Christian group may seek ban on Qur'an
Stephen Bates and Julian Glover
Wednesday October 12, 2005
A Protestant evangelical pressure group has warned that it will try to use the government's racial and religious hatred law to prosecute bookshops selling the Qur'an for inciting religious hatred.
Christian Voice, a fringe fundamentalist group which first came to public prominence this year when it campaigned against the BBC's broadcasting of Jerry Springer The Opera, was among the evangelical organisations taking part in a 1,000-strong demonstration against the bill outside parliament yesterday as the House of Lords held a second reading debate on the measure.
Its director, Stephen Green, said the organisation would consider taking out prosecutions against shops selling the Islamic holy book. He told the Guardian: "If the Qur'an is not hate speech, I don't know what is. We will report staff who sell it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that unbelievers must be killed."
The sectarian organisation's tactics have regularly appalled other Christian groups. Its website proclaims its right to protect its own freedom of speech in attacking other religious groups: MPs "have no right to try to stifle our freedom to preach the gospel. It is not just Islam which is the problem. If a preacher is explaining the horrors of Hinduism ... a charge of stirring up religious hatred would be almost inevitable. Preaching against sin in general, or adultery or homosexuality in particular, may also land a preacher in court."
The bill has seen a wide range of Christian groups making common cause with secularists. Yesterday the Catholic church, while welcoming the measure in principle, expressed doubts about the drafting of the legislation, as have Church of England bishops. A Church of England spokesman said: "We regard the test of stirring up hatred to be a strong one which would be unlikely to penalise preachers or comedians going about their normal business. However, we wish to be reassured that the formulation of the offence will distinguish clearly between words and actions which incite hatred and expressions of opinion which are merely controversial or offensive."
During yesterday's Lords debate the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said that it "threatens civil liberties".
"I am troubled by the bill before us and feel that rather than strengthening the social fabric of our society it would weaken it. It has the potential to drive a wedge between the Muslim community and the rest of us," he said.
He was joined in opposing the measure by the Bishop of Winchester and the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, who questioned its failure to define religious belief.
But the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, told the upper house that "the bill will not have the impact on freedom of speech which opponents say it will. Incitement to religious hatred represents a gap in the criminal law and it is right that it be filled." Most of the Christian running against the bill has been made by evangelical groups.