Honest conversation partners do not report alternate views to the police for hate speech

Ben John, on Christian Concern’s website, has created this video responding to the Living in Love and Faith project (LLF) embarked upon by the Church of England:

You might agree with that video, you might not. You might think it reasonably addresses concerns about LLF or you might think it is a horrible, aggressive piece seeking to push an agenda. You are, as ever, entitled to whatever view of it you want.

But it seems that the video has now been reported by Rev Alex Clare-Young for hate speech. Clare-Young appears in an LLF video promoting the project. The Times (paywall) report:

Neither Mr Clare-Young nor any of the other participants are named in the original clip or Mr John’s response, but he said they felt personally targeted in a way that made them feel unsafe. He asked Christian Concern to remove the post. When the group refused, Mr Clare-Young reported the matter to North Yorkshire police. A police spokesman confirmed that the matter was being investigated as a hate crime.

Clare-Young goes on to state:

I felt that [his comments] were leading to personal harm to myself, my wife, and the others in the video. It feels as if he is denying LGBT people the right to be involved in Christian worship. It describes me and my wife as being in a same-sex marriage, which isn’t true. It made me feel very unsafe.

From a Church of England point of view, this can’t be great. For all the talk of ‘mutual flourishing’ and ‘shared conversations’, it is difficult to see how those things are at all at play when someone presenting an alternative case can be reported to the police for hate speech. If the project really is about learning from each other, if it really is about listening to both sides of an argument, how can that happen if only one side is permitted to speak while the other side, no sooner than they present their case, get accused to hate speech and reported to the police?

From a police point of view, things fare little better. This blog has long noted the problems surrounding the concept of hate speech (see here, here and here for example). The police are now investigating somebody who made a video which refused to acknowledge that a trans man married to a woman is anything other than a same-sex couple. You can disagree with that position if you like, you can find it grossly offensive too if you will, but to merely state that position should not be a matter of police investigation. Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, argued there was nothing remotely hateful in the video. But even if that is not accepted, the idea that a view being stated can be termed ‘hateful’ and be deemed a police matter is outrageous.

Trust in police is not exactly at an all time high. It is these sorts of matters that do very little to help that matter. When police routinely tell those who suffer burglaries and anti-social behaviour that there is nothing they can do and resources are not available to investigate, many are quick to look at exactly what the police are using their scant resources to do. As they look, they see people being investigated for voicing opinions that somebody found offensive, they see police involving themselves in political movements despite their claim to being independent of politics and they see heavy-handed approaches to what are otherwise very minor issues.

This has come in the same week as a black pastor in Milton Keynes had the police storm his church and break up his live streamed service. The service was within the official guidance – with the only people present those who are required for the live stream and a choir of singers – and the pastor attempted to point the police to the guidelines. However, rather than backing down, they called a further 7 police officers to attempt to shut the legal service down. Given that police had already visited some churches and, after reasoning with the pastor, allowed them to carry on with their service, the disproportionate response begs the question whether there wasn’t also a racial motive at play. But whether that is the case or not, police seem to have all the resources they require to go round investigating churches who are acting within the official guidelines and people making videos that are deemed offensive by somebody whilst they cannot, for some reason, find the resources to investigate things like burglaries.

The aftermath of COVID-19 is probably going to bring cuts to public services in a bid to rebalance the books. It seems the police would do better to focus on investigating actual crimes rather than using their scant resources on criminalising opinions in a bid to protect people from hurt feelings.

Once again, the rest of us don’t have to agree with the opinion expressed to see the real danger of allowing it to be a police matter. If opinions cannot be shared without fear of criminal investigations being launched, we are heading for a world in which nothing but prescribed state orthodoxy can be uttered. If we advocate that situation ourselves, we are creating a scenario where the right-on views we hold today will be the prosecutable hate speech of tomorrow. All of us should see the problem with that.