Archive for the ‘Society’ Category
The government yesterday backed a Lords amendment to remove the word ‘insulting’ from Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
Section 5(1) of the Act reads as follows:
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he —
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
However, the law as it stands has been open to abuse and led to a number of arrests that have been widely condemned.
Amongst the most well-known case was that of a 21-year old student who spent a night in a cell during 2005 after calling a police horse “gay”.
Another example involved a teenager being arrested in 2008 after describing Scientology as a “cult”, while Jamie Murray, who runs a Christian cafe in Blackpool, was threatened with arrest if he didn’t remove bible scriptures that a customer had complained about, saying that some verses were insulting.
Examples such as the above, as well as many more that have been reported in the media over the last few years, not only reveal the way in which a minority of police officers deal with such petty complaints, but also just how thin-skinned so many people across the country have become.
Quite how the nation reached a stage where complainants feel the need to involve the police in such trivial matters is a mystery.
Imagine if everybody took the law so literally. Imagine if calling someone else’s favourite football team “rubbish” was to lead someone to feel so insulted that they needed to contact the police. Imagine if the police took a complaint such as that seriously.
Thankfully there looks to be an end to any legal option for the easily offended, or who make petty complaints for simply having disagreed with a person who has a different opinion.
In December, the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment which would remove the word ‘insulting’ from both clause (a) and clause (b).
During a second reading of the Bill in the Commons yesterday the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that there was no reason for the Government to challenge the verdict in Lords vote.
More serious offences involving verbal abuse or threatening behaviour will continue to be covered by the new wording, ensuring that the removal of the word “insulting” cannot lead to a law that allows for much more serious offences to be carried out.
It’s taken years of campaigning to achieve, but the upcoming change in the law represents another victory for common sense.
Regardless of how anti-religion you may be, you have to admit that it does have some advantages.
Christmas, for example. A few days off work for many people across the country to enjoy the company of family and friends you seldom see; to indulge in a festive food and drink feast; to make the most of a rare opportunity to learn the names of neighbours you never speak to as you receive their annual card through the letterbox.
However opposed you may be to religion, without it, there would be no Christmas and we’d probably have to make do with a solitary day off during the New Year’s Day bank holiday.
But while there might not be much wrong with simply taking advantage of an opportunity to hand out gifts and have a good party or two, is it not a bit strange that so many anti-religious folks up and down the country would even want to join in with a time of year that has long been associated with a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? Especially when bearing in mind that those very people don’t believe in Jesus in the first place?
Christians are often referred to by their most ardent opponents as being people who believe in an imaginary being.
If that’s the case, then it’s a rather weird situation to find so many countries around the world joining in to celebrate the birth of an imaginary being.
And if you believe in the existence of Jesus, but not that he was the Son of God, then have you ever stopped to consider just why his birth was unique enough to warrant a worldwide celebration?
Surely there can’t be just one man in the history of the world who deserves to be singled out and celebrated?
What about Gandhi? Or Mother Teresa? I’d bet that the overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t know the date that either of those inspirational figures were born, nor even the year.
Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son, who came to earth to show us how to live. Non-believers often try to disprove the existence of God, and much of society believes that the answers to life can be found elsewhere – and that we’ve “moved on” from needing God.
Just where we’ve moved on to exactly, and whether it’s for better or for worse is open to debate. Yes, there have been developments over history that have had a positive impact on humanity. The abolition of slavery, for example.
But what about the rapidly increasing culture of individualism and human rights? Not so much in the sense of genuine fairness, but rather in the sense that a person may demand the right both to free speech, and also the right not to be offended – two contradictory views which are demanded by the same person, and at the same time. It’s about them, and them only.
And what of materialism and the pursuit of wealth, which is often considered the ultimate goal for the majority. Life is about achieving a good job with an ever-increasing income, followed by a long prosperous retirement with a nice fat pension. That’s the dream; that’s what is to be aspired to, right?
These are two of the more selfish characteristics of modern Britain, but are values which youngsters are being raised to adopt in a more and more competitive society.
During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving others, and putting them first. It’s a completely contradictory set of values to those we’re given by our modern society.
Maybe that’s the kind of thing which convinced enough people that he was special enough that his birth be universally celebrated, and for time itself to be marked by his birth.
CS Lewis, an atheist who tried to disprove Christianity and ultimately found too much evidence in support of it actually being true, claimed that Jesus could only have been one of the following three things:
1. a liar who made a claim that he was the Son of God – when he knew full well that he was not
2. a lunatic, who genuinely believed that he was the Son of God, when he actually was not
3. the Son of God, ie he was exactly who he said he was.
