FAITH leaders have known as on the Prime Minister to desert a brand new Public Order Invoice, which they are saying will criminalize atypical residents who have interaction in peaceable protests, together with prayer vigils, public acts of worship, and neighborhood occasions.
The Invoice, which might enable police to detain anybody merely on suspicion of planning an motion, has been conceived within the wake of the current disruptive protests by local weather campaigners. Its Report Stage within the Home of Lords is deliberate for 30 January (Information, 21 January 2022).
In an open letter to Rishi Sunak, the group says that the Invoice would create “an unlimited vary of latest felony offences” which might lead to members of religion teams dealing with ends, prosecution, and even imprisonment for placing their beliefs into follow.
The 20 signatories embody the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker; the heads of a number of Nonconformist Church buildings, together with the Revd Graham Thompson, President of the Methodist Convention; the Secretary-Normal of the Muslim Council of Britain, Ms Zara Mohammed; the director of the UK Community of Sikh Organisations, Lord Singh of Wimbledon; and representatives of charities together with Cafod and Christian Help.
One particular offense that the Invoice would create is “locking-on”, during which campaigners connect themselves to things on the protest website. The letter means that people who act on their religion or perception by providing a locked-on protester a drink of water might fall foul of the regulation, because the bottle might depend as an object utilized in reference to the offence.
The signatories imagine that the Invoice may have a “important and deeply troubling impression” on spiritual and perception communities, which are sometimes on the forefront of tackling injustices and discrimination. They write: “New cease and search powers, which could be exercised with out the necessity for cheap suspicion, would exacerbate the unacceptable ranges of discrimination that already end result from current powers.” Additionally, the proposed “Critical Disruption Prevention Orders”, they imagine, would limit people’ liberty, criminalizing even those that organize transport to peaceable protests.
They describe these measures as an “unprecedented assault on spiritual and perception communities”, and say that the Invoice “has no place in fashionable British society”.
Two months in the past, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, helped to safe a Lords modification to the Invoice defining church buildings as an “important service to the neighborhood”, the place offenses corresponding to locking-on may very well be deemed illegal ( Information, 25 November 2022).
This newest Invoice is seen as additional efforts by the Authorities to toughen anti-protest laws. It has already elevated powers to cease disruptive demonstrations and dismantle unauthorized encampments with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which got here into power within the spring of final yr.
Ms Mohammed mentioned: “Freedom of meeting and expression, and the general public’s capability to carry the Authorities to account, are elementary rights, and important elements of any functioning democratic society. This Invoice, very similar to its predecessor, the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Invoice, is about to additional erode our civil liberties, and exacerbates pre-existing disparities in policing and the felony justice system. Minority and religion communities deserve higher than being additional marginalized and criminalised.”
The Quakers’ Recording Clerk, Paul Parker, mentioned: “This Invoice undermines our human rights to freedom of expression and meeting. It makes it more durable for individuals of religion to comply with their consciences. The Authorities should sort out the causes of present crises, not punish those that marketing campaign peacefully for options.”
The total textual content of the letter reads:
Expensive Prime Minister,
We write as religion and perception teams to specific our issues relating to the Public Order Invoice, upfront of its Report Stage within the Home of Lords later this month.
Freedom of thought, conscience, and faith is of the utmost significance to religion and perception teams throughout the UK. Protest has all the time been an important a part of placing religion and perception into follow. In a local weather of rising intolerance and discrimination, from anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to sexism and racism extra broadly, faith and perception communities have all the time been on the forefront of tackling such injustices. The Invoice undoubtedly presents a profound menace to the values and practices of religion and perception teams, and will lead to members of religion and perception teams dealing with ends, prosecution, and even imprisonment for placing their beliefs into follow.
The Invoice creates an unlimited vary of latest felony offences, which might empower the police to criminalize these concerned in a spread of peaceable actions, together with prayer vigils, public acts of worship, neighborhood occasions, and protests. The offense of “locking on”, for instance, is so broad that a person who places their religion or perception into follow by providing a “locked-on” protestor a easy drink of water might fall foul of the regulation, for the reason that bottle itself might depend as an object utilized in reference to the offence.
As religion and perception teams, we care deeply about combating discrimination and inequality inside our society. We’re involved that the brand new cease and search powers, particularly these that may be exercised with out the necessity for cheap suspicion, would exacerbate the unacceptable ranges of discrimination that already end result from current powers.
We’re additionally involved that the proposed Critical Disruption Prevention Orders, which might place critical restrictions on people’ liberty, may very well be issued to members of our communities who set up peaceable processions and protests, or are tangentially concerned, for instance, by organizing a bus to Take neighborhood members to the procession or protest or funding neighborhood members to attend. This represents an unprecedented assault on spiritual and perception communities, members of which can undoubtedly face such restrictions if launched.
This Invoice has no place in fashionable British society, and historical past teaches us to be cautious of granting the State with overly broad powers with the potential for grave misuse. We hope, given the Authorities’s categorical dedication to defending freedom of faith or perception for all, that you just agree that it’s unacceptable to show such communities to concern of criminalization on account of placing their religion or beliefs into follow.
We due to this fact invite you to assume once more, and withdraw the Invoice on the earliest alternative. It’s not too late to set issues proper.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, Quakers in Britain
David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Church of England
Zara Mohammed, Secretary-Normal, Muslim Council of Britain
Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE, Director, Community of Sikh Organizations UK
Elizabeth Slade, Chief Officer, Normal Meeting of Unitarian and Free Christian Church buildings
Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy and Communications, CAFOD
Mia Hasenson-Gross, Govt Director, René Cassin, the Jewish voice for Human Rights
Revd Graham Thompson, President of the Methodist Convention, Methodist Church in Britain
Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of Normal Meeting, United Reformed Church
Pete Moorey, Head of Campaigns & UK Advocacy, Christian Help
Jamie Cresswell, Director, Middle for Utilized Buddhism
Graeme Hodge, CEO, All We Can & Y Care Worldwide
Revd Dr Darrell D Hannah, Chair, Operation Noah
Olivia Fuchs, Coordinator, Eco Dharma Community
Sue Claydon, Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Sarah Kerr, President of the Pagan Federation
Revd Lynn Inexperienced, Normal Secretary, The Baptist Union of Nice Britain
Imam Dr Sayed Razawi, Chief Imam, Director Normal, Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society
Deborah Tomkins, Co-Chair, Inexperienced Christian
John Cooper, Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation