Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Ridiculous Weaponisation of Religious Hatred
By Richard Honess
It has been reported on the Yorkshire Live News Website that a child has been reported to police for ‘religious hatred’ for singing a Christmas song in a public street. How could such a ridiculous thing happen in modern day Britain you may ask?
Back in October, a thirteen year old girl was walking down the street with friends when she started singing the well loved song the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. This was apparently overheard by a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) acquaintance of the family. As you may be aware Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas as they consider (ironically correctly) it to be a festival with pagan roots and therefore not Christian. This JW individual threatened to call the police and apparently did so and reported the young girl for inciting religious hatred, and, as with all hate crime allegations, the West Yorkshire Police are now investigating.
Now this on its face should be very concerning for several reasons. Firstly, as it appears, this incident seems to fall well outside of the Crown Prosecution Service’s definition and guidance on ‘Racial and Religious Hatred’, which defines as such:
“The offence is committed if a person uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material, which is threatening, if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.” (CPS, 2022)[i]
How can any reasonable (or even unreasonable) person consider the singing of the ‘Twelve-Days of Christmas’ as threatening words or behaviour, or demonstrates hostility. Even I, as an individual, have performed this song in public on multiple occasions.
How can the police, who most people accept are severely overworked, spend time on something that, on its face, does not constitute an offence, even in its most generous interpretation?
I am not saying that in genuine cases of hatred, and the harassment and threatening behaviour that often goes with it, should not be reported and prosecuted. Hatred of ‘the other’ is one of the most pernicious and dangerous problems modern society faces and should be dealt with. But this is not that.
What we are seeing here is the weaponisation of a well-intended law by a fringe religious group who seem to take offence at the most innocent of activities that goes against their own faith. It is the backdoor reintroduction of blasphemy laws and the attempt by a group to control the behaviour of non-adherents that we are seeing here. To quote Sir Arnold, it is the thin end of the wedge.
Given that this group also finds birthdays offensive, and many other forms of joyful behaviour and activity, what more could they use to weaponise this law? Could they try to prosecute the National Blood Service for offering public donor sessions in their mobile vans? Could they try to prosecute us for calling out their behaviour?
The question then is what do we do? It is very unlikely that this law will be repealed, indeed it is debatable that it should be. However, the CPS and perhaps the College of Policing (as the professional body for police) should be issuing stronger guidelines to police officers as to what to do in circumstances like this.
Whatever we do, we must stand firm and prevent the weaponisation of our laws by religious groups to impose their beliefs on others and be able to threaten criminal complaint to do so.
Atheism UK will be watching for any result from this incident.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Atheism UK.