The Poison of Religious Vilification Laws

Among the worst laws to have been recently enacted are religious vilification laws. They are a direct threat to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience. They serve no useful purpose in a democratic society. But such laws greatly appeal to secularists and statists who seek to stifle the proclamation of the Christian gospel.

Muslims are also quite keen on these laws, and usually have been among the main groups behind them. (Jewish groups sometimes are also pushing for such laws, but if anyone has a reason to do so, it would be the Jews who certainly have been vilified over the years. They should realise however that the greatest allies of the Jews are not Muslims, but Christians. Evangelical Christians for example have been the greatest supporters of Israel. But that is the stuff of another article.)

Here in Victoria such laws were introduced in 2001. I twice publically debated the author of this lousy law before it was passed. On both occasions she assured us there would not be a flood of cases after the law goes through. To which I replied, ‘If there is not going to be much need of the law, then why introduce it in the first place?’

But numerous vexatious cases did occur, the most infamous of which was the ‘Two Dannys’ case. These Christian pastors were accused of vilifying Muslims, and a five-year legal battle ensued. After spending over a half million dollars in defence fees, the initial guilty charge was thrown out in an appeals case.

It was an incredibly bad case which I and others have written up elsewhere. The only good thing to come out of this Victorian law was what a good example it served of why such laws should not be passed. Indeed, one of the Dannys later went over to the UK when they were debating similar legislation, and he managed to help persuade at least the House of Lords what an idiotic law this was. It sadly passed nonetheless, but in amended form.

In his important new book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Christopher Caldwell remarks on the British law. He notes that all the law did was give legal protections to Muslims against criticism. Exactly, that is just what the Victorian law did.

Such laws have nothing to do with unity and getting along, but everything to do with making Islam the only religion to be above any criticism. Says Caldwell of the 2006 UK law, “No other faith in modern times has ever demanded anything remotely similar of the British government. The real goal of the law was to protect Islam’s tenets from public criticism. The law’s proponents … often admitted as much.”

To those who say Jews and Sikhs were already protected by anti-racism laws, Caldwell replies: “This is a dangerous analogy. Protecting people from criticism of features they cannot control – skin color, sex, ethnicity – is different than protecting them from criticism of their beliefs. And the law against incitement to religious hatred was unprecedented in its scope.” The law in effect was nothing other than a “postmodern blasphemy law”.

Anyway, that is now history. How has the UK law – and other similar types of legislation there – been travelling? They have been disastrous, as expected. Let me simply mention the most recent case, which was reported on in the English press just today. Here is how the story opens:

“A Christian couple have been charged with a criminal offence after taking part in what they regarded as a reasonable discussion about religion with guests at their hotel. Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were arrested after a Muslim woman complained to police that she had been offended by their comments. They have been charged under public order laws with using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’ that were ‘religiously aggravated’. The couple, whose trial has been set for December, face a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record if they are convicted.”

This is another blatant example of those who would seek to contend for the Christian faith coming under attack from Muslims – with Government help. Islam has become a politically protected religion in the UK and other parts of the West, while it has become open season on those who seek to stand up for their Christian beliefs.

Indeed, there is more than just bad law at work here. The whole mindset of the West has been poisoned to seek protections for Islam, while nullifying the Christian gospel and its proclamation. As Caldwell argues, there is “already a de facto blasphemy law benefitting Muslims”.

He explains, “It arises from the proven willingness of religious fanatics – whether in Western societies or in the governments of Muslim countries – to commit violence against anyone, even private citizens in the West, who address Islam in a way they do not approve of.”

He cites a string of such examples, from the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie to the standing death threats issued against Dutch politician Geert Wilders. “There is clearly a kind of standing fatwa against Islam’s harshest and most pointed critics. It is sufficient to render discussion of Islam, as a personal matter, less than free at every level of society.”

The latest act of anti-Christian bigotry in the UK is simply the logical outcome of laws being passed which seek, in effect, to make Islam the world’s first politically protected religion. And the number one faith to suffer as a result is of course biblical Christianity. Those who take their faith seriously, and seek to proclaim and defend it publically are the real losers under such laws, just as Muslims are the main beneficiaries.

If nothing else, it is hoped that the horrific cases that have occurred in Victoria and the UK because of such laws will act as a deterrent elsewhere. The only good they can serve is to stand as a glaring bad example, reminding us of legislation which should be avoided like the plague.

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20 Replies to “The Poison of Religious Vilification Laws”

  1. Dear Bill,

    This comment is to simply say thank you.

    I am an avid reader of your blog and note that you have an uncanny ability to see straight to the heart of the matter and then convey this in a brilliant way.

