Sunday, 24 May 2009

bishops oppose repeal of Waddington amendment

Updated Tuesday evening

Update The text of the “Waddington amendment” can be seen in the context of the legislation it amends by going here.

Today’s Observer has a report by Jamie Doward headlined Bishops fight for right to criticise gay lifestyle.

Church of England bishops are on a collision course with the government over its plans to amend the incitement to hatred laws, claiming they will stifle what they believe is legitimate criticism of homosexual lifestyles.

In what is being portrayed in some parliamentary quarters as a battle for free speech, a coalition of Anglican bishops, Conservative peers, Labour malcontents and leading crossbenchers have united to block the proposals.

You can read exactly what the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham said over here.

For the background to this development, see these two TA articles from 2007:

The latter item contains a link to the statement issued jointly by the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales at that time.

More recently (my copy undated, but was sent to me in March) the CofE issued a briefing note to parliamentarians which is reproduced in full below the fold. This shows that the CofE has changed its mind since 2007 about the adequacy of the legislation as originally proposed:

While we were satisfied with the definition of the offence as it stood, we believe that the amendment successfully moved by Lord Waddington now provides a valuable safeguard

(The relevant clause was numbered 58 in the original bill but because of other amendments has now becomes clause 61.)

CofE briefing note to parliamentarians - Coroners and Justice Bill - Clause 58

The Church of England, in common with many other organisations - not all of them religious - has concerns about Clause 58 of the Bill, which seeks to remove the so-called “free speech” provision on incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. The Church of England is not convinced of the necessity for this change and as such supports the cross party amendment 297, which seeks to leave out Clause 58 from the Bill.

When the offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation was first put forward within the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (now Act) 2008, we supported it on condition that it did not infringe freedom of expression on issues of sexual morality and conduct. We were satisfied that the high threshold of the offence (intention to stir up hatred by means of threatening words, behaviour or material) struck a reasonable balance between protecting people from attacks directed against their sexual orientation and maintaining freedom of expression.

Subsequently though a “freedom of speech” provision was inserted by a Lords amendment in the name of Lord Waddington and now stands part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. While we were satisfied with the definition of the offence as it stood, we believe that the amendment successfully moved by Lord Waddington now provides a valuable safeguard (parallel to the freedom of expression protection in relation to religious hatred) by making it clear that “the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices” does not in itself constitute an offence. If, as the Government argues, removing the amendment would not lower the threshold of the offence it is hard to see any justification for doing so. If it is argued that it is necessary for the effective operation of the law that the amendment should be removed, the implication would be that such discussion or criticism could in itself constitute an offence, and to this we would be strongly opposed. The present provision was made “for the avoidance of doubt” and in the absence of compelling grounds for change, it seems to us that this is an example of the kind of restless fidgeting with the law that Government and Parliament would do well to avoid.

Problems in this area often arise less from the formulation of the law than from over-zealous action by the police based on misunderstanding of what the law means. This was seen in investigations of alleged homophobic conduct carried out under existing public order legislation. In a joint submission with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to the Public Bill Committee of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill in November 2007, we said: “We believe it is vital that there should be the maximum possible clarity about what is forbidden and what is permitted. Christians engaged in teaching or preaching and those seeking to act in accord with Christian convictions in their daily lives need to be assured that the expression of strong opinions on marriage or sexuality will not be illegal…. We also draw attention to the possible ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, which formed part of the debates on religious hatred. Uncertainty in the law has the effect of inhibiting behaviour which may not in fact be illegal. People holding firm opinions on sexuality will generally be reluctant to risk the emotional and financial costs of being challenged by a neighbour or colleague and investigated by the police, even if this does not lead to prosecution or conviction.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 2:44pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

I would be far more surprised if the church was seen to be actively and enthusiastically supporting any pro-gay equality legislation.

This is why religionist influence really does need to be opposed. It is rather like a cancer, destroying that which is good, but I didn't realise just how wrong it is until I left the church.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 7:33pm BST

For goodness' sake, what is this almost suicidal reduction of the Gospel of Love to the right to criticise and therefore sail close to demeaning anything that is not conformant with 100% heterosexual behaviour all about? ++Williams should be thankful he is not in the position of facing a common vote since I for one would be asking people to use it wisely, in case forces "that are the very opposite of the values of justice, compassion and human dignity...rooted in our Christian heritage" become dominant.

