Six hundred attacks on religious buildings and places of worship in Northern Ireland in last five years

According to police figures, 601 incidents of criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries have occurred since 2014/15.

The number of attacks during each year has remained fairly consistent, though it has been ever so slightly decreasing year on year.

There were 136 instances in 2014/15; 128 in 2015/16; 118 in 2016/17; 115 in 2017/18 and 104 in 2018/19.

The majority of these attacks took place in Belfast (173), followed by Lisburn and Castlereagh (60), Newry, Mourne and Down (58) and Ards and North Down (57).

The figures were uncovered by Christian Action Research & Education (Care NI) following a Freedom of Information request, according to Belfast Live.

Details of the attacks range between anything from window vandalism, to paint bombing and incidents of arson.

Synagogues and Islamic centres have also been subject to attacks, most notably in the Northern Irish capital.

Care NI policy officer Mark Baillie said churches are being attacked with “alarming regularity”, adding that it makes sense to consider introducing a security fund.

“More than 600 attacks in the last five years is a reminder that places of worship, which should be safe spaces for worshippers and congregants, are all too often targeted by vandalism and violence,” he said.

“The gradual easing of lockdown will surely only increase the opportunity and risk of further attacks and therefore it’s important MLAs take action.”

The door of a Roman Catholic Church suffers scorch damage from petrol bombs and paint during a sectarian attack in Northern Ireland

Care NI has called on the Stormont Executive to consider policies to ensure that places of worship are properly protected.

It has previously called for a Places of Worship: Protective Security Funding Scheme to be set up, mirroring a similar scheme available in England and Wales.

Recently, Scotland has adopted a similar scheme following a number of attacks in 2019, leaving Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK without any such set up.

“Last year, following Care NI’s previous research into this issue, we wrote to the party leaders asking for a manifesto commitment to create a security fund,” Baillie continued.

“We had positive engagement with a number of political parties and we are today calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to take this up.

“The scheme in England and Wales is a practical step we could introduce here to equip places of worship to invest in adequate security to prevent criminal damage.

“In a free and democratic society, no-one should be afraid of gathering together with those who share their faith in a place of worship.”


The Christians of Iraq ‘may again face martyrdom’

KHALIS AYSHOA is a former Member of the Iraqi Parliament (2010-2014), where he served as head of the Popular Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Council. A Syriac Catholic and native of Qaraqosh,  on the Nineveh Plains, he is former chief engineer at the Ministry of Construction and Housing. He spoke with Aid to the Church in Need about the situation of Christians in northern Iraq:

“Iraqi Christians have been subjected to various types of marginalization, persecution, displacement and killing throughout history. Most recently that was the case when ISIS occupied northern Iraq and committed genocide, beginning in 2014. That was the conclusion of research by the Shlomo Organization for Documentation, which I headed, and which documented crimes against the Christian minority. The report was published June 1, 2017.

Khalis Ayshoa
Khalis Ayshoa

“The Nineveh Plain is a region of diverse religions and nationalities. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rise of radical Islam and the growth of Iran-backed Shiite militias, non-Muslim minorities found themselves in a weak position. Extremist Islam began to focus on these minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, and began a process of marginalization, calling them infidels. Greed for these minorities’ historical lands triggered the process of demographic change, killing, kidnapping and threats.

“Terrorist militias killed more than 1,200 Christians between 2003 and 2014, in addition to targeting more than 147 churches in Iraq. Some of the countries neighboring Iraq support such terrorist acts; then there is the ongoing presence of Iran-backed militias that pose a danger to the future of the minorities, and Christian militias cannot turn the tide.

“The international community, the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, and everyone interested in continued presence of Christians in Iraq must move quickly to ensure that the requirements for their existence and safety are met. Otherwise, a dangerous situation will persist, and Christians may again face martyrdom.

“The most important actions that will encourage Christians to stay here are as follows:
1- Rebuilding the region and providing basic services through the contributions of the international community in coordination with the Iraqi government.

2- Stopping the policy of demographic change in Christian areas, with Muslims pushing out Christians.

3- Changing laws and regulations in force in Iraq that negatively affect the religious freedom and dignity of the Christian people.

4- Pressuring the Iraqi government to reconsider school curricula in Iraq to acknowledge and define the existence of the Iraqi pluriform national religious culture, history and identity.

5- Supporting the creation of small and medium-size enterprises for the purpose of employing inhabitants of the Nineveh Plains.

“Success on these fronts depends on the extent of external cooperation with Iraq and the pressure on the government here, but I hope it will happen. Among world leaders, I have most confidence in President Trump. The US Administration is the one who serves the interests of the Iraqi people because it is a decision-maker. We have tried with the Europeans before; they are sympathetic, but not decisive.

—Ragheb Elias Shaba


The ‘slippery slope’ is real, says Dutch euthanasia doctor

‘Every time a line was drawn, it was also pushed back.’