    Be encouraged and keep up the good work, we appreciate you, more than you would realise.

    Stew Wear, UK

  2. Many thanks indeed Stew for your very kind words. They are very much appreciated. They will help me to keep on keeping on.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. So what happened to clause 29J of the Racial and Religious Act 2006?:

    “Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.”

    The law should only criminalise “threatening” behaviour, not things which were just “abusive and insulting”. It also means people can only be prosecuted if they intend to stir up hatred – not if they are merely “reckless”.’ Any prosecution would have to be approved by the attorney general, the government’s chief law officer. Ministers say the small number of prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred (fewer than 100 in three years) demonstrate the law can be applied sensibly. So what about the following examples? What prosecutions followed from this and many other incidences of Muslims preaching hatred and threatening violence, such as the threat given by Lord Ahmed who threatened to bring 10,000 Muslims to the House of Lords of Gert Wilders came to the House to show the film Fitna?

    So fundamental and radical are the changes to our society that the government has embarked on far reaching diversity training for all – from the child in the nursery to the elderly in the nursing home. But the government’s ultimate tool for change is fear. In this, the government has been spectacularly successful; by deliberately creating a climate of doubt and anxiety that puts the public at a severe disadvantage. Having been ordered to abandon our Judeo Christian conscience against which we were able to tell pretty well whether something was proved good or bad, right or wrong, we are totally dependent on the subjectivity of a magistrate or Attorney General. Never knowing whether what we will say will land us in court, we, the public have become compliant and silent. We are not prepared to gamble on being deemed either Islamophobic or homophobic when, with the threat of seven years in prison, the stakes are so high. This policy of creating doubt, uncertainty and unknowing is either being deliberately and relentlessly pursued by this government, or it shows a government that has lost all powers of common sense and reason. Probably both.

    In the article in the Daily Mail it said, “In July they (Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang) were arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.They appeared briefly at Liverpool Magistrates Court on Friday to hear the date of their trial before magistrates, and were granted bail on the condition that they did not approach any of the witnesses expected to appear. The use by the police of the Public Order Act to arrest people over offensive comments has dismayed a number of lawyers, who say the legislation was passed to deal with law and order problems in the streets. Neil Addison, a prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law, said: ‘The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.
    ‘It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed. ‘If someone is in a discussion and they don’t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.’ He added that the police had a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech ‘and I think they are forgetting that’.”

    I would add; how many times has the Public Order Act been abused by the police to silence those whose views go against the government? Far from creating public order this will lead to smouldering resentment, a breakdown in trust within society and finally disorder.

    David Skinner, UK

  4. Would it be fair to say that western civilisation isn’t able (even doesn’t deserve) to survive because it doesn’t believe in itself?

    Communist Russia and America are equally to blame for the cold war (in many eyes)

    Islam seeks to overthrow the west yet the west does not allow discussion of Islam and why it might be.

    Is the west anti-west?

    The Christian heritage that built the west into a free and prosperous society is discarded and disparaged.

    You reap what you sow.
    Has God handed our society over to its sinful desires and given it over to a depraved mind?

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  5. Thanks Michael

    Although the author does not appear to be a Christian, he too speaks of this issue. He says the native Europeans have abandoned their faith, their beliefs, their values, their history and their sense of the future, while the arriving Muslim immigrants have a strong faith and set of beliefs. Who is going to win in that sort of situation?

    But as this website often declares, there are nonetheless some things worth fighting for, and we should never become fatalistic here, or resign ourselves to defeat. There is always hope with God. So we must keep up the good fight, even when things look bleak (see my previous article, where I deal with this).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Hi Bill,

    Great article as usual. I take Islam’s constant attempts to protect itself by the force of law like this as an admission that it can’t really defend itself intellectually. Ultimately this isn’t really surprising, if Muslims could make a solid intellectual case they’d have no need of the special protections they seek.

    But sadly in the West, it seems that lots and lots of really crappy ideas seek the power of the state to defend themselves from criticism instead of indulding in debate in the public square.

    Jason Rennie

  7. The USA was successfully founded on equal rights & freedom.

    Their citizens look likely to lose much freedom next month, & all of these laws erode equality, regardless of country.

    Leon Brooks

  8. Bill,
    Thank you again for your perceptive comments.
    To me the common thread that links all these “laws” in Western societies is that they increasingly show the inability of the traditional “Westminster” political system to respond to the real wishes of the people that they claim to represent. There is only one European nation that is fortunate enough to have granted itself a sensible poilitcal system 150 years ago: Switzerland. As a result, “laws” of the Victorian type you describe are impossible!

