Christians in Britain are being unfairly targeted for hate crime prosecutions, according to a new report by the Civitas think-tank.
The report, entitled A New Inquisition: Religious Persecution in Britain Today, also warns that existing hate crime legislation poses a danger to freedom of speech.
Jon Gower Davies, the report’s author, said: “Some police forces and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] seem to be interpreting statutes in favour of ethnic and religious minorities and in a spirit hostile to members of the majority population, defined as ‘White’ or ‘Christian’.”
Many of the prosecutions have been for causing “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” under the Public Order Act.
The report cites the example of Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang who were prosecuted for a hate crime, under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, last year after they engaged in a breakfast debate about Islam.
The couple, who were supported by The Christian Institute, were declared innocent last December but the ordeal has caused the couple serious financial hardship.
By contrast the report also cites the example of a Muslim man who escaped prosecution for a hate crime despite defacing a war memorial with slogans such as “Islam will dominate the world – Osama is on his way”.
The CPS ruled that the man’s actions were not “racially” or “religiously” aggravated, and he was instead charged with a lesser crime of criminal damage.
Mr Davies, former Head of Religious Studies at Newcastle University, said: “The British people might be forgiven for thinking that their basic religious-cultural inheritance, the culture under which we have grown up, is not just out of control but under some insidious attack.”
He added: “The law has been invited to insert its punitive, plodding and primitive self into areas of life from which we have long been accustomed to assume not simply its absence, but the positive existence of a freely-negotiated civic culture.
“In this culture and civil society we accept an obligation to sort things out for ourselves—as reasonable men and reasonable women.”
The report’s findings are likely to be welcomed by many Christians who have become increasingly alarmed at the increasing number of Christians encountering problems with over-zealous police officers.
Earlier this year Christian street preacher Dale Mcalpine, who was also charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, was arrested after he described homosexual conduct as a “sin” during a private conversation with two Police Community Support Officers.
The Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop the charges after reviewing the evidence.
Last October it emerged that a Christian grandmother, Pauline Howe, was investigated by police for ‘homophobic hatred’ after objecting to a ‘gay pride’ parade in her home town of Norwich.
And in 2005 Christian pensioners, Joe and Helen Roberts, were interrogated by police because they had expressed opposition to their local council spending public money on ‘gay rights’ projects.
Earlier this month Lynne Featherstone, an equalities minister, revealed that she was in favour of making hostility against transsexuals an aggravating factor in future hate crime prosecutions.
Aggravated offences, or crimes deemed to have been motivated by hostility against someone’s religion, race or sexuality, currently bear heavier penalties than other offences.
Critics of such offences say they are open to being misapplied, so that otherwise lawful behaviour is wrongly criminalised.