Just why are the wholesale concepts of class and sexuality of seeming anathema to the Church, whereas there is almost blind adoration of many tenets and expressions of 'faith' that would not pass the muster of a human rights inspection, and an entire exoticisation and elevation of race and ethnic identity as absolute benchmarks of an ethical life, to the practical exclusion of other views? Christ help anyone who is gay and working class in the Church at the moment.

I really have to shake my head at this. Whether in rage or sorrow, I cannot tell now.

Posted by: orfanum on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 9:06pm BST

European attitudes towards free speech scare the bejesus out of me. If this legislation becomes a blunt object with which to beat people who believe homosexuality is a sin, it will not do the cause of gay rights in the US any good at all.

Posted by: BillyD on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 10:51pm BST

Eventually God's Church will catch up with society in recognising hatred in all its forms and intolerance of difference are contrary to the Gospel. In the meantime society seeks to legislate to prevent bigotry. It is a sad day when the Church lags behind society rather than leads it.

Posted by: dodgey_vicar on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 11:05pm BST

The action of the Bishops (especially the bishop of Southwell and Nottingham) on this issue provides one very good reason why Anglican Bishops should relinquish their seats in the House of Lords. For a Bishop to support any act of discrimination against women or the LGBT constituency is against the tenor of the Gospel.

Oh yes! Bp. George Cassidy may appear to be protecting a common right to 'discussion' on the subject, which of itself may seem right and good, but it seems to gays and women that he really wants to protect the Churhes' freedom to preach and practise homophobia and misogyny.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 24 May 2009 at 11:54pm BST

If being straight does not as such serve to prevent anybody from being violent or hurtful, still less will NOT being straight categorically doom anybody to human incompetence or unethical or violent patterns of daily life.

Just as the exceptional existence of freed former slaves calls the whole belief system (about people of color being cursed by God - once upon a time not that long ago, a very strong and very widespread cultural and religious belief system?) into question; so too, the exceptional existence of many out gay citizens living daily life goods among us calls the legacy negative belief systems into question.

Certain very loud conservative voices are all behind these sea change curves. Indeed. Seeking to protect flat earth speech. Failing to see that the issue for the rest of us with regard to flat earth speech about gay folks is, not the speech part calling all of us to fairly common sense ethical citizenship or believerhood, but the demeaning flat earth part that is always aimed at gay folks. Grounding this wholesale without best practices in hypothesis testing and discernment - in tradition and revelation claims which cannot be thought through? - only makes the old preachments more clearly, even more flat earth. Just to that extent, a more risible and tone deaf song being sung, tending towards an automatic pilot insult to gay folks good citizenship, as well as God's call to us all.

Passing laws will not make the earth flat for gay folks as a special target group (while reserving the full, rich, round earth exclusively for straight folks as superiors), any more than passing laws may permits highly valued traditional religious negatives that claim to reveal flat earth things about gay folks to be an immutable basis for trash talking, policing, or punishing gay folks as neighbors.

So very long ago, we did get a little piece of possible ethical and revelation witness - God cautioned us against bearing false witness against neighbors. Passing a law will not put lipstick on that pig to any great purpose of ritual disguise. We will still all, continue to recognize both the lipstick, the pig, just as we will probably still recognize the obvious truth, our good gay neighbors trying to live decent daily lives among us.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 12:23am BST

This reminds me of one of Duncan's precious follows, a woman priest who said to me, "homosexuality is an ungodly life style. Sacred Scripture is clearly against it." (not to say against womens ordination which for the record I approve).

So many conservative Christians say they're opposed to the gay lifestyle but what exactly is the gay lifestyle? Straight or gay, there are people who live in monogamous relationships, some people get married, some co-habitate and some swing, others just sleep around. People just like to criticize be they a holier than thou bishop or the man (who's having an affair) living next door.

Of course making laws against people who criticize really seems like over regulating behavior. You can't make laws in hopes that some people will change their attitudes.

