. . . Denial of a voice is the prelude to
losing everything else
Here in New Zealand we've beheld something very disturbing happening that led to the abrupt closure of the venue Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were set to use for their one public talk here. Massey University then de-platformed a retired conservative politician who was to speak on the chilling effect PC culture may be having on free speech today. It appears that Massey has a considerable irony deficiency. We could try pointing it out to them but I don't think they'd understand.
All this represents what some of us are afraid is a new effort to control language and information. To reform concepts and to frame arguments in certain set ways which are not open to debate. "You disagree with me on a point? You must be a nationalist/populist/ racist/fascist/Islamophobe - I needn't listen to you. Furthermore you do not deserve to have anyone listen to you and I will do all I can to ensure no-one can. Everyone! Come and help me shut this hater up!"
Now in contrast that does indeed sound a bit fascist doesn't it? Does no-one do any research any more? I mean real research - not a quick look at a Wikipedia article and a couple of videos produced by people whose opinions we historically resonate with.
Below is an article from the Barnabas Fund on the winding back of freedom of religion in Britain. It is very interesting in that it raises the concern that - for the very best reasons according to its proponents of course - freedom of choice, of speech, of association and of conscience are being eroded in our increasingly multi-cultural societies in order that we not upset any minority group.
Indeed, the only group it seems that can be upset is the group deemed singularly deserving of criticism: the majority population and in particular those collectively understood to be responsible for any problems faced by any of the minorities. As this only seems to be a phenomenon of the West that majority group is dominated by the more traditional white males among us.
You know, I don't think this is a good way to go.
We need only look at South Africa today where those considered to have had their own way for far too long are about to lose legal rights - along with their farms. Is this justice? Would you think so if you were one of the farmers about to have their land taken by force? Is racism, nationalism and populism OK when it's not white people doing it? How did we arrive at this point?
Rowan Atkinson's speech in the 9 minute video at the end is from 5 years ago when hate speech laws were trying to be established in British law. It just keeps getting more and more pertinent. How long before this blog is considered "fake news" or "hate speech"? How long before dissenting views make one a social pariah, unable to use a bank account or social media or to keep a job? All these things have already happened to some overseas.
The more diverse societies become the more we need the safety valve and release of free speech. There will be frictions. Forbidding criticism of the problems - or even expressions that problems exist out of a sense of politeness - will not ameliorate matters it will only build resentment and inevitably make things worse in the long run. If the Muslim rape gangs in Britain had been squarely identified and addressed back around 1975 when they first became known we would not have had all the carnage of destroyed lives and greatly increased community tensions that followed.
Time to relocate our core values I think.
Before it's too late.
The slippery slope: from full freedom of religion back to “toleration”
Do you know the difference between toleration of religion and full freedom of religion? They sound the same don’t they? But there is a vitally important difference. In countries with religious toleration, Christians are generally allowed to worship but they face restrictions such as not being allowed to do certain jobs, not being allowed to meet for worship or openly preach their faith outside church buildings.
Although Christians in some countries face arrest and outright persecution from the government, in others they are allowed to worship but face serious restrictions. They are excluded from some public posts, may be excluded from attending university, standing for election and have to be very careful about any public display of their faith. In other words, they are tolerated on sufferance.
Repeal of the “Toleration Act” and gradual establishment of religious freedom
For about two centuries the UK had religious toleration, which eventually developed into full freedom of religion in 1888. In 1689 the English and Welsh parliament passed a “Toleration Act” which allowed Nonconformists (Protestants who were not members of the Anglican established church) and Catholics to meet for worship, subject to certain restrictions.
Gradually over the following two centuries those restrictions were repealed, first for Nonconformists, then for Catholics, then for Jews and finally even for atheists. A significant example was the repeal, in 1719, of the law requiring school teachers to affirm publicly the then dominant belief system of Anglicanism.
During the next 170 years a series of other “Test Acts” were abolished which had excluded non-Anglicans from being lawyers, army officers, magistrates, town mayors, students or academics at Oxford and Cambridge universities or becoming an MP. Restrictions on public expression of non-Anglican forms of belief were also gradually lifted. Importantly, in 18121 the Five Mile Act was repealed which had made it illegal to have a non-Anglican place of worship within five miles of any town sending an MP to parliament.
Slipping back down the slope to mere toleration?
