This week is a week of speeches. Yesterday I was not only at the General Assembly but speaking at the Scottish Parliament – to their Freedom of Religion Committee on the subject of The Threat to Religious Freedom in Scotland. Here is the speech.
The Threat to Religious Freedom in Scotland
Religious freedom is the bedrock of all other freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press.
Religious freedom is not the freedom to disobey the law or be exempt from the law because of your religion. You are not free to abuse children if your religion permits you to do so.
Religious freedom must be for all. I argued for example that the Muslim community in Lewis, especially because of the Syrian refugees there, should, of course, be permitted to have a mosque. People thought that we would object.
Religious freedom includes freedom from religion. There should be no coercion in real Christianity. Certainly not by the State.
1) The threat to religious freedom in Scotland is largely not persecution
There is an increase in anti-Semitism. There are Muslims who if they change their faith have to go into hiding. And we have already seen the Ahmadis speak here. There are Christian people whose jobs are threatened because of their faith.
But overall religious people are not persecuted in Scotland today. At least not in the sense of being jailed, fined or executed for their faith. When we see what is happening in many areas of the world, especially to Christians, then it would be foolish to complain of persecution. However, you are all aware that the way to boil a frog is very slowly. Put it into tepid water and gradually heat it up. In the same way, my concern is that whilst we do not experience the kind of persecution that is so often the norm for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, there is a danger that through a ‘salami tactics’ slice-by-slice, discrimination is increasing against Christians.
2) The State determining doctrine and freedom of expression
Philip Nye writing in the Telegraph spoke of Christianity as being subtly “silenced” within the public sector in the UK because of a civil service culture that treats speaking about faith as “not the done thing”. On the Left, my favourite Marxist writer, Brendan O’Neil, gives the example of a Baptist Church in Norfolk in England that put up a poster suggesting that if you didn’t believe in God you would go to hell. Someone complained to the police who registered the poster as a “hate incident”. They launched an investigation, went to the church, spoke to the pastor, suggested he take the poster down, and so he took the poster down. O’Neil writes these insightful words – “I found this really disturbing. For what we had here, in Britain in the 21st century, was a situation where the armed wing of the state put pressure on a church, a private religious association, to take down a public expression of its deeply held beliefs.” He continues to summarise the situation – What we’re witnessing is a silent war on religion. In the 21st century, there is the creeping criminalisation of certain religious views and an undermining of religious groups’ right to organise themselves, and those who are voluntarily part of their community of faith, in what they consider to be the most fitting way. Religious people’s ability to express themselves publicly is being undermined, and their ability to organise themselves around their faith — such as by having schools and other agencies to propagate their views among their followers — is being undermined too.
I found the following words of our former Prime Minister quite chilling: ““For too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone” – David Cameron. Since when was it the business of government to interfere in people’s lifes, outwith the law? This is what happens when the proper relationship between church and state is not understood, and when the state thinks that it is God –with the ability and right to control the thoughts, words and actions of its citizens. The following are some examples of where this is leading us.
3) Education –
Mark Spencer, a Tory MP, argued that new banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong. He called for those who use their position in the classroom to teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadi.
The plans drawn up by the Department for Education aim to combat extremism by giving Ofsted inspectors the right to carry out spot-checks on any group for under-19- year-olds that gives six hours of instruction to children per week. Inspectors would have the power to shut down any event which they deem to be out of step with “fundamental British values”.
4) Restriction of Speech –
Polly Harrow is the Head of Safeguarding and Prevent at Kirklees College in Huddersfield. She was asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, should a Muslim who believes that homosexuality is wrong be accepted. Her chilling answer? “ If that’s what you think and that what you want to believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law”.
In that regard I received this following tweet in the past week. It is a stunning indication of where we could be going – when people think that the State has the right to control belief and make what we believe, illegal.
