Norwich City Council bans Norwich Reformed Church for preaching ‘hate’
Dr Alan Clifford has been renting the Eaton Park Community Centre, a council-run building in Norwich, for his church’s services of worship for nigh on 20 years. There has never been a problem. His church has also held a weekly outreach bookstall for the past four years on the council-owned Hay Hill site. There has never been a problem.
Following a single complaint (yes, just one; that’s all it takes) that the church’s pastor, Dr Clifford, is producing ‘hate-motivated’ literature against Islam, the Norwich Reformed Church has been banned from both the Community Centre and Hay Hill. Norfolk Police have confirmed that no crime has been committed, but the Council has banned the church regardless for ‘equality’ reasons.
Now, some may take issue with Dr Clifford’s rather robust message. His Grace happens to believe that talking about Muslims en masse as a uniform and cohesive religio-political group is not only unhelpful; it is theologically ignorant and politically naïve. Much better to talk about certain schools of Islam, for centuries of scholarship bears testimony to the mutability and multiplicity of the Islamic faith, which is as diverse and disparate as the myriad of Christian denominations. The specific contemporary problem is the ascendancy and dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam – the Wahhabi strain – which seeks to agitate, occupy, subjugate, inculcate and deny liberty and justice to all, Muslim or not.
The complaint against Dr Clifford is centred upon a leaflet he wrote a decade ago, entitled Why Not Islam, from which the above YouTube video draws heavily. Doubtless the tract is distributed (along with others) from the bookstall on Hay Hill.
But since the police have confirmed that no crime has been or is being committed in the propagation of this message, Norwich City Council have taken it upon themselves to determine the acceptability of the Norwich Reformed Church’s orthodoxy. And, having sat in judgment, the Council have denied the church their freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. The Council’s secret inquisition has judged that Dr Clifford is motivated by ‘hate’, and that’s the end of the matter.
A Council spokesman explained that they have ‘a duty to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions’. But, once again, it is the Christians who are denied their liberties: good relations are fostered for all except the followers of Christ. Of course, one man’s truth is another man’s offence. But that’s life. Being able to offend is one of the foundations of liberty. Freedom of speech must be tolerated, and everyone living in the United Kingdom must accept that they may be insulted about their own beliefs, or indeed be offended, and that is something which they must simply endure, not least because some suffer fates far worse.
What’s the point of being a Member of the European Parliament if you can’t stand up and denounce the Pope as antichrist? What is the point of being Pope if you can’t tell gays they suffer from an ‘objective disorder’? Why would you want to open a hotel if you can’t call Mohammed a terrorist or paedophile or rail at the oppression of hijab-wearing women? Why would you want to stand in Hyde Park Corner if you can’t call Scientology a cult, or open a café if you can’t tell gays they’re going to hell for their abomination?
It may not be very Christian in the PC christology of perpetual tolerance to say any of these things, but it ought not to be illegal to do so. Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ words or behaviour if they are likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. This is increasingly being used to get the police to arrest and silence Christian street preachers, prosecute hotel owners for chatting about their faith with a Muslim hotel guest (no, they didn’t use the 't' or ‘p’ words), and to prosecute a teenager for calling a religious cult, err... a cult. And now a county council is closing down a church which has worshipped freely for 20 years, because it doesn't preach a gospel which is to the Council's liking.
This is the New Inquisition: the demand for theological orthodoxy has given way to prohibition of ‘feeling insulted’. And you might be next. Indeed, as His Grace has previously observed, this blog may well be closed down because someone (just one) complains to the police that religio-political polemic makes them feel uncomfortable and causes them distress; that they feel ‘insulted’, despite His Grace’s best efforts ‘to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions’. This blog is, after all, a public space and His Grace is publishing alarming material. He probably not infrequently falls foul of equality and diversity demands, or transgresses the bounds of acceptability for those of other faiths or ‘disordered’(© Benedict XVI) sexual proclivities. His Grace never means to insult or cause distress, but the intention or motive is irrelevant: if the beholder feels offended, His Grace may be reported to the police under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and they are obliged to investigate.
And now, if they determine that no crime has been committed, you can rely upon some jobsworth from bureaucratic officialdom to override the law and mete out their own brand of summary justice, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. This blog does not agree with all of Dr Clifford’s message, but, by God, it stands foursquare with him against the misuse and abuse of power by Norwich City Council.