explain the meaning of life. These criteria are fully explained in important SAFF published research papers on this subject which are available upon request. Additionally, The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the need for religious beliefs to be given special regard in determining a case involving competing convention rights ]
THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Freedom of expression covers such things as what we say in conversation or in speeches, publishing books, articles or leaflets, broadcasting, art, the lntemet and many other areas. It applies to the media as well as individuals.The Strasbourg court has consistently emphasised the special importance of this right
. [Ed: yes, but this 'special emphasis' was a capitulation to the media who campaigned long and hard to influence this article and also the personal right to privacy as it would have disallowed their perennial bigotry and not left them very much to write about. Additionally, you have a right not to be discriminated against on any ground such as religion, political or 'other' opinion. You have a right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. Unfortunately these rights are all diminished by duties and responsibilitles which already exist in law, in the interests of natrional security, territorial integrity of public safety, or for the prevention of disorder or crime, or FOR THE PROTECTION OF HEALTH OR MORALS, or for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary (injunct ions and gagging orders)]
THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
This includes the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and to join - or choose not to join - trade unions. [ed: In relation to freedom of belief it also bestows the right to assemble peacefully in groups, in public or in private to worship or commune]
THE RIGHT TO MARRY AND FOUND A FAMILY
This Article may be relevant to rules and policy concerning adoption and fostering. The Strasbourg Court has decided that it does not require a State to grant transsexuals or homosexuals the right to marry.
THE PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION IN THE ENJOYMENT OF THE CONVENTION RIGHTS
Not all differences in treatment are discriminatory, but only those which have no objectve and reasonable justficatlon. Article 14 only applies to the rights set out in the Convention, and thus there must be another Convention right at issue to which a claim of discrimination can be attached. [ed: This means that the discriminating authority would need to substantiate that there WAS a reasonable purpose in treating different categories of people in a different way and that the method of treatment was proportionate to that difference, e.g. an authority might attempt to treat you differently to how it treats a person with an 'orthodox' belief 'because your religion is not as valid' and this would be a defence which would have to be tested in law. For a Public Authority to be free to treat you prejudicially what they are doing must 'pursue a pressing social need, is proportionate, is relevant and they must have sufficient reason for it.'
ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL 1
THE RIGHT TO PEACEFUL ENJOYMENT OF POSSESSIONS AND PROTECTION OF PROPERTY
Many possessions are regarded as property, not just houses or cars, but also things like shares, licences and goodwill. The right to engage in a profession can also, in some cases, be a property right. No one can be deprived of their property except where the action is permitted by law and justifiable in the public or general interest.
PLEASE KEEP THIS BOOKLET TO HAND TO REFER TO AND SHOW OTHERS IF NECESSARY
The Sub-culture Alternatives Freedom Foundation (SAFF) is a National organisation set up and financed by thousands of genuine freethinkers to protect freedom of belief by being ready to pursue legal action against any organisation, government department, Association person or media which wantonly victimises an individual or a group of individuals because of their beliefs. The S.A.F.F.counters prejudice by bringing to task people who infringe these rights and making public the responsibility of those individuals whose actions prejudicially attenuate those rights. The S.A.F.F.provides financial legal representation in court and in tribunals concerned with wrongful dismissal connected with an employees beliefs. The S.A.F.F. exists to offer free specialist legal advice to those who are victims of harassment and arrange free legal aid for them if applicable. The S.A.F.F.publishes pamphlets and literature aimed at educating people and organisations to the real social benefit of minorities and lobbies organis ations in an attempt to have them re-define their mis-perceptions of unpopular minorities. The S.A.F.F. conducts ongoing campagins of education aimed at enlightening Governments, Local authorities, MPs and Police Forces to the real benefits which the New Age and Alternative Lifestyles can bring to society. In all cases the SAFF will first.seek to educate and discover a friendly resolution based on an understanding of the truth and articles 12/18/19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (reproduced earlier in this booklet) in an attempt to resolve the problem by seeking undertakings about future behaviour. The sterling work of the SAFF has succceeded in achieving a climate of opinion in which bigotry cannot flourish. Our unique research and commentaries have set the standard for the past decade. We leave no stone unturned in ferreting out institutionalised prejudice whether consciously or unconsciously committed. Please support us with a donation to help us continue our work. The SAFF is m anned by unpaid volunteers.
For clarification on definitions of the Act and detailed copies of the Act itself, get in touch with the Home Office Human Rights Task Force in the first instance. Here's their website URL
For additional information and background here are two further resources: