Church responds to Scottish executives consultation on 'Religious Hatred'.
(NB: The full text of the response is reproduced below.)
The Catholic Bishops of Scotland have today responded to the Scottish Executive's consultation on 'Religious Hatred' in a three page submission, they comment; "(In responding) we wish to express our firm commitment, and that of the Catholic community, in striving to foster a culture in Scotland which recognises the equal dignity of all persons"
They add however;
" A historical understanding of prejudice and religious hatred,is however a fundamental pre-requisite to progress, legislation which forms the constitution of the United Kingdom has traditionally discriminated against Catholics; e.g. the Act of Settlement and Bill of Rights. Once the State concedes that discrimination against a particular group (in this case Catholics) is acceptable, it is difficult to see how it can regain the moral authority needed to criticise religious hatred and intolerance wherever it is found." The submission concludes: "it is our view that religious tolerance should be pursued by fully promoting religious freedom. This right is an essential requirement of the dignity of every person and necessary for the personal fulfilment of each individual and as such is necessary for peaceful human co-existence. "
The Catholic Church's Parliamentary Officer, John Deighan said: "Religious freedom must be the platform on which tolerance and harmony in our society is based. We believe that our Catholic schools uphold and promote the principles of tolerance, harmony and respect for diversity in Scottish society."
Mr Deighan added;"The Catholic Bishops in this response aim to make a positive contribution which they hope will provide a foundation on which a cosiety free from religious intolerance can be built. Meanwhile the Church stands ready to assist the Scottish Executive and others in working towards this goal."
FULL TEXT OF RESPONSE
Response by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland to Tackling Religious Hatred' 10th March 2003
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland is pleased to take this opportunity to make comment on the recommendations which have been made by the Cross- Party Working Group on Religious Hatred. In doing so we wish to express our firm commitment, and that of the Catholic community, in striving to foster a culture in Scotland which recognises the equal dignity of all persons. We are firmly of the view that faith and religion have an essential role to play in the building of a harmonious society. The divisions and hatred which threaten to impoverish our society by distorting or suppressing the authentic spirit of religion must be overcome and we welcome the Scottish Executive's willingness to face up to this issue.
Response to Recommendations
In order to have a means of monitoring and evaluating the changing prevalence of crime motivated by religious hatred it would be beneficial to have some means of recording offences with such a factor, the recommendation does not raise any difficulty in the eyes of the Church. It would seem sensible that the Lord Advocate issue guidelines to adapt to particular concerns when necessary. One point briefly mentioned in the report does raise slight concern. Paragraph 2.11 raises the point that people making the sign of the cross' could in some cases be committing a breach of the peace in common law. Whilst we deeply regret that anyone would misuse what is a prayer which is so greatly revered in the Catholic faith, we believe the concept that it could be used to alarm, upset or provoke' others so as to be a criminal offence, a novel reading of common law which is more likely to re-enforce sectarianism. The situation where the sign of the cross' would be banned would seem to be a victory for those who are intolerant of any manifestation of the Catholic faith.
In highlighting the need to combat religious intolerance it is reasonable to take measures which ensure that such elements of crimes are not hidden and therefore seemingly go unpunished and, or unrecorded. The recommendation, in this context, therefore seems reasonable.
For the reasons stated above this measure would seem also to be a crucial element of measuring the level and nature of crime motivated by religious hatred.
The situation in which society finds itself today is one where many of the twists and turns of history which created a climate of enmity between
religions have been largely forgotten. Often only a vague and irrational dislike of other denominations or faiths remains as the visible face of
religious hatred. A historical understanding of prejudice and religious hatred, once evident even in employment, is however a fundamental pre-requisite to progress. The path of history is such that legislation which forms the constitution of the United Kingdom has traditionally discriminated against Catholics; e.g. the Act of Settlement and Bill of Rights. Once the State concedes that discrimination against a particular group (in this case Catholics) is acceptable, it is difficult to see how it can regain the moral authority needed to criticise religious hatred and intolerance wherever it is found.
Equally important is an understanding of the current dynamics of community life which create the conditions that lead to division, distrust and bigotry. Religious hatred can be overcome and it is hoped that a full analysis of the issues, wider than the football-dominated focus which has prevailed to date, will be undertaken.
Recommendation 5 - 11
Where sectarianism is a problem in the support of some teams it should be expected that clubs take reasonable steps to eradicate the problem. This effort will be more effective if carried out in conjunction with interested parties and the appropriate local authorities. The measures contained in recommendations 5 to 11 therefore provide a suitable basis for directing efforts to eradicate the problems which arise in relation to football matches. It is our opinion that a wider consideration of football related problems is required. There are problems of intimidation and possible violence for those who encounter travelling fans on trains, ferries and public transport in general, and may be identified as belonging to "the other side". It is also important that in focussing on the Old Firm', evidence of religious hatred connected with other football teams is not ignored.
Education is a vital element in overcoming the resentment of those from different communities but on its own does not produce people free of resentment and hatred. The task of creating a harmonious society is always one requiring considerable effort, formation is as necessary as information. In responding to the frictions which arise in society because of the different constituent ethnic or religious communities attempts to eradicate differences are counterproductive and often unjust; rather it is our view that religious tolerance should be pursued by fully promoting religious freedom. This right is an essential requirement of the dignity of every person and necessary for the personal fulfilment of each individual and as such is necessary for peaceful human co-existence. In recognising that religious intolerance is evident in Scotland we propose the following principles as the foundation of understanding and practising religious
- The right to religious freedom is grounded in respect for human dignity.
- Individuals should not be forced to act in a manner contrary to their religious beliefs, nor should they be restrained from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs.
- Religious bodies have a right to manifest and teach the social relevance of their religious beliefs.
- Religious bodies have a right to establish and maintain corporate institutions and services and conduct them in accordance with their religious beliefs and values.
- Because the right to religious freedom is exercised within society, it ought to be subject to the laws which ordinarily safeguard justice and civil order.
- Civil authorities do not have the right to command or inhibit acts of religion which are outside their proper competence.
Promoting such principles contributes to the recognition of the dignity of each individual, which is a necessary condition for creating a free and just society. The Catholic Community, not least through Catholic schooling, endeavours to provide formation rooted in these most fundamental values thus making a valuable contribution not just to Scottish education but also to the social life of our nation.
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