For more than 20 years Norwich Reformed Church has held worship services in Eaton Park Community Centre. For the past four years they have also had a regular weekly bookstall on the Council owned Hay Hill site as a means of outreach. There has never been a problem either at Eaton Park or Hay Hill. Both these activities are being stopped by Norwich City Council.
Why? The Council have received one complaint about a booklet written ten years ago by Dr Alan Clifford the pastor of the church.
The booklet was titled Why Not Islam? The Council spokesman said:
“Although the police advised that no criminal offence had been committed, we have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions.
“By allowing premises owned by the Council to be used by an organisation publishing such material, we would be failing in that duty.”
A police spokesman confirmed a complaint had been received from a member of the public regarding leaflets that were distributed but, following discussions with the Council, the force’s diversity team and Crown Prosecution Service it was “deemed that no offences were carried out”.
Yet although the Council accept that no criminal offence has been committed and only one person has made a complaint about the booklet the Council have decided to brand it as ‘hate motivated.’
The Council is made up of 18 Labour members, 15 from the Green Party, with the Lib Dems having four and the Conservatives two. We wonder whether if an Islamic group had published a leaflet asking Why Not Christianity? this overwhelmingly ‘progressive’ Council would have branded it as ‘hate motivated’ and taken steps to isolate and silence the mosque? Yet the steps they have taken may lead to the Church being silenced or driven out of public space.
The Council have advised its Community Centre to stop taking the regular Sunday bookings from the Church. The Church have also been banned from holding their weekly outreach bookstall. Norwich Reformed Church is at present worshipping in a private home in the city.
From personal experience I can vouch that Alan Clifford is no East Anglian Terry Jones. He is no publicity hungry Koran burner, rather he is typical of a certain type of reserved Englishman (but in a good way) who would rather be left alone to get on with his work than court notoriety.
True he does hold firm views on theology which would not sit well with the politically correct or the Neo-Protestant Church, as do many of us. Alan Clifford happens to believe John 14:6 and that he has a duty to uphold the uniqueness of Christ.
It is possible to argue that he should be more discerning about Islam. The Wahhabi Salafists who seem to be making the running in Islam today are undeniably hate mongers who seek to subjugate the non-Islamic world. To portray the type of theology they spread as being typical of Islam is less than helpful. However, in his pamphlet there is nothing which is untrue or factually incorrect.
This is more than a minor kerfuffle in an out of the way town usually known only for its mustard and football team. It has serious implications for us all. Truth is no defence against progressives.
Unfortunately, because one person claims his feelings have been hurt the Council has chosen to try to deny Dr Clifford and his church freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
In the USA they have the concept of a separation between Church and State. Today this is taken to be a means of protecting the state from interference from meddling Christians; originally it had the opposite intention, to protect the Church from the interference of the State, particularly the establishment of one denomination as the Church of the State. Many of the original Puritan settlers in America were East Anglians fleeing the persecution of a state church.
Nevertheless, Norwich City Council has taken it upon itself the authority and the ability to be able to decide on the orthodoxy, or lack of it, of a Christian minister and his church. The intolerance of deviation from the accepted progressive line is frightening. They have deliberately chosen to ‘foster good relations’ with every community, except the Christians who believe in the Bible.
This has implications for more than Christians. Free speech is only free when it covers people with whom you disagree. Someone may well have felt insulted by Alan Clifford’s pamphlet. There is, however, no right not to be insulted.
That Christians are insulted is a commonplace in today’s UK. Does that mean that Richard Dawkins and Muriel Gray should be charged with hate crimes? Of course not. It is vitally important for the health of society and the Church that they must be free to express their sincerely held opinions. The way to meet them is with reason and argument, not with the blunt force of banning.
Norwich City Council takes a different view. Like totalitarians of every stripe they cannot bear the thought that anyone should disagree with them. They do not use reason or argument, they use force and intolerance.