It’s time to change the definition of Religious Hate Crime

[ In view of the murder of Lee Rigby by Islamists and the reported resulting wave of “Islamophobic” hate crimes. I think this is, depressingly, just as true as when I wrote it last year. I have added just one line to the text and two more links ]

The governments Report Hate Crime site defines hate crime as

Crimes committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

I am not entirely convinced by the whole idea of hate-crime. If someone is killed because they are, for instance, in the wrong gang or between an armed robber and his loot, they are just as dead as someone who is beaten up by racist thugs because they are Pakistani, or Jewish, and their family will be just as devastated. Why should their deaths be any less serious?

The government, in its wisdom, however thinks that religious hatred is what is called an aggravating feature and makes a crime more serious, and the perpetrators are deserving of a harsher punishment. For the sake of this discussion I will not question this logic. I will just try to extend it.

  • Stephen Lawrence was a Black British teenager from Eltham, south east London, who was murdered in a racist attack while waiting for a bus on the evening of 22 April 1993. Witnesses said he was attacked by a gang of white youths chanting racist slogans.
  • James Everley, James Smith, and Joshua Morris were all sentenced to three years at a young offenders institute after setting fire to the mosque in Wivelsfield Road, Haywards Heath.

These are terrible crimes and I don’t doubt they were motivated by racism and religious hatred. But what about these …

  • [ Drummer Lee Rigby is hacked to death in broad daylight on a London street by self declared Islamists shouting Allahu Akbar ]
  • Goodluck Caubergs died the day after nurse Grace Adeleye carried out a circumcision on him without anaesthetic using only a pair of scissors, forceps and olive oil.
  • At least three people in London with HIV have died after they stopped taking life saving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.

I would suggest you can find many examples of your own. If we go outside the UK things get even worse.

  • The shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan
  • 11 year old Madeline Neumann, who died of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes because her parents refused medical intervention and relied on prayer.

These, in my opinion, are terrible crimes which are motivated by religion. But in this case it is the religion of the perpetrator rather than the victim. But the people are still dead and they still died because of religion.

There is an asymmetry in lesser crimes too. If a chemist refuses to serve someone because they are a catholic – that’s a crime. But if someone asks the morning-after pill the chemist can refuse to serve them if they (the chemist) are a catholic.

I want to suggest that the definition of hate crime be changed by the insertion of just two little words:

Crimes committed against, or by, someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.


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