Posted by: BobinSWPA on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 4:17am BST

These daft bishops are daily talking the Church out of a role in British society, unfortunately.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 7:03am BST

"the gay lifestyle" Ha!

There is an advice columnist in the States whose writing handle is Miss Manners. A large number of questions for her are about wedding customs, usually prompted by the behavior of a Bridezilla making demands of her guests: asking for cash to finance an expensive honeymoon, demanding guests fly to an exotic 'destination' wedding site, etc etc. So much for Holy Matrimony.

The other questions are about how to refer to long-time live-ins [heterosexual]. The funniest one lately was someone inquiring if it was accurate to call an 8 year live-in boy friend as a 'fiance.'

That's the heterosexual lifestyle , I guess.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 12:44pm BST

LOL.. Cynthia. The lady priest I mentioned in my earlier posting, after calling the gay lifestyle "ungodly," said "I served at a parish where two vestry members were having an affair." I remarked that two people in a loving, monogamous relationship is not the same thing as two straight or gay people cheating on their spouse.

As an organist, I've met some of the Bridzilla's lol. Last summer one spent 3,000.00 on flowers alone.

I have criticized promiscuity of any kind since it can be destructive to self and others. It's not just the some in GLBT community that are living this lifestyle it's in every community.

Posted by: BobinSWPA on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 2:06pm BST

Do I need to tell people to turn their sarcasm monitors on?

"what exactly is the gay lifestyle?"

I'm told it consists of practically limitless anonymous sex occurring anywhere, anytime, and in the context of equally limitless drug use. It also, apparently, includes sex with children and relentless recruiting of unsuspecting heterosexuals, whose sexuality is so very fragile, they can be tempted to turn gay just by being in the same room with gay people. Now, I find sex with minors not merely repulsive, but reprehensible, so I decided, somewhat selfishly, that I would not take part in it. I do confess, though, that at the age of 19, practically limitless sex and drugs was quite enticing. So, I woke up one morning, figured it'd be a bit of a lark, and I decided that I too would become gay. It wasn't difficult. I was heterosexual, which means my sexuality was so delicate, all I had to do was find a gay person to stand next to, and I caught it, just like that!

Sadly, though, the reality has turned out to be otherwise. The sex was just as difficult to find as it was before I turned, if not moreso, and all those drugs just make you a zombie. But, apparently, having decided that sunny summer morning that I would be a homo, there is now no turning back. Not only that, but apparently, by making that choice, I automatically shortened my life by thirty years or so. I'm not sure if my life expectancy would go back up if I changed back, but the point is moot. Apparently, once you make the choice, you can't go back! That's why it's so important to protect the young, who have a tendency to make such lifechanging choices withoput proper consideration.

Oh, there's lots of people who will support me if I go to meetings, wallow in self loathing with a lot of other gay people, and then loudly tell everybody I'm cured. I might even find an equally messed up woman to marry. Wallowing in self loathing is certainly a good basis for a relationship that depends on denial of reality, but I'm just too selfish to want that. So, I'm stuck. Oh how I wish I had listened to the True Christians when they warned me that if I chose to be gay, I would lose my status as Child of God!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 2:17pm BST

I don't think there is a homosexual lifestyle, and I think the leaders of the C of E have been criminally silent when their fellow Anglicans have demonized GLBT people. That said, this sure looks like a violation of very basic rights to free speech.

Posted by: Jim Naughton on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 3:11pm BST

"As an organist, I've met some of the Bridzilla's lol. Last summer one spent 3,000.00 on flowers alone."

Most clergy I know would far rather do a funeral than a wedding. IMHO, we in the States should all give up our status as arms of the civil government and stick to asking God's blessing on the couple. Let them get the civil license from the civil authority.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 4:08pm BST

If anyone doubts the possibility of this sort of legislation being used in an attempt to silence the opponents of gay rights, they need look no farther than the case of the Swedish Pentecostal preacher Åke Green. He was convicted of hate speech by a lower court because of a sermon he preached, but an appellate court overturned that sentence. Not satisfied, the prosecutor pursued the case all the way to Sweden's Supreme Court, where the appellate court's judgment was upheld. A spokesman for the Supreme Court explained that if the judges had taken only Swedish law into account they would have convicted, but they didn't think that the Swedish law agreed with the EU's human rights legislation. Notwithstanding, the Swedish law remains on the books, I believe.

