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A New Inquisition: religious persecution in Britain today is a new Civitas report written by the former Head of Religious Studies at the University of Newcastle. The report warns that the increasing volume and complexity of 'hate' legislation is making it dangerous for people to discuss religion in the way they once did.

The volume of legislation: "There are now more than 35 Acts of Parliament, 52 Statutory Instruments, 13 Codes of Practice, 3 Codes of Guidance and 16 European Commission Directives which bear on 'discrimination'. And most recently, the Single Equality Act was passed by Parliament in April 2010. Yet legal definitions of 'hatred' are elusive. A government action plan states: 'A (religious) hate crime is a criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a persons religion or perceived religion.'. In addition, 'hatred' is not only presented as an offence on its own account, but can also be seen as something which aggravates ordinary public order offences. When an ordinary offence is aggravated by 'hatred' based on race, religion, gender, or age, then the sentence too is 'aggravated' (i.e. increased)."

Burden of proof reversed: "To demonstrate the oppressive oddity of judicial attempts to regulate religious hatred, Jon Davies describes the 2009 case of Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, owners of the Bounty House Hotel in Liverpool. Following a discussion between the Vogelenzangs and a guest at their hotel, Mrs Erica Tazi, about the respective merits of her religion (Islam) and theirs (Christianity), Mrs Tazi made a formal complaint to the Merseyside police about what she said were offensive remarks made by the Vogelenzangs… whilst by long-established practice the Vogelenzangs should have been regarded as innocent until proven guilty: '[There was a] public presumption of culpability… the local NHS authority [which provided 80 per cent of the Bounty House income] cancelled their bookings'."

Free conversation about religion is discouraged: "When Judge Richard Clancy dismissed the case against the Vogelenzangs in December 2009, he commented that it might be best for individuals not to engage in discussions about religion! …It becomes "wise" to "be careful", to restrict the compass of what we say about what we believe, or do not believe, or about what others believe or do not or should not believe, and to turn what were once vigorous public conversations into a frightened, if safe, if amiable and fundamentally humourless chat about small and dwindling things."

Civil society once regulated differences of opinion: "Throughout most of human history the suppression of unwelcome opinions has been the norm. Therefore, open societies in which we try to settle our differences without violence have been a great human achievement. For some centuries we in this country have been accustomed to dealing with such matters 'amongst ourselves', in a public sphere regulated by our own good sense and law legitimised by general consent and softened by a live-and-let-live ethos."

More here.

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