A fourth option, some might add, is that he didn’t exist in the first place. History clearly proves that theory wrong. That leaves one of the other options as the only ones that can have any credibility.
So, as you sit down to eat your turkey this Christmas, ask yourself this question: Will you be celebrating the birth of a random historical figure who was either a mad man or a liar? Or will you be celebrating the birth of the most inspirational man in history, a man who was the Son of God?
Personally, I don’t join in with the celebrations of key moments in the Islamic or Hindi calendars, and nor do I hold parties to celebrate the birth of invisible men who didn’t exist. I’d consider myself to be a rather strange individual if I did.
In an increasingly competitive world, Christian values are becoming less and less fashionable in modern society. But to me and to countless millions of other people around the world, Christianity and its values still make sense.
And certainly more sense than joining other non-believers around the country in celebrating the birth of a historical person who we don’t even believe in.
It’s no wonder that so many people get fed up with religion.
Headline news detailing division within denominations is hardly the sort of thing which would attract non-believers to attend church. Instead, all that such public rows will achieve is cause people outside of the church to become even more turned off than ever – and no one should be surprised.
The arguments over church structure, and ongoing political disagreements within the Church of England are doing nothing to represent what Christianity should be about, and that’s the sad result of some of the stories in the news this week.
For anyone who is either unfamiliar with the Christian faith or against it altogether, it would be easy to look at the kind of arguments taking place amongst senior figures in the Church of England and use it as a reference to what Christianity is.
Far more useful would be to completely ignore the sort of issues that have gained publicity over recent days – such as the debate over women bishops – and explore what being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is really about. (A book like CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity is as good as any if you are someone who truly wishes to understand the faith)
One story that hasn’t had quite so much coverage is that of an interview involving Fabrice Muamba, broadcast on Premier Radio on Monday.
Many people will be aware that Muamba was the Premier League footballer who collapsed during a match last season, and whose heart stopped for 78 minutes.
During the interview, Muamba spoke of his faith generally, and a miracle recovery which he believes God to have had a hand in. He spoke of his intentions to carry out the plans that he believes God has for his life – to testify what God has done in his own life, and to share the gospel and tell others of how God can work in their lives too.
It’d be nice if that was a message which was more often communicated by the church, rather than bitter arguments over the particular structure of the church that each of its members want in place.
There are plenty of other people out there like Fabrice Muamba, each of whom have their own testimonies.
It’s important that testimonies like that of Muamba and others are heard far more loudly than the unhelpful church squabbles that continue to gain more coverage than they deserve, and which provide a thoroughly inaccurate and unhelpful view of what the Christian faith is all about.
It was pleasing to see common sense prevail with the high court verdict in the case of Adrian Smith, who was demoted by his employer for expressing views on gay marriage.
In voicing his concerns over the government’s plans to introduce gay marriage, Smith wrote on his Facebook page in 2010: “The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women.”
He added: “If the state wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
Despite publishing the Facebook comments in his own time, and visible only to his friends, his employer found him to be in breach of their Code of Conduct for employees, and subsequently removed him from his management position in the company while also cutting Mr Smith’s pay by 40%.
But today, Trafford Housing Trust were found to be in breach of contract, with the judge stating that Adrian Smith had done nothing wrong.
Speaking on Sky News, a media spokesman for the gay rights organisation Stonewall – who recently came under fire for handing out a ‘Bigot of the Year’ award to an opponent of gay marriage – agreed that Trafford Housing had acted in a “very heavy-handed way”, and had treated Adrian inappropriately.
The case again raises concerns over the way in which people on each side of debates such as gay marriage are too easily labelled for having a differing opinion, and again highlights a Britain which is becoming less and less tolerant – despite an increase in organisations claiming to be interested in equality.
In this instance, it would be common to hear the phrase ‘bigot’ thrown around.
Yet by definition, the only parties who could be considered to be bigoted in the case of Adrian would be the person responsible for reporting the comments, and the company itself – both of whom were so unwilling to hear a different viewpoint that they felt it necessary to launch disciplinary action.
On sensitive matters such as gay marriage, there has to be room for people to express views in a way that reflects their own beliefs. Believing something that may go against a majority does not automatically equate to causing offence – it’s merely an alternative voice in a bigger debate.
Thankfully, the verdict delivered by Mr Justice Briggs allows for such debate to continue – for the time being, at least.
