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Monday, 10 October 2011

The Death of Religious Freedom in Britian

The Death of Religious Freedom

British governments have ensured all religions in Britain can be politically controlled, writes Peter Mills, MA PhD.

The excellent article on this site written by Southwest Nationalist “The Sad Tale of the Gay Witches” brings to the surface a major piece of totalitarian control that has already been surreptitiously foisted upon the people of Britain by a succession of Labour and Tory governments.

Quite simply, our freedom of religion is being deliberately and systematically eradicated through various pieces of legislative “sleight-of-hand.” This can be conclusively proven – but, believe me, it has been so invisibly accomplished that it takes a great deal of investigation and research to expose as thoroughly as it needs to be.

Let us start over 60 years ago on 10th December 1948 when the newly-formed United Nations Organisation adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this declaration was not a legal Act of any Parliament, it was intended as a kind-of “official guideline” for all governments, and especially for all countries who were members of the UN (such as Great Britain, who was one of its founders).

Article 18 of this Declaration of Human Rights reads: “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.” This seems to be perfectly clear and straightforward. However, the clear water has been muddied by British politicians over the decades since 1948.

We are now governed by the Human Rights Act of 1998, which should more accurately be called the “Human Wrongs Act”.

This Act incorporates into British law a version of the cynically-named European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, part of the 1950 Treaty of Rome which was the original legal instrument establishing the European Union.

Although the British Human Rights Act dates from 1998, Britain was actually the very first country to ratify the Human Rights Convention, in 1951. In the opening lines of the 1950 European Convention, acknowledgement is made of the inspiration provided by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 of the European Convention is drafted in two paragraphs, of which the first is a twin of the United Nations Declaration and states:

“1. 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 worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

However – unlike the UN version – the European Convention is immediately followed by an additional and rather sneaky restrictive proviso in paragraph 2:

“2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the rights and freedoms of others.”

The astute reader will notice that the fine principles of religious freedom enshrined into European law in section 1 of this paragraph have been provided with useful loopholes in section 2 for governments to take advantage of if they wish, and which just about completely negates the safeguarding principles of the first part!

As a consequence of paragraph 2, the spin-off British Human Rights Act of 1998 was able to be carefully and deliberately phrased in order to safeguard the government from shooting itself in the foot by having to legally observe any religious freedom that contradicts what politicians may deem necessary for the “greater good”, the politicians alone being the definer of whatever constitutes “the greater good” – in other words, “political correctness.”

For instance, Paragraph 2 means that the provisions of the umbrella European Convention on Human Rights and all national Acts devolving from it (like our Human Rights Act) can be manipulated if an individual government decides a religious practice threatens “public morals”, “public order” or “public health”.

This immediately prompts the rather worrying question: who is the official arbiter of what constitutes “public morals”, “public order” and “public health”? Is the government the home of the land’s treasury of definitive moral rectitude? The behavioural record of even high office-holders says otherwise. Likewise, how is “public order” to be deemed as “threatened”? Particularly, on what criteria is a political decision regarding what constitutes “public disorder” to be based? And how broad or narrow is a risk to “public health” to be assessed?

Perhaps it is relevant here to look at some religious practices that, if the government so chooses, may be deemed outside the protection offered by paragraph 1 due to the political escape clause in paragraph 2.

First, consider the matter of “public order”. In 2003 the Anti-Social Behavior Act made significant changes to previous legislation. Particularly, in section 57 it changed the provision of the 1984 Public Order Act so that the number of persons defined as constituting a “public assembly” was legally reduced from 20 to just 2. This means that from the date the Act became law (20th January 2004), the police have the power to impose orders on “public assemblies” (including religious meetings whether in churches or elsewhere) of as few as 2 people if they see fit to do so. This same Act also contains a provision for the removal of travellers (“Gypsies”) from illegally occupied land, but this provision conveniently also applies to “environmental protesters”. Many pagan religious groups, such as nature-worshipping Wiccan covens, have only two or three members: very few have as many as 20. Being nature worshippers, such groups sometimes conduct their sacred ceremonies in woodland or other natural environments, most typically at night. Technically – and especially if any biblical fundamentalist in high government office gives the official nod – the police now have the power to move in and prevent this from happening, simply by declaring the religious group to be, or to include, “environmental protesters”.

Churches and religious assembly rooms are classed as “public buildings” in the UK and meetings within them are “public assemblies”, and this includes non-Christian public buildings such as Hindu temples, mosques and synagogues. It may be thought by some that it is unlikely that the police would ever interfere in such a place of worship (although there is precedent – on 25th July 2002 12 British police officers, including two in riot gear, stormed the Ghausia Jamia Mosque in Lye, near Stourbridge just after morning prayers, breaking down the door with a battering-ram in order to arrest an Afghan family who were seeking to stay in Britain on compassionate grounds). However, whatever your views on this particular matter, the point is, the legislation exists; and this past experience proves the fact that though the national authorities may normally be applying it reasonably and with moderation there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. Simply, the safeguards against misuse of power that should be enshrined within such laws seem to have been carefully removed.

“Public Morals” is an equally thorny issue. One person’s moral standards are another person’s repression. It is important to understand that we are not talking here about actual crime of an immoral nature, such as rape; we are referring to public morals – that is, any non-criminal conduct that can be described by the old-fashioned phrase “an outrage to public decency” – and this is such a nebulous matter that any legislation designed to place a ring-fence around any set of “acceptable moral behavioural standards” is itself immoral according to the principles of democratic freedom.

Again it is useful to cite the religion of Wicca (Witchcraft) to begin a brief examination of how this part of the Human Rights Act is open to official misuse. Whereas Christian churches, and especially fundamentalist ones, would be outraged if a group of people, including the priest or pastor, came to a service stark naked, many pagan religions and especially Wicca frequently (although not universally) consider it an important manifestation of their faith to conduct their worship completely naked, in the manner that is poetically referred to as “skyclad”.

Skyclad nature-worshipping ceremonies are, when possible, conducted in natural environments such as woodland or heathland, away from prying eyes. Nevertheless, is a religion that encourages worshippers to be “naked in their rites” a threat to “public morals”? Few fundamentalists would disagree. How, then, could a government with a biblical fundamentalist prime minister (Tony Blair was one such) be entrusted with safeguarding the religious rights of Wiccan worshippers if the legal loophole exists that “skyclad” worship of nature deities could be construed as being “against the interests of public morals”? Any argument that this is “unlikely” or “will never happen” is again beside the point if such legislative loopholes nevertheless exist.

The hypocrisy of the notion of some kind of standardised “public morality” can be highlighted by examples given in the book A Witches’ Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-919345-92-1), where the authors – both Wiccans – point out that ritual nakedness was also a habit of biblical prophets (I Samuel 19:24: “…And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night…”) and that Saint Francis of Assisi preached a sermon stark naked to a large congregation of both sexes in the Cathedral of San Ruffino.

The question thus arises of how it can be possible, let alone desirable, for a democratic society to limit “religious freedom” in law as being “…subject … to such limitations as are … in the interests of… public … morals”? It is not sufficient protection of people’s rights for government to simply say: “We are very unlikely to use such powers in this way”: the fact that it is permitted at all by existing legislation means that the possibility of usage cannot be exclusively ruled out and is now unarguably a “Sword of Damocles” metaphorically hanging over the public head.

As for the remaining proviso of the Human Rights Act, public health, one wonders what would be the likely reaction if the Christian Communion was banned, or ordered to change its entire nature? When the chalice of red wine that worshippers believe to be transubstantiated into the blood of Christ is passed on to allow a succession of people to take a sip, the only hygiene involved is for the priest to wipe it with a cloth. As certain television advertisements gleefully point out, there are more bacteria to be found on a dishcloth than on a toilet seat. Could the Communion ever be prevented by law from allowing partakers to communally drink what they consider to be “the blood of Christ”? Yes, this could legally happen under Paragraph 2, for example if there were an epidemic of cholera or outbreak of some other transmittable dangerous disease.

Surely, then, it is entirely fair for me to suggest that by examining the possible connotations implied in the intricate legal definition of “Human Rights” we can perceive at least the hint that there could, just possibly, arise interpretations of existing law that are open to the preferential acceptance by government of some favoured religious practices and the preferential denial of others less favoured?

Or, putting this a different way, we can perceive in the Human Rights Act that legislation has been cunningly inserted which has given political powers the absolute legal right to control all religions, religious practices and assemblies if ever they feel that such a move to clamp down against a particular freedom is necessary or, as they put it, “in the public interest”.

Government is greatly assisted in their ability to manipulate the public freedom of religious practices by the little-known and little-publicised fact that in the case of the two major Western Powers, the UK and the USA, there is no absolute legal definition of “religion” at all.

This is a two-edged sword, for although, on the surface, it means that no person’s spiritual belief can be legally stated not to qualify as a “legal religion”, it also means that any politician, petty bureaucrat or civil servant is free to dismiss any claim that a particular organisation is actually a “genuine” or “proper” religion, without fear of legal correction. In simple terms, British civil servants actually have the power to rule whether or not any religion is a “valid and proper religion”. There is proof of this, although it is so obscure that it needs to be dug out of the archives.

In December 1996 the House of Lords, Britain’s higher legislative body and also the highest court in the land, was considering an appeal made by the Church of Scientology against an earlier ruling by the British Charities Commissioners that they were not entitled to tax-exempt status because they were “not a proper church or religion.” Baroness Sharples asked the House whether the government had any objections to the way in which the Church of Scientology conducts its operations in Britain, to which Baroness Blatch, the Deputy Speaker of the House, replied that: “The Church of Scientology may follow its own doctrines and practices providing that it remains within the law.”

