The Catholic Herald has been banging on about this now for a whole week. Apparently, Lord Pearson of Rannoch (Ukip) asked Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Conservative) to confirm “that a Christian who says that Jesus is the only son of the one true God cannot be arrested for hate crime or any other offence, however much it may offend a Muslim or anyone of any other religion”.
Baroness Vere responded: “My Lords, I am not going to comment on that last question from the noble Lord.”
This then snowballed (/avalanched) into an issue of religious liberty which circled the world (/Twittersphere): Theresa May’s Government intends to make it illegal to proclaim the gospel – that is, if it doesn’t already constitute a ‘hate crime’. The Catholic Herald was told the day they published it that it was all nonsense on stilts, not least because there is a myriad of reasons why a minister might give such a response. In this case, might it be that the Noble Baroness did not understand the question? Did she even hear it correctly? Might perhaps a degree of religious illiteracy have caused a ‘rabbit-in-headlights’ moment? After all, government ministers aren’t interrogated on fundamental matters of doctrine every day of the week.
And note that Lord Pearson didn’t stop his question at ‘hate crime’, but extended it to embrace “any other offence”. Well, it is entirely possible (and utterly reasonable) to find yourself under arrest if you’re bellowing the divinity of Christ down a residential street at 3.00am.
But one junior minister in the House of Lords does not constitute ‘The British Government’, so the Catholic Herald appears to be concerned with a little hyperbolic click-bait. Further, it is not in any case the job of a government minister to determine the fundamental precepts of any religion: why would Lord Pearson attempt to entrap Baroness Vere into a dogmatic declaration of what might constitute blasphemy? And why should she rise to the bait?
If she understood it.
If she heard it.
The Prime Minister (who might feasibly be equated with ‘The British Government’) has been unequivocal on the liberty of Christians to proclaim their faith. In her Shrove Tuesday speech to Christian leaders at No10 last year, she said:
I also believe it is right that we should celebrate the role of Christianity in our country. We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of. We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.
In her Easter message to the nation, she reiterated:
We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.
And since that faith in Christ includes the belief “that Jesus is the only son of the one true God”; and since freedom of speech includes the right to “offend a Muslim or anyone of any other religion” with the reality of this theological belief, it follows that the British Government has actually made it crystal clear that proclaiming the divinity of Christ is not a hate crime.
As of yesterday, the Catholic Herald was still tweeting this silliness out. One wonders why they are intent on stoking an utterly insignificant spat between a Ukip peer and a junior minister instead of believing the unequivocal word of the Prime Minister on this? Perhaps now that Baroness Vere has kindly confirmed what was conjectured a week ago (ie lack of understanding / difficulty in hearing), the Catholic Herald might desist with its disinformation, or (better still) just delete the silliness and issue a correction.