In Norfolk, England, one afternoon recently, a constable of the Norfolk Police (“Dedicated to this neighbourhood”, according to their website) called at the home of the Reverend Dr Alan Clifford, pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, a conservative evangelical Christian Church.
He informed the Dr Clifford that there had been a complaint. Not, in this case, about the troubling number of burglaries, rising car thefts and incidences of property vandalism in Norfolk. The complaint was about the fact that the Dr Clifford had sent two e-mails several weeks previously opposed to homosexuality. These were gospel tracts, entitled Christ Can Cure — Good News for Gays and Jesus Christ — the Saviour We All Need. Among those to whom he had sent the e-mail had been people connected with “gay pride”.
People who objected to these might have, instantly and without expenditure of time or trouble, rid themselves of them by hitting the “delete” button. Someone, however, made a complaint to the police about homophobic hatred.
The officer offered the Dr Clifford two choices: He could pay him a UK£90 pounds (about AUD$180) fine then and there. Or he could contest the allegation, and provide a signed statement in his defence, after which it would be for a senior police officer to decide whether or not to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Should the matter go to court and the accused cleric found guilty, the penalty would probably be higher — possibly even a prison sentence — and the costs certainly would be: he would have to pay the Crown’s legal costs as well as his own.
It is not clear upon what basis the police have judged the tracts to be “homophobic”. But it was made clear the Dr Clifford may have committed a homophobic crime, having communicated by electronic means something likely to annoy or cause offence.
Academic and columnist Adrian Hilton, who knows Dr Clifford, has described him as being a zealous Christian but entirely without “hate”. There is apparently no word of “hate” in the tracts, though one of them does state that the wages of sin is death — a completely conventional Christian message. There in nothing in the tracts that is not in the Bible, or, for that matter, the Koran.
Dr Clifford made a written statement. He says he was not allowed to make a copy of this, so the precise details of his interrogation may not be exactly as recounted. He was asked why he had sent the e-mail in the first place — whether it was purposely to annoy or cause offence to the recipient(s).
He responded: “No. I was reporting to the gay-pride people our Christian complaint against the public display of their homosexual propaganda, which we find offensive.”
He was then asked if he knew he had committed a homophobic offence as defined by the official police leaflet which the officer then presented to him. This defined such an offence as “any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person”.
Dr Clifford, a doctor of theology, explained that the meaning of the word “homophobia” stems from the Greek phobia, meaning “fear”, and does not embrace hatred. He said: “I certainly fear the influence of homosexuality on society, but this should not be regarded as ‘hatred’ unless criticism is taken to mean ‘hatred’.” He might also have explained the doctrine of Mens rea — guilty mind, according to which it is necessary for one to know one is committing a crime before being found guilty.
Adrian Hilton commented “Have we really reached the stage where one may be prosecuted for sending a Papal pastoral letter to Stonewall? If Good News for Gays is prohibited by law, then Good News for Muslims and Good News for Jews must likewise be banned. In fact, Good News for any protected characteristic may be deemed to constitute ‘hate’, so we might as well abandon the pulpits and close all the churches. The gospel may now only be preached safely to white, able-bodied heterosexuals, and you’d better hope that ‘any other person’ doesn’t happen accidentally to overhear.
“The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 contains the offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Anyone using threatening words or behaviour, or anyone displaying, publishing or distributing any written material which is threatening, is liable for prosecution.” (The Spectator (UK) blogs, August 29, 2013).
On-the-spot fines might be justifiable for offences such as littering, where the elements of the offence are obvious and beyond dispute, though there are two opinions about that. On-the-spot fines for an expression of opinion are an outrage against free speech (there are already of course laws against sedition or incitement). Moreover, they are an open invitation to corruption and extortion by bent police.
Further, expecting police to know when “hate speech”, as distinct from other kinds of critical comment, has occurred demands that police officers be literary or political critics. It amalgamates the functions of judge, jury and executioner.
It is restoring in an even more arbitrary and capricious form the state-censorship powers which the Left and the liberal tradition for generations regarded as a dragon to be slain.
All over Britain a stream of prosecutions and civil lawsuits have tended to criminalise even the most peaceful expressions of opposition to homosexuality. It is notable that equivalent, or worse, “hate-speech”, real hate speech — can be made against Jews and Israel largely with impunity, or against Christianity (though Muslims, who regard Christ as a prophet, may disagree about the latter). Naturally, people who are offended by homosexuality also have no redress.
Why is Tory Prime Minister David Cameron not intervening in this outrageous, and highly selective, use of police-state powers to assault free speech in the name of political correctness — if necessary by amending the legislation?
Silly question! Cameron is as much a creature of political correctness as his dreadful Labour predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He has condoned all manner of nanny-state bullying.
He has announced that countries that do not recognise homosexual marriage will receive no more foreign aid from Britain (Practices such as female circumcision are apparently okay).
Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer. (The above article is slightly longer than the original edited version that appeared in the printed edition of News Weekly).
Adrian Hilton, “Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS”, The Spectator (UK), August 29, 2013.