It seems, on the surface at least, an obvious decision for any moderate, modern thinker, to convict the three Derby men accused of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Specifically, for those whom the story passed unnoticed, they distributed literature outside a mosque and through letterboxes calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. The leaflet in question – other, equally offensive ones, were previously used by the men, although charges were not applied to them in this case – displayed a picture of a hanging mannequin accompanied by the legend ‘Death Penalty?’ The leaflet quoted Islamic texts and called for the death penalty as a remedy for society’s homosexuality problem.
The men admitted creating and distributing the leaflet, but based their defence on their right to freely express what their religion taught them. In spite of testimony to the contrary from homosexual men who received the sheet, the accused claimed they intended to inform, but not threaten.
The three men were found guilty on 20th January 2012 and will be sentenced on 10th February. What is interesting and unique about the ruling is that it is the first of its kind since new laws came into force in 2010. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 made it an offence to use words, actions or to publish, display or distribute written material; to publicly perform a play, distribute, show or play a recording, broadcast a programme or to possess material that would be considered inflammatory. In regards of hatred based on religious belief or sexual orientation, the material would also have to be proved to be a incitement to hatred and threatening in its intent.
In British law, rights of freedom of sexuality, religion, speech, and the expression of such and protection from persecution based on the above, are very rightly enshrined. But where, such as in this case, they clash, it’s like opening your cupboards to find all they contain are cans of worms.
It is not a crime to hate someone based upon their sexuality, religion, race, gender, age, disability or social position. ‘Thoughtcrimes‘ may befit the world of Winston Smith, but no progressive society would ever prescribe such dystopian control. You can also express those thoughts, if you’re so inclined, in private or public, but with the possible consequence of judgement by and ostracism from polite society.
Celebrity gaffes, like those recent ones by Jeremy Clarkson or Diane Abbott, on television or Twitter, are quickly seized upon by the public who express their collective, and often over-inflated, outrage. The celebrities then suffer a usually temporary but sometimes fatal loss of public favour.
When a member of the public causes offence, outrage often follows, but only locally and in a much reduced way. The man-in-the-pub, armchair pundit, who thinks sending everyone back to where they came from is the cure for society’s ills, is usually written off as a casual racist or, depending on the extremity of his views, a nut. We may not like or agree with what he’s saying, but we can’t do anything about it. It’s as much his right to think and say what he likes as it is yours to disagree.
The change in law was an amendment, to be applied where the intent could be proved to go beyond the mere expression of opinion. In this case, the men’s efforts amount to a campaign against homosexuals in the area – little more than a gay witch-hunt. Their previous leaflets – brought to the court as supporting evidence – were entitled ‘G.A.Y.’ (God Abhors You) and ‘Turn or Burn,’ and homosexual men were targeted both in the street and at home.
If they practised what they preached, the men would have formed a lynch mob and acted upon their own proposal. There’s a huge gap between saying something should be done and actually doing it, and I’ve never been one to apply argumentum ad consequentiam to my reasoning, but I don’t believe it’s as far fetched as it sounds. There is a trend toward increasing, and unregulated, use of Sharia law in the settlement of disputes. The judgements are not legally binding, and are given in the spirit of advice based on Islamic law, but it is usually expected that those in receipt act upon them. According to the men, they were only reiterating the position of Islam on the practice of homosexuality. Where Islamic law differs so fundamentally from British law, they are completely irreconcilable, and it worries me that an impressionable recipient of such teaching might take it upon themselves to act in a manner they believe to be correct.
This law, and, by extension, the conviction of these men, is designed to protect those of a certain race, religion, sexual orientation etc. from threatening intentions, words and actions. It does not exist to restrict the thoughts and expression of opinion of an individual. It is an important distinction to make and, hopefully, an indication that no one need hide what they are or what they believe, and the law is finally on their side.