    The key feature of the constitution of not only the Swiss Confederation, but also of the constitutions of its member Cantons, is the entrenched recognition that, under God, only the people are sovereign.
    As a direct consequence there are these two formidable provisions for the protection of the people’s democratically expressed will. Namely:
    1] 50,000 electors can demand that “laws” approved by the National Assembly are put to a veto referendum within 6 months of that approval.
    2] 100,000 electors can propose new legislation via a referendum.
    3] Decisions made by the people stand above the Federal Tribunal, the Swiss supreme court.

    The results of all such referendums are binding upon the government and parliament. The effect on the political establishment is profound: no politician makes the error of putting forward proposals that can be predicted to attract a veto referendum!

    The “laws” that are “passed” by Westminster-style parliaments are increasingly being shown up to be contrary to the wishes of the very people that they claim to represent. That minuscule group of people who force their whims and prejudices upon the rest of us do so with impunity because the people have not yet risen up against this iniquity to grant themselves democratic constitutions. Until we all do just that the garbage being forced upon us will steadily get worse…

    Best wishes,
    Dominic Baron, New Zealand

  9. Hi Dominic,

    I agree with you that Westminster style governments tend to increasing control by a political elite whose views are not representative of the people. This I believe is largely due to the increasing institutionalisation of politics because of the dominance of political parties and the limited number of effective media voices.

    Nevertheless, I think it’s important to recognise that better democracies such as Switzerland are by no means ideal and can only be as good as the will of the majority. When the majority is non-Christian, as is the case in most of the Western World, really loopy laws can still get passed. Take the case of plants being accorded “human rights” in Switzerland recently.

    Hopefully this one will be overturned by a referendum, but who knows if most Swiss have bought into currently fashionable pantheistic environmentalist views.

    Mansel Rogerson

  10. Bill you say “But as this website often declares, there are nonetheless some things worth fighting for, and we should never become fatalistic here, or resign ourselves to defeat.”
    May I add that we should not forget that the Islamicist and evolutionary secularist, though both fanatical and militant, are indeed driven by the same closed and deterministic belief in fate and chance. These are in no way the same as the Christian living faith in God’s open system of predestination, in which the Christian, through prayer is able to alter events. This is a mystery, a paradox, but prayer is the only weapon for releasing God’s power in our world and we are obviously not using it.

    David Skinner, UK

  11. Cute, coming from the UK. Keep in mind this is the same country that lets home burglaries, car thefts and street violence proliferate.

    The law over there is becoming oppressive to the people. Real crime is left untouched whilst acts of free speech are dragged before the courts.

    Damien Spillane

  12. Have I mentioned before that, in 2006, I was locked in a Victorian Psychiatric Ward in part because he “Reads quotes from the Bible & discusses it in Mosque ?” (There were no complaints from the Muslims. Just my own statement was enough)
    David Cohan

  13. I find it ironic that those in politics who are out front on the subject of religion are usually those who have no religion themselves and if they do, they never darken the doors of any church. The other thing than angers me personally is that these agents of Satan, always try to dress up their gross display of bigotry, by a veneer of pretence that they are championing the defence of religion from vilification. They play on the fact that there is a sufficient number of complete dills in our community, who allow them to get away with it. On the other hand, these politicians and their cohorts with their defence of Muslims, prove something else about themselves. They are all cowards, miserable ones at that.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  14. The reason the West passes laws to protect Moslems from criticism and derision is that the West is afraid of them. Better not provoke them! Christianity on the other hand is fair game because it is a toothless puppy. I saw that in Amsterdam in 1982 with all those prostitutes in shop windows, almost in the centre of the city. There was a time when the Christian majority would not have put up with that bizarre spectacle. Christianity is now mere private opinion. Even a pope can be marginalised by secularised Catholics. The secular West has not had time to reduce Islam to mere opinion.
    John Snowden

  15. The drovers dog (his name must be withheld for obvious reasons), blames the Church for setting the stage for this debate by installing Rowan Williams as Arch. B. of Canterbury. Could some of the Brits that frequent this sight comment?
    Stan Fishley

  16. Re Rowan Williams, and him being weak: For what it is worth, John Spong (I know he often has views very different to CultureWatch, but on this I think he is on the money) has been deriding Rowan Williams for years for being weak and failing to give leadership when it is needed.

    Hope that snippet helps.

    David Cohan

  17. Mind you, regarding John Spong, as many would know, he is very critical of certain parts of the Bible and Biblical literalism. As far as I know, he has never said anything against Islam, even if such criticism is really needed.

    David Cohan

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