Monday, September 02, 2013

A slight difference of opinion

The Rev Dr Alan Clifford, BA MLitt PhD, is pastor of Norwich Reformed Church. Following a homosexual pride march, he sent an e-mail (to one of the leaders of the march, it is supposed). The e-mail included two gospel tracts, one of them dealing with homosexuality.

In due time, a very polite policeman knocked at Dr Clifford's door. He had received, he said, a complaint of "homophobic behaviour."

"Homophobic behaviour," according to Norfolk Constabulary, is "any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person." The policeman said that Dr Clifford, if he wished, could pay an on-the-spot fine of £90, which would presumably be an end of the matter.

Dr Clifford declined.

Alternatively, the policeman said, Dr Clifford could make a statement, which would be read by a senior police officer, who would decide whether or not to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. Dr Clifford said he had sent the e-mail because he wanted to report "our Christian complaint against the public display of their homosexual propaganda, which we find offensive." He agreed to provide a statement.

He pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights, in Handyside v UK (1976), made it clear that freedom of expression embraces not only information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also "those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society."

He further pointed out that Lord Justice Sedley, in Redmond Bate v DPP (2000), said that "Free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative provided that it does not tend to violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having."

After all, when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which contains the offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, was passed, Lord Waddington won an amendment to an earlier version of the law which established that no one might be prosecuted for stating their belief that homosexuality is sinful or wrong.

It read: "For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred."

Dr Clifford has now been reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Adrian Hilton gives full details in an excellently written blog post.

Read it here.

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