Having missed out on a Euro 2012 place after struggling with injuries over the final months of the season, England striker Darren Bent recently expressed how his faith in God helps him to cope much more easily with such disappointments.
Bent is not the only footballer to believe in God, but his comments further highlight that no matter what one’s personal situation may be, there is still a need for God.
It never ceases to surprise me how many people can completely reject the possibility of Christianity being true when there is co much diversity amongst its believers.
Whatever criteria is used, there are people who believe in the God of the bible. Whether rich or poor, well educated or uneducated, scientific or non-scientific, the world’s Christian population consists of men, women and children of all ages and all nationalities, whether living in the developed world or the developing world – even if Christianity is in direct conflict with the state religion of the nation in which they live.
Christianity never goes away, and it never becomes a faith which is shared only by one very specific group of people, or for one particular nation or period in history.
On its own, none of the above is enough to prove conclusively that Christianity is true, of course. But if nothing else, surely it should be enough to prompt non-believers to raise questions of why so many people of differing backgrounds and upbringings end up with the a faith in the same God.
In an increasingly secular nation it may not be fashionable to believe in God, and it’s certainly an easier option to go along with what the rest of society has deemed to be true.
However, one of the biggest problems in taking that approach is that many of the people you can end up being influenced by have probably never genuinely questioned anything, either.
It’s much easier to take on board a popular view without thinking, but to borrow one of Obi Wan Kenobi’s sayings in Star Wars: Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?
Many millions of people over the world have, independently of each other, asked their own questions which have ultimately resulted in a genuine faith in God.
If you’re reading this and are curious about why that is, maybe it’s time to start asking some questions of your own.
The government is a quarter of the way through a 12 week consultation on its plans to extend marriage to gay partners in the UK.
As with many other of the current government’s policies to date, public support appears to be in the minority and nowhere is this highlighted better than in the number of people who have signed opposing petitions on the issue.
Since launching on February 20, the Coalition for Marriage petition, which is campaigning for the definition of marriage to remain unchanged, has attracted over 384,000 signatures. In contrast, at the time of writing just 38,353 signatures have been added to a counter petition, Coalition for Equal Marriage, which was created only two days later on February 22.
Based on those figures, those in favour of a change to the law defining marriage are outnumbered by more than ten to one.
The argument for change centres around equality, but civil partnerships were created exactly for that reason.
The Oxford Dictionary defines marriage as “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife“.
There can’t therefore be discrimination in reserving marriage for one man and one woman when that is the very definition of what marriage means. Marriage is male complementing female and becoming one. Any other definition simply doesn’t equate to marriage.
If couples who have entered into a civil partnership believe that they are lacking certain rights or privileges which are afforded to married couples, and believe that the rights of a civil partnership should closely mirror those of a marriage, then that’s the debate to be having.
To feel a need to fight for the redefinition of marriage is another thing entirely – and not only unnecessary, but it’s also unwanted by a large number of people.
The government’s controversial Health and Social Care bill has passed all of the political obstacles in its way, and is set to become law within the next month.
The whole process which has been involved in getting the bill through has given much insight into the level of power held by our politicians – power to ultimately do whatever they please.
Amongst the professional bodies that represent the frontline medical professionals working in the NHS, virtually all were against the bill.
Organisations that demanded that the bill be completely withdrawn included the British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, UK Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Radiologists and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
Others raised major concerns and concluded that they couldn’t support the bill in its current form, whilst members of the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Institute of Healthcare Management and Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists all voted for the bill to be withdrawn.
To discuss implementation of the Bill, David Cameron held a Downing Street summit last month. All of the carefully selected guests – representing a number of professional bodies within the health service – were known to have expressed some degree of support for the Bill, or had shown willingness to work with the government.
However, of the seven known bodies who were at the summit, three later called for a total withdrawal of the bill, with the others all expressing major concerns.
It’s fair to say that although there are individuals who support the bill, the many professional bodies representing every health worker in the country are strongly opposed to the reforms.
Having already been pressured into making at least one high-profile U-turn on policy, the government was never going to back down on its plans for the health service – even in the face of almost total opposition from those who, quite frankly, know far more about the running of the NHS than politicians.
Such a massive reorganisation of the health service was also contrary to the pre-election mandate of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and that’s one reason why the Bill needed to be pushed through so quickly, giving the government as much time as possible to implement the changes before the next general election.
Ahead of the final vote on the bill, the coalition government faced fresh calls to publish a transitional risk register, a document detailing the known risks involved in restructuring. In defiance of the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal – both of whom had ordered the risk register to be published – the government refused. In any case, the government hold the power to veto such a court ruling.
And that should no longer surprise any of us. Because once elected, politicians can do just as they please.
Last night I watched episode 2 of The Tube, the BBC series which goes behind the scenes of the London Underground.
The episode documented the work of ticket inspectors on the network, and focused on the number of journeys which are said to be made without a valid ticket.
The estimate is that 60,000 journeys per day are not paid for, costing Transport for London (TfL) a total of £20million in lost revenue each year.
And just to make any fare-dodgers feel that little bit more guilty, the quotes were carefully worded to emphasize that the lost revenue was “costing Londoners” and therefore depriving them of additional funds which could otherwise be invested into making network improvements.
But wait, there’s another side to the story! Before offering too much sympathy for Transport for London, consider the fact that over the course of a year, there are hundreds of thousands of paying customers every month whose journey is affected either by long delays or cancellations.
The TfL charter entitles customers to apply for a refund if their journey is subjected to delays of 15 minutes or more but a recent report revealed that 96.35% of passengers entitled to a refund fail to make a claim. As a result, more than £20million worth of refunds are not paid out by TfL.
So it’s not only the fare-dodgers costing Londoners millions of pounds each year, but Transport for London, too.
The government’s current system of e-petitions has been the subject of a number of high profile campaigns since its introduction in 2010.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, it is quite straightforward.
A member of the public can create a topic on which they wish to petition the government. It can relate to almost any matter, and is directed to the relevant government office. Once a petition is set up, other members of the public can add their support.
On reaching 100,000 signatures, a petition is passed to the government’s Backbench Business Committee, who will then determine whether the issue should be referred to Parliament for debate.
It is the last part of that process which many people fail to understand, and instead believe that reaching the threshold for consideration is itself a guarantee that a debate will take place.
Writing in the Guardian this morning, Dr Kailash Chand, chairman of Tameside and Glossop NHS and the man who created an e-petition calling on the government to drop its Health and Social Care bill, criticised the government for not debating the petition in the Commons having seen it attract over 165,000 signatures.
The problem is that Chand, like others before him, has failed to understand that there is no absolute guarantee that a petition will be debated – and nor should there be. Any such move would undoubtedly open the floodgates to an avalanche of petitions on subjects that should never reach Parliament in the first place, and would give the nation’s public the kind of power which it is simply not intended to hold.
Chand is entirely right to continue fighting for the government to scrap its reform of the NHS. An overwhelming majority of professional bodies have positioned themselves in complete opposition to the plans, also calling for them to be dropped. Even within the coalition government itself there are MPs who are opposed to the Bill, or at the very least are campaigning for significant amendments to be made.
It’s hardly surprising then to see a large number of the public joining critics elsewhere in petitioning the government to abort the controversial Bill, though in light of an arrogant stance taken by David Cameron and Andrew Lansley to ignore the advice of medical professionals who overwhelmingly oppose the Bill, it’s unlikely that the government would be any more willing to back down based on a public petition – particularly when the 165,000 names represent only 0.4% of the electorate.
There have been benefits of the e-petition system, most notably in the case of a request for the government to issue a full disclosure of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster.
But the sooner that the system is properly understood, and that people realise it isn’t a tool guaranteeing that they can spark a Parliamentary debate, the better.
Preliminary findings of a government report into the freedoms of Christians in the UK were released this morning.
The inquiry, overseen by Christians in Parliament was undertaken in response to the difficulties Christians in the UK face in being able to live out their faith, and also because of a series of high-profile cases which have seen Christians subjected to police action due to objections from those who simply don’t share the same beliefs.
The government and the police both come under attack in the findings due to their lack of understanding in dealing with issues of a religious nature, particularly where complaints of being insulted are used against Christians simply due to a disagreement in beliefs.
Whilst Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act still gives police powers to act if someone feels insulted, the report suggests that the bar has been set too low over when this clause is used. As mentioned in a blog post on religious tolerance earlier this month, a government review is currently in progress over the wording of Section 5, due to a series of cases where it has been wrongly used to prosecute.
Labour’s 2010 Equalities Act also comes under fire in the report for failing “to deal with the tensions between different strands of equality policy”, while the courts have been accused of creating a “hierarchy of rights” in their decisions of some cases.
Amongst a number of recommendations was the restructuring of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to better represent religious beliefs.
Opponents of Christianity may not agree with aspects of the report, entitled ‘Clearing the Ground’, though if it is a step towards ensuring that Christians are as free to voice their beliefs as other groups, then it is to be welcomed.