So, in 1888, when the last of these restrictions were lifted and even atheists were allowed to sit in parliament, the UK entered a period of full freedom of religion. However, today there is a real risk that the UK is slipping back down the slippery slope from full freedom of religion to mere toleration, on sufferance. Like the proverbial frog in a saucepan of water that is being slowly brought to the boil, Christians in the West could all too easily become accustomed to this gradual erosion of freedom of religion, not noticing until it is too late.
Let’s take the recent case of Allan Coote, an ordinary Christian from East London who believed God wanted him to read the Bible in front of St Paul’s cathedral. He was arrested while reading the verses from the sermon of the mount which says “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Since Barnabas Fund first publicised his story on 10 July, it has been carried by national newspapers such as the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and even by the media in countries such as the USA and New Zealand. Yet, what happened to Allan is just further slippage on a slippery slope that began 21 years ago.
Step one on the slippery slope
1997 marked a particular turning point. Until then no street preachers had been arrested since Victorian times. Then, an evangelist Alison Redmond-Bate was arrested after preaching on the steps of Wakefield Cathedral and convicted. However, the High Court subsequently overturned her conviction with Lord Justice Sedley declaring, "Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”
He also said that even if a crowd of hecklers are becoming unruly the police cannot order a preacher to stop because, “a police officer has no right to call upon a citizen to desist from lawful conduct."
Since then we have seen literally dozens of arrests of street preachers, with many held in custody for the best part of the day, then either released without charge or bailed, with the Crown Prosecution Service quietly dropping charges weeks later. Even when they do go to court the preachers are often acquitted, sometimes within minutes.
Step two on the slippery slope
In February 2017, during the trial of two street preachers the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer claimed that quoting from the King James Bible, “in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”
Both preachers were convicted but this was overturned by the Crown Court in a retrial.
Step three on the slippery slope
On Christmas Eve 2017, Roland Parsons was peacefully reading the nativity story from Luke 1:52-68 outside Victoria Underground station in London as he had done every Christmas Eve for the previous 20 years. On this year, however, he was approached by a police officer and ordered to stop. Mr Parsons said:
“As an Open Air Preacher for 34 years I have stood outside Victoria Underground Station in London on Christmas Eve and read the account of the birth of Jesus Christ, usually from Luke chapters 1 and 2. Over the years many weary travellers have come up to my wife and I with great delight at hearing those familiar verses, thanked us. The occasional official has raised his eyebrows, but as soon as they heard the familiar verses that are so beloved within the traditional English Parish church carol service they have let it continue.”
But as from Christmas Eve 2017 this reading has now been stopped.
The slippery slope continues: where we are today
Staff at St Paul’s Cathedral asked police to stop Allan Coote reading from the Bible, even though he was not committing a criminal offence and even though another police officer said there was no offence and it would be “remiss to stop a man reading the Bible in a place of worship”. St Paul’s have claimed they would treat anyone outside the cathedral the same way, but Allan is not the first Christian preacher to be silenced. Two years ago a Methodist minister received similar treatment. However, in 2011 cathedral authorities allowed anti-Capitalism protestors to occupy the area in front of St Paul’s for four months, even though this forced the closure of the cathedral. Then on Christmas Eve 2012 radical Muslims claiming Jesus is not the son of God held a protest there.
It is particularly sad that it is church authorities who have now sought to ban Bible reading in public although, following all the publicity, Allan’s case has now received they have relented and said they will allow it for half an hour a week! However, as Allan points out this is still placing restrictions on Christians reading the Bible in public. "They have allowed me to have half an hour a week to preach there but there should not be a limit,” he said, adding, “If I want to go all week, I should be allowed to do this without interruption.”
In other words, in the course of just 21 years we have moved down the slippery slope from street preachers not having been prosecuted since Victorian times to a point where preachers are regularly arrested and even church authorities seek to restrict the public reading the Bible. We are sliding further backwards from the full “Freedom of Religion” which was achieved 130 years ago to mere “Religious Toleration”, where Christians are still allowed to worship freely but restrictions are placed on other aspects of openly practising their faith.
Barnabas Fund is taking a lead in a UK-wide push back to Turn the Tide against the erosion of religious freedom in the UK. Barnabas Fund’s Our Religious Freedom Campaign and petition calls upon the UK government to introduce a new Act of Parliament to enshrine fully and permanently into law our hard-fought-for religious freedoms, including the freedom to read Scriptures in public.
If you have not yet signed our petition calling for this please click here.