Whatever happened to Voltaire's attitude to free speech, summed up by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall as "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"? Freedom of speech that protects only expression of which the party in power approves isn't freedom of speech at all.


Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 4:40pm BST

"Freedom of speech that protects only expression of which the party in power approves isn't freedom of speech at all."

But with freedom of speech comes the responsibility to use it well. To Americans, it is anathema that there be any restrictions on free speech. We who are not Americans do not share this fear. There are limits. The simplistic example of not crying "Fire" in a crowded theatre is tacit acceptance of that. What you see in British parliamentary democracy is an attempt to codify what those limits might be. I think the British government sometimes goes too far, perhaps so here. But freedom of speech is not an all or nothing thing.


Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 5:03pm BST

I don't agree this is a matter of free speech. It isn't about criticism but the incitement to hatred, which is a different concept.

The change introduced by the government reflects the bill carried by the House of Commons by a large majority. The amendment introduced by a small majority in the Lords is of little legal effect as the legal hurdle is considerable in mounting a prosecution. The language is at best superfluous and at worst damaging in that someone inciting homophobic hatred can claim free speech as a cover.

The government had no choice but to accept the Lords' amendment at the time as it ran out of Parliamentary time to reverse it given they needed passage of the bill to make changes in the prison service before certain date.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 5:22pm BST

I am an American and so I too have difficulty understanding why anyone would wish to limit freedom of speech, even when it is dasterdly mean, evil, unfair, or whatever. I think usually when there is freedom of speech, those who give hate speeches come to be seen for what they are. However, if there are to be limits placed on freedom of speech to protect particular groups, then it is really untoward for any Christian church to ask to be excused from obeying the law.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 5:32pm BST

Well, anyway, three cheers and then some for the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. Puts us miserable, pusillanimous C of E types to shame. Our bishops - most of them - are - how shall one put? not good. Yet and yet ... life in many parishes is different and better.

Posted by: john on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 5:42pm BST

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

It's when your words turn into actions (the act of discrimination, physical abuse and inciting hatred) that you have effectively disregarded and made mockery of that statement.

That's why we have laws to prevent those actions, and it will include unfair treatment of the LGBT community, whether the "church" can stomach it or not, bishops and bridzillas included.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 6:21pm BST

There is freedom of speech and there is responsibility for what one speaks. Here in the US we seem to want the former with none of the latter, as in the case of Miss California. She spoke her mind. Good for her. But that is no reason why folks can't boycott her in kind. Fair is fair. This whinging now that she's being persecuted is outright baloney and a means of not taking responsibility for her opinion and speech.

The leadership of the C of E have been criminally silent with regard to Anglican violence to lgbt persons and they are responsible for their speech and lack thereof. It is one thing to criticize, but in many contexts, speech against homosexuals is carte blanche permission of less nuanced sorts to attack and violate our persons or those perceived to be our sort and condition irrespective of the moral/ethical choices we make. And then they get off with twinkie defenses and archbishops wring their hands and opine about concerns that even celibate persons are being harmed. Not good enough anymore.

Speak away, but be prepared to take responsibility for the speaking. Do not speak and you have consented to those who do and are again responsible.

Posted by: Christopher on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 7:22pm BST

BillyD: I don't think it would be at all accurate to get the impression that Scandinavians suffer from a lack of freedom of speech. In my experience, their culture is much more likely to challenge unjust authoritarianism, ecclesiastical or otherwise, than is the case in, for example, Britain.

There seems to be something of a myth current in some circles in the US that the EU harbours a scary lack of freedom. It is emphatically not the case: across the EU, a just society transcending the limitations of national jurisdictions is in formation. I think the Anglican tradition should tie in well with the new stress on the equality and dignity of all in Europe, and I wish we had some more clued-up people giving thought-through input and encourgement into this great project, which does, after all, follow centuries of bitter warfare and vicious persecutions.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 7:58pm BST

I agree with BillyD. Suppressing free speech is always dangerous; and it helps make people feel justified in their prejudice.

Posted by: Aquila on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 8:00pm BST

Oh hello, I'm on the ambivalence train again.

No, not every "homosexuality is an abomination" sermon should get the preacher tossed into gaol.

...but merely being *delivered from a pulpit* shouldn't get "Kill a Queer for Christ" Hate-Speech protected, either.

Context, context, context...

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 25 May 2009 at 9:03pm BST

"There seems to be something of a myth current in some circles in the US that the EU harbours a scary lack of freedom."

While I'm not usually a fan of the EU, in the Green case it was evidently the EU's Convention on Human Rights that overrode the scary local Swedish law.

Posted by: BillyD on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 12:53am BST

BillyD

The European Convention on Human Rights, and the associated Court, are not the creation of the European Union, but rather of the Council of Europe.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Europe
for further explanation.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 7:52am BST

The US may draw a clear line between hate speech (which is not criminalized)and hate crimes (which are), but when hate speech incites hate crimes here, the inciting bigots can be held to account:

http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/11/14/klan.sued.verdict/index.html

and

http://www.splcenter.org/legal/docket/files.jsp?cdrID=30

Not as satisfying as tossing them in prison, I'll give you, but it is something. And the law is evolving rapidly. Every democracy struggles to balance free speech with responsible speech -- we all just slice and dice it a bit differently.

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 10:48am BST

Ford, it may have less to do with being an American than with being a journalist. Libel laws in the UK are much friendlier to the powerful than are those in the US, as the NYT pointed out in an editorial his morning.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/opinion/26tue2.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Posted by: Jim Naughton on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 4:55pm BST

There is a significant difference in that Miss California was not punished by the State. She faced consequences in the contest and in the private world.
No agency of the State or Local governments has punished her for her words. The consequences are social and civil, not punitive. Now had she ended her stupid little speech with a call to arms and violence, we would be talking a different game.

Freedom is messy, and is often unpleasant. The desire to shut up those with whom we disagree because it might do something is a bad precedent, in particular when the democratic processes may turn against us.

Posted by: John Robison on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 5:49pm BST

The problem here is that some on the right confuse "free speech" with "speech without consequences". There is no country on the earth where you can say whatever you want without consequence.

Posted by: toujoursdan on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 8:56pm BST

On the whole it's country simple - ++Williams has not long decided that the BNP is a bad thing, and I am sure in the same vein he would not ask for current legislation on incitement to racial hatred to be repealed in pursuit of pure free speech. Yet, on the other, there is a desire on the part of the established religious to arrogate to themselves on grounds that are ostensibly at least as 'irrational' as the racist views of the BNP, the right not to be prosecuted for criticizing the 'gay lifestyle'.

There's either the recognition that prejudice, i.e., consistent negative judgement in public especially, of whatever stripe, is not something to be encouraged under the law, or there is total free speech. I don't think you can pick and choose. If the Church really believes being anti-gay is part and parcel of what it is, and Caesar does not agree, perhaps the Church would be happy to put its martyr-credentials to the test?

But no, the Church wants legal elevation as a special case. By the same token, the BNP one day might decide it warranted such particular treatment - who knows what sensibilities lurk under the Anglo-Saxon breast - at that point the Church would have to wonder on what logical basis it could protest.

The Catholic Church seems to be understanding, slowly, that it cannot continue to harbour the views many of its official and lay adherents have had about Jewish people. It's simply time the Anglican Church started to understand that not only is anti-homosexual thinking a dead end for itself, but that it will bring it into ever closer opposition to the will and views of ordinary people: lawmakers, voters, citizens alike.

Posted by: orfanum on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 9:24pm BST

"The problem here is that some on the right confuse "free speech" with "speech without consequences". There is no country on the earth where you can say whatever you want without consequence."

Very, very good point toujoursdan, and it seems to have increasing relevance in the church as well.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Tuesday, 26 May 2009 at 11:44pm BST

And John Robison there is also a difference between freedom of speech and classes of speech like Churchy speech that do tend to give permission to beat up and worse on gay people. It often amounts indirectly to screaming "fire" in a crowded theatre. Legal consequences arise from such shouts.

Posted by: Christopher on Wednesday, 27 May 2009 at 3:18pm BST
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