Leading gay rights campaigners insisted that the proposed offence would not lead to the prosecution of people expressing religious views. “It will not apply to those who temperately express religious views,” a leading campaigner said.Well, that's reassuring, isn't it? An anonymous gay-rights advocate's assurances? Even Molotov got better assurances from Ribbentrop than that. And even that was tempered by the word "temperately."
I was quite surprised to see in Mark Shea's comboxes, a "don't worry about it too much" comment from my friend Ron Belgau.
I agree with your worries about excess state power being turned against Christians. I also am not naive enough to think that "inciting hatred" will always be interpreted rationally by judges.Ron has two points:
However, this law does not criminalize saying homosexual acts are sinful. It criminalizes inciting hatred on the basis of sexual orientation, which is not quite the same thing.
In societies that respect the freedom of religion, I can write a book that explains my convictions or critiques others' convictions. I can't try to whip up a mob to go burn down the local synaogue or lynch the Mormon bishop.
As I read it, this rule is the equivalent of telling me not to incite others to burn the synagogue or lynch the Mormon bishop, not a restraint on theological debate. We shall have to see how it is applied, of course. But the problem, if any, is not in this law.
If this law gets interpreted to prosecute my writings, for example, then we are dealing with a corrupt judiciary, and a corrupt judiciary can find an excuse to prosecute whether they have this law or not.
(1) The law doesn't criminalize Church teaching;
(2) If the law will be stretched to cover that, the judiciary or executive is so corrupt that they don't need this law.
Obviously (1) is literally true as stated, but I just think Ron is being impossibly sanguine given the context. There *already is* (as I noted above) precedent for the British state (i.e., not some rogue judge) to refuse religious freedom in the name of gay liberation. There *already is* precedent from other countries of ministers being prosecuted or brought before tribunals under similar laws for preaching as the Church does on this topic.
And, as Ron surely knows, many if not most practicing homosexuals, and an increasing number of sympathetic liberals and leftists think the Church stance is, by definition, inciting hatred. I honestly don't believe that the homosexualists think it is possible to oppose their cause temperately. Some have even gone so far as to say a devout Catholic woman stabbed to death by a gay man brought it on herself, and the lawyer made the claim in open court that "it happened because she wouldn't leave him alone." I know I have been accused frequently of inciting hate, and I would be *stunned* if Ron has not. To cite one of numerous personal experiences, in one private forum, not devoted to politics or religion, I used the phrase "I believe it to be wrong." This was compared (and seconded thus) to the medieval blood libel with the specific qualifier "no matter how delicately said."
Which bring us to (2) ... and here again, I think Ron is thinking too rationally. Of course, it is the case that a thoroughly corrupted institution doesn't need legal niceties. But there's corrupt and there's corrupt. Ron's point would be correct if we were fearing literal "Gay Blackshorts." But the post-Christian West is not vulnerable to hard totalitarianism of the Hitler-Stalin kind, or to the "l'etat c'est moi" (or "la loi c'est moi") principle of arbitrary rule by an all-wise Ruler (think Kim Jong-il for a modern example). In those cases, yes, what the law says on paper is of little consequence.
But that's not what's happening. Instead, Christians in the post-Christian West face a kind of soft-tyranny -- marginalization under the law, underscored by and justified by cultural contempt. What these laws do, what they're designed to do, is give lawyers "words to work with," i.e., provide a legal basis for acting on conclusions already drawn morally (in this case "to silence the hatred coming from the christofascist godbaggers that is killing us oppressed LGBTs"). Yes, it can only be for what people may want to do in the darkest recesses of their hearts anyway. But soft-tyranny is still soft, and jurists and the legal class are not willing to act without the backing of the law. After all, "we're a society of laws," right? But if the law provides a legal basis, words to work with, to lock up those who incite hate, and in that society, Christianity is commonly constructed as "hatred" ... well, the conclusion hardly needs stating.
Further, these laws incentivize accusations of hatred, by rewarding them in the currency of silencing one's opponents. Economics teaches us that everything a society rewards, it will get more of. And as night follows day, rewarding accusations of "inciting hatred" (especially if there's no cost for unvindicated complaints, as there won't be) will result in a lot more complaints of "inciting hatred."
The British gay group Stonewall (see point 10 here) already has stated that Christians protesting gay-rights laws are "inciting hatred" and it called on those grounds for denying a permit to march on Parliament. The Stonewall Web site defines a "homophobic incident" as "any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person." This is rather broad and open to easy abuse, no? Not to mention completely incompatible with the classic mens rea standard for intent-to-commit-a-crime. But it's what these people say when they're free to speak among themselves. This will become a self-reinforcing loop with, in principle, no end point, because people (homosexuals and their advocates in this case, though the point is generalizable) will become thinner- and thinner-skinned as disapproval in any form becomes a rarer and rarer experience, like groups that had no exposure to viruses or pathogens have no immunity to them and become sicker quicker. The principle of passive immunity applies to more than the body.