5) Intimidation of Politicians –
I did a debate here in Edinburgh at Charlotte Chapel with Patrick Harvie and Willie Rennie, in which I pointed out that there were MSP’s who disagreed with SSM but would either abstain or vote for it because they did not think it was that important an issue and they could not be bothered with the abuse, hassle and intimidation if they dared to vote against. Patrick Harvie disputed this but after the debate I was approached by a leading journalist who told me that what I had said was right and that he could name several who were in that position.
The bottom line is that it is not right that anyone who dares to disagree with the current zeitgeist, whether for religious reasons or not, is discriminated against, abused and effectively removed from the mainstream political process. Objecting to me being here…
What is the solution?
This committee must defend and maintain the following:
a) Freedom of Speech – in reality as well as in words
b) Freedom of Ideas – there must be the freedom to discuss and to hear ideas that one disagrees with and others might find offensive.
c) Freedom of religion – which involves a whole lot more than an acknowledgement that we have the right to worship and serve God in private. We also have the right to be involved in the public square.
All political parties in this parliament should give an assurance that Christians and others are welcome to participate within them and in the political process, without discrimination. Political leaders should discourage the use of social media to intimidate and abuse those who are believers and who might have different value systems. Social media has become the 21st Century equivalent of the 19th Century mob.
The Humanist Society complained about me being here…and urged MSPs to boycott a discussion on freedom of religion!
The removal of the Christianity upon which our society is founded from the public square will result in either a secular authoritarian state or a religious authoritarian state.
If we do not defend, maintain and promote these freedoms whilst we have them, then we will find that once we have lost them, it will be too late.
The discussion that followed was fascinating, covering a wide range of issues. The Humanist representative was not quite convinced that we were heading to a secular authoritarian state! It was interesting that the main denominational representatives were not present – doubtless heading the call to arms from their Humanist allies!
However earlier I was contacted by The Times who asked me to comment on a Press Release from the Humanist Society objecting to my speaking at the Parliament – ironically providing me with a great illustration of what I was speaking about.
Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:
“Freedom of Religion and Belief is an important right in any country just as freedom for LGBT people to live their lives without constant torment is equally important.
“David Robertson has previously branded Perth Pride festival “Perth’s shame”; claimed moves to LGBT inclusive education in Scottish schools is “demonic” and “child abuse”; and has frequently attempted to ‘other’ Scotland’s LGBT community by claiming they are just a “current in-group in society”.
“One of the greatest moments in the short history of Scotland’s Parliament was the passing of the law which allowed same-sex marriage – something David vocally campaigned against in an attempt to deny same-sex couples the same rights as others.
“It is no surprise then that so many MSPs appear to be giving this meeting a wide berth given his toxic reputation on equality and personal freedoms.”
And they helpfully added these links…!
“state-sponsored child abuse” https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trasnsgender-rights-are-demonic-former-moderator-claims-2t2fq25fq
“Perth’s shame” https://theweeflea.com/2018/08/14/perth-pride-perth-shame/
“The Humanist Society Scotland are a little confused. They seem to think that ’freedom of religion and belief’ is only fine as long as it agrees with their doctrines – or at least that those who disagree keep silent and are not permitted a public voice. But those of us who don’t are immediately demonised. It’s also richly ironic that they complain about ‘othering’ whilst at the same time othering me.
They also seem to assume that MSPs are as snow flaky and intolerant when they ask that MSPs give the meeting a wide berth. I’m sure that MSPs who disagree with me are robust enough to be able to come and discuss the subject. Unlike the Humanist Society I don’t seek to silence people by mocking, intimidation and ‘othering’.
To take just one issue, they complain about my view that a man cannot just become a woman simply by self-identifying as such. I may be wrong, but then so are 90% of people in Scotland, including many MSPs – are they to be condemned too? The final irony is that they claim to be for tolerance and equality and then urge people not to tolerate me or treat me equally. It seems Orwell was right – ’some animals are more equal than others” in the Humanist Animal Farm. I thank God that most MSPs and most of Scotland’s people are more tolerant than the Humanist Society!”
The Fight goes on….