Whose rights are they anyway?

Chris Stalford picks up on a theme that has so far not raised its head in the E-debate on a Charter of Rights e-debate: the issue of overly prescriptive legislation. He’s fearful that under a full and rigourous rights culture some political attitudes are likely to be considered more right than others.

By Christopher Stalford

Question: when is a prisoner of conscience not a prisoner of conscience? Answer: when he or she makes a statement that offends the cosy liberal consensus. That is the conclusion I reached on hearing of the case of Swedish Pentecostal minister, Ake Green who was recently convicted and sentenced to four weeks in jail. His crime? Daring to preach a sermon against a homosexual lifestyle.

He was denounced to the public prosecutors by gay rights activists who had smuggled dictaphones into his church and taped his sermon and charged under a 2002 law that makes it a criminal offence to make comments against any of the usual groups. This apparently constitutes

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Reverse intolerance? Interesting article Chris.

    You need a headline on this Mick!

  • Alan

    Yes, a case of asking other people to tolerate your own intolerance. Surely it came down to what they man said?

    I can accept that some sad individuals may disrespect others – and they should have a right to say so. However, if the person in question encouraged others to attack or make someone’s life a misery, then it’s right they should be taken to court.

    Also, if it’s a hate crime, then it’s more likely to be a decision of the Swedish Parliament, rather than the EU, Polly Toynbee or Tony Blair. Perhaps the democratic wishes of a sovereign people need the leavening of the international Human Rights agenda to protect all our rights.

  • Millie

    If the Hate Crimes legislation is applied to NI and taken to its logical conclusion it will put fundamentalist preachers like Paisley under the spotlight, not to mention whole swathes of what passes for loyalist ‘culture.’

  • Mick Fealty

    I remember Ivan Foster arguing that there was what he held to be an unjustifiable conflation for ecumenism with the development of good cross community relations.

    Which then begged a series of questions:

    – Is it necessary to ‘like’ your neighbour’s religion to have a civil relationship with him/her?

    – In what circumstances do such civil codes break down?

    – What measures can ensure that civil (as opposed to social) relationships endure in Northern Ireland?

    When we consider the idea of hate crimes (there is no legislation in NI as yet), are we prosposing to convict on the innummerable degrees between the human emotions of ‘dislike’ and ‘hate’, or is it simply an attempt to target resources on certain types of crimes?

    If it is the former, then we may be talking about a considerably larger number of people than one small section of a single identity community.

  • Colm

    In principle I agree with what Christopher Stalford says but I can’t help wondering if he would have vented his outrage had the jailed individual been a militant homosexual charged with ‘proselytising immorality’ by a right wing Christian govt.?

    Hie gives his own prejudices away when he refers dismissively to legislation protecting “the usual groups”

    His article would be stronger if he was able to say exactly what the charge was, and exactly what the words used by the minister were. Vague terms such as ‘making comments against gays’ tells us nothing. Did he incite violence? Urge his congregation to act with hostility to gay people?

    Although I would probably be classed as much more on the liberal side of th political spectrum than Christopher I have to agree with the view that this prosecution is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated by societies that truly believe in the prrinciples of free speech.

  • Robert Keogh

    Britain already restricts seditious and inciting speech. History demonstrates that inciting speech is interpreted quite liberally by the government of the day.

    It’s not like the guy got up in the pulpit and said “I think homosexuals are misguided and I want to help them.” he printed an offensive ad in the paper. If he had said Jew instead of homosexual no one would be leaping to his defense.

    The ECHR is a set of articles stating the rights people have. They are pretty damn good rights too. The protocols do not define the nature and severity of penalties applied to violators. Each legislative assembly writes legislation to effect the rights guaranteed. Each decides its own set of penalties.

    Mr. Stalford raises two objections to adoption of the ECHR 1) Restrictions on free speech and 2) nature of penalties. These reasons don’t seem strong to me.

    The sole difference I see between the current system run by HMG and one based on the ECHR is local political bias is removed from the equation. Given HMG recent history in NI I know which one I prefer.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…local political bias is removed”

    Can I ask you to be more specific on that? I think it may lie at the crux of the matter.


  • Mick Fealty

    Newshound has Newton Emerson’s take on hate crime.

  • Colm

    Newton’s views are spot on.

    English law is not a complete fixed document like the French articles or German paragraphs but a compendium of all laws passed by Parliament throughout the centuries. There is nothing new in human behaviour and we have been dealing with social problems through Acts of Parliament since the 1100’s.

    There are more than enough laws in the great canon of English Statute to cover every anti-social activity considered worthy of prosecution. ‘Hate laws’ like the current fad for ASBO’s are a political gimmick designed to give the impression of NEW action, as oppose to the harder task of making the statutory authorities enforce existing laws .

    Whenever you hear that the government are going to bring in new legislation to ‘crackdown’ on a topical menace all it proves is the triumph of style over substance.

  • cg


    You speak of intolerance yet you are not averse to showing some yourself.

    I distinctly remember the last Student Council meeting at Queens where you denied me and my colleagues the right to speak, never mind put forward unpopular opinions.

    Christopher you would do well to practice what you preach.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Mick please, his name is Christopher not Chris.

  • Robert Keogh


    “…local political bias is removed”

    Can I ask you to be more specific on that? I think it may lie at the crux of the matter.

    Well any example I can cite will rapidly descend into a green vs orange diatribe. I think everyone here is familiar enough with history to accept local political prejudice plays a role in the application of the law. Dampening that element is a progressive move that only benefits society.

  • Mick Fealty


    Without going into detail of how current biases work – how would you seek to dampen that effect?

  • Christopher Stalford

    I distinctly remember the last Student Council meeting at Queens where you denied me and my colleagues the right to speak, never mind put forward unpopular opinions.

    Perhaps you could provide the minutes of the relevant SRC meeting and where I proposed or seconded or spoke in favour of “denying” anyone any rights at all. Given the way the Students Union is run, I don’t think they are in any position to lecture on fairness or equality – needless to say I’m pleased to have departed that particular sphere of combat.

  • Christopher Stalford

    “denied me and my colleagues the right to speak”

    As opposed to your colleges on the Students Union Executive who are now trying to deny members of the Union access to the minutes of previous meetings. Whats wrong? Afraid that what’s said behind closed doors might embarrass SF HQ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Can we try to draw some general points out of Christopher’s and cg’s argument? I’m not in a position to referee a dispute over specifics.

    Would a rights culture have prevented some of these disputes, or is it a case of allowing space for “winner takes all – all’s fair in democratic warfare”.

  • Christopher Stalford


    Majorities can sometimes be wrong.

  • cg

    Christopher how silly you really are.
    You are perfectly well aware that all minutes are readily available to all Queens

  • yer_man

    Hardly likely to make the news is it? ‘Unionist beaten by Nationalist in Queens election’.

    Even from my dim and distant memories of that place i’d rather forget (QUBSU) I seem to remember a rather large majority of the students were of the nationalist persuasion.

  • Mick Fealty

    cg, I have asked that you both to move the discussion away from specifics. If you want to argue with Chris on private matters then I suggest you do so off site.

    But if you want draw a general point of principle, then please feel free to expound here at length.

  • cg

    Christopher only likes majorities when it

  • Kerry54

    Queens university belfast is the place to be, and a certain cg is making a name for himself.