At that point, Lord Avebury (Eric Lubbock, himself a Buddhist) stood up and said: “My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the application was made to the Charity Commission it ruled that, in order to qualify as a religion, an organisation had to be theistic in character (author’s note: i.e. believe in a deity or deities, which mainstream Buddhism does not) but that Buddhists, having existed for 2,500 years, were an exception to that principle? Does she feel that it would be appropriate for Parliament to frame a sensible definition of ‘religion’ and ‘church’, instead of leaving the matter to be determined by the Charity Commission and the courts?” The reply from Baroness Emily Blatch was: “My Lords, wiser counsels than I have tried that one. We have set our face against a definition of religion.” (Oral Questions to the Minister of State for the Home Office, 17th December 1996, Hansard vol. 760 cols. 1392-1394.)

On November 26th 2003 the Guardian newspaper carried an article about the Queen’s Speech in Parliament (in which forthcoming legislation planned by the government for the next parliamentary session is outlined in general terms) in which mention was made of the proposed new Charities Bill which was being prepared in draft form (the Draft Charities Bill). The Guardian article pointed out that “…Britain’s charity laws date back more than 400 years. The draft bill will be based on an overhaul, first announced by the government in July 2003. This will attempt to update the law to meet the needs of the voluntary sector in the 21st century – and to protect its credibility with the public, through a new definition of charity as providing a ‘public benefit.’”

In paragraphs 8 & 9 of a report summing up their concerns and opinions of the Draft Charities Bill, the Charity Law Association commented: “…In explaining their refusal to recognise the Church of Scientology as a religious charity, the Charity Commission… concluded that Scientology was not a religion, because it did not involve the worship of a deity. We consider that defining religion by reference to worship of a deity automatically creates a bias… Perhaps, in light of Human Rights Act considerations, it would be appropriate for the Bill to redefine religion in a less biased way…”

The threat which this absence of any statutary legal definition of “religion” poses is not very obvious during the relaxed times of liberal governments. However, when a western country produces a leader who has dictatorial tendencies, then the danger becomes more apparent, for such leaders are perfectly free to state that such-and-such a religious belief is “not a proper religion”, on no other grounds than preferential prejudice. For example, Tony Blair’s close buddy President George W. Bush is on record as stating (whilst Governor of Texas and when the Pentagon ruled that the many thousands of Wiccans, or witches, serving in the US forces had the right to practice their religion): “I don’t think that witchcraft is a religion. I wish the military would rethink this decision” (George W. Bush to ABC News, June 1999) thereby at the very least tilting the balance of the whole administration towards that general inclination. By so doing, this can, like a single falling stone that starts an avalanche, make all religions that have no “state credentials” (otherwise known as “political correctness”) quite rightly begin to feel uneasy and disadvantaged.

My point here is certainly not to advocate any particular religious belief, but to demonstrate how effectively the British government has already quietly provided itself with the necessary legislative powers and options to completely control religious practice in this country in whatever way it may decide best suits its own political needs. How many readers of this article, I wonder, were actually already aware of this fact?

In respect of Southwest Nationalist’s article relating how early learning consultant Anne O’Connor claims witches wearing black could lead to racism, perhaps someone should point out to Ms. O’Connor that in the Hindu faith, the traditional colour of mourning is white.

If this ridiculous woman is taken seriously in her idiotic bleating, then Hindu people in the UK should also be banned from wearing white at funerals, as this might also encourage racism. What utter rubbish she is spouting! She obviously has not heard the old saying: “Make sure brain is in gear before engaging mouth!”

Like human beings, all religions are equal and should be treated as equal, even by those who are spiritually committed to a particular single faith. This is the very basis of Democracy. Surely, the only fair way to deal with the issue of all the different religions in Britain is to adopt Voltaire’s famous statement to a rival politician: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The important point being, if we all stand by idly doing nothing while the Human Rights Act gives politicians the legal right to declare what religions are “valid beliefs” and what religions are “invalid beliefs,” what will YOU do when YOUR OWN religious belief is ruled as “illegal because it is not a proper religion”, or because it “promotes racism”, or because it is a “risk to public health”, or a “risk to public morals”, or to “public order” or “public safety”, or because the “rights and freedoms” of other people are considered more important than your own rights and freedoms, or because the Charities Commissioners are eager to define it as “not a proper religion” because they want the tax revenue – or because your religion is suddenly no longer “politically correct”?

If you think this cannot happen, I have bad news for you – we have already let it happen, by voting Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem! It is worth repeating the beginning of paragraph 2 of the British legal writ now governing – and threatening – all religions in the country:

“2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the rights and freedoms of others.”

Britain desperately needs a new and sane government that will repeal the disgusting and actually fascist Human Rights Act. As all the other political parties have more than adequately proven, this can only be a Nationalist government. Otherwise, our country is indeed doomed to become the land described in Orwell’s “1984″ where The State controls every single aspect of human life and destroys everything not deemed as “politically correct”.