LONDON – Christians in Britain are being unfairly targeted by laws intended to prevent religious hate crimes, a new report from Civitas warns.
The report, "A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution in Britain Today," criticizes the "oppressive oddity" of judicial attempts to regulate religious hatred.
The report was researched and written for the think tank by Jon Davies, former head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Newcastle.
He warns that although the Blasphemy Law was abolished in 2008, it has re-emerged in the guise of the hate laws.
The growth in accusations of hate crimes in recent years threatens freedom of speech by destroying the possibility of "open, sociable and critical" discussions on religion.
The difficulty in clearly defining when a hate crime has been committed has resulted in confusion and judges have become "surrogate theologians," essentially establishing a "theocracy by the backdoor."
"Are judges, even judges giving the 'right' verdict, so qualified in theology that they feel able to offer doctrinal guidance?" the report states.
"Is the Crown Prosecution Service so prudent in its understanding of 'religious hatred' that it should be free, with no penalty for error, to mobilize the power and resources of the state against ordinary citizens who make comments about religion?"
The foreword to the report claims that white Christians are being targeted by the hate laws more than other ethnic and faith groups.
"Some police forces and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] seem to be interpreting statutes in favor of ethnic and religious minorities and in a spirit hostile to members of the majority population, defined as 'White' or 'Christian,'" it states.
Davies cites the case of Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christian hoteliers who were accused of a religiously aggravated hate crime by a Muslim guest at their hotel after a discussion about Islam over breakfast.
Davies voiced concern at the "public presumption of culpability" – as opposed to the traditional custom of 'innocent until proven guilty' - revealed by the local NHS authority's decision to cancel its bookings for patients there.
The couple were eventually declared innocent by a court last November, but The Christian Institute, which supported them throughout their ordeal, said the case has led to serious financial hardship as a result of the damage done to their reputation and lost business.
Davies compared the charges laid against the Vogelenzangs with that of a Muslim man who sprayed "Islam will dominate the world – Osama is on his way" and "Kill Gordon Brown" across a war memorial. Although the war memorial carried Christian and national symbols, the man was charged with committing criminal damage, rather than a religiously aggravated offense.
He said the two cases were evidence of the "biased" application of the law, which has effectively created the conditions for more hatred, not less.
He said: "The hate laws are criminal laws operating under the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and their parading of assorted 'miscreants' through the degradation ceremonies of the courts will create more abuse and hatred."