A Roman Catholic Bishop in Ireland is being investigated under ‘hate crime’ laws for delivering a homily that upset a humanist.
The Bishop’s unremarkable comments warned of “the arrows of a secular and godless culture” and that only believers “know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness”.
Humanist John Colgan complained about the remarks to the police. Now prosecutors are investigating the Bishop of Raphoe, Dr Philip Boyce, under Ireland’s ‘incitement to hatred’ laws.
Similar laws exist for England and Wales, except a robust safeguard was added to protect free speech – against the will of the then Labour government.
The homily, entitled To Trust in God, was delivered last August. The complaint centres on two key passages in the homily which Mr Colgan says broke the law.
One of the passages referred to Ireland’s Roman Catholic Church being “attacked from outside by the arrows of a secular and godless culture”.
The second said that the distinguishing mark of “believers is the fact that they have a future; it is not that they know all the details that await them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness”.
Mr Colgan said: “I believe statements of this kind are an incitement to hatred of dissidents, outsiders, secularists, within the meaning of the [Incitement to Hatred] Act, who are perfectly good citizens within the meaning of the civil law.”
But Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office, said: “Bishop Boyce’s homily ‘To Trust in God’ is available for anyone to read at catholicbishops.ie.
“I advise any person to read it and judge it for themselves. It is clearly a reasonable, balanced, honest – and indeed self-critical from a church perspective – analysis of the value of the Catholic faith.”
In 2010 a report by the British think-tank Civitas warned Christians in Britain were being unfairly targeted for hate crime prosecutions.
The report, entitled A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution in Britain Today, also warned that existing hate crime legislation posed a danger to freedom of speech.