“Anti-euthanasia lobbyists want the public to believe in the inevitability of the slippery slope, but their fears are unwarranted, wrote a Canadian doctor earlier this year.

Where better to test this than the Netherlands?

In 2019, according to the official figures, there were 6,361 cases of euthanasia – 4.2 percent of all deaths. In other words, one out of 25 people are killed by doctors in the Netherlands. And those are just the official figures. It is widely accepted that a good number of euthanasia deaths are not reported, mostly because doctors don’t like the extra paperwork involved.

How do Dutch euthanasia doctors feel about this?

Pretty good, actually.

Writing in the NTGV, the Dutch Medical Association Journal, Dr Bert Keizer reflects on the history of Dutch euthanasia. Somewhat surprisingly, he endorses the notion that euthanasia is a “slippery slope”. Better said, he embraces it.

Dr Keizer is a Grand Old Man of Dutch euthanasia. A philosopher and a geriatrician, he now works for Expertisecentrum Euthanasie, the new name for Levenseindekliniek(the End of Life Clinic). It was born as a project of the NVVE, the Dutch Right to Die Society. He writes:

“After the turn of the [last] century, what our British colleagues had predicted years earlier with unconcealed complacency happened: those who embark on euthanasia venture down a slippery slope along which you irrevocably slide down to the random killing of defenceless sick people.”

This does not upset him too much. In his eyes, expanding the criteria for euthanasia eligibility is the path of progress. After all, it happened with abortion, too.

“With every limit we set ourselves, there is the possibility to cross it. This also applies in the peripheral areas of ethical conduct. Abortion was once not allowed, then hardly, then until 12 weeks and now even up to 20 weeks. That ‘even’ says it all. Something similar is now underway in the field of human embryo research, where we are starting to leave the ‘never’ stage.”

He describes the progress of euthanasia in the Netherlands.

“And so it was with euthanasia. Every time a line was drawn, it was also pushed back. We started with the terminally ill, but also among the chronically ill it turned out to be hopeless and unbearable suffering. Subsequently, people with incipient dementia, psychiatric patients, people with advanced dementia, (high) elderly who struggled with an accumulation of old-age complaints and finally (high) elderly who, although not suffering from a disabling or limiting disease, still find that their life no longer has content. The unfortunate term ‘completed life’ was used for the problem of the latter group.”

What Dr Keizer has witnessed in his long career is the gradual but inevitable change in what doctors are willing to do for their patients. Perhaps “slippery slope” sounds too harsh, because it evokes the image of a headlong tumble down a cliff. He prefers to think of it as a gradual erosion of boundaries.

“In retrospect, it is true that we now provide euthanasia to people to whom we had said, a little indignantly, 20 years ago, ‘Come on, that is really impossible’. And looking ahead, there is no reason to believe that this process will stop in case of incapacitated dementia. What about the prisoner who has a life sentence and desperately longs for death? Or doubly disabled children who, although institutionalized, suffer unbearably and hopelessly according to their parents as a result of self-harm? I don’t believe we are on a slippery slope, in the sense of heading for disaster. Rather, it is a shift that is not catastrophic, but it does require that we continue to get involved as a community.”

This passage from Dr Keizer’s article suggests that the two sides of the euthanasia debate have zeroed in on the wrong word. Instead of arguing about whether a slippery slope exists – because they agree on that — they should focus on the meaning of “disaster”.

Obviously, if one takes the nihilistic view that death is a good thing, the more euthanasia, the better.

Michael Cook Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet

Babies on demand: the nasty side of surrogacy

One agency shows a smiling blonde wearing a T-shirt captioned ‘I grow cute babies’

August 7, 2020

Could possession of the Bible become an offence in Scotland?

The new Hate Crime Bill will make criminals of us all

” alt=”Could possession of the Bible become an offence in Scotland?” /> iStock

For the Scottish National party, the phrase ‘nanny state’ is not so much a criticism as an aspiration. This is the party that wanted to assign a state guardian to every child born in Scotland through its ‘named person’ scheme, only to be thwarted by the Supreme Court. Under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership, there have been repeated attempts to regulate the eating and drinking habits of people, including proposed bans on two-for-one pizza deals and minimum pricing on cheaper alcoholic drinks.

It makes sense, then, that the party’s paternalism should extend to the question of free speech. Scotland’s new Hate Crime and Public Order Bill was ostensibly proposed to repeal outdated proscriptions against blasphemy, but will instead usher in a range of new blasphemy laws by stealth. Most controversially, part two of the Bill pertains to the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’, which criminalises anyone who ‘behaves in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner’ or ‘communicates threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person’.

Moreover, the Bill explicitly allows for intention to be put aside. If behaviour or material is ‘likely’ to stir up hatred against any protected groups (defined by age, disability, racial or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, transgender identity or ‘variations in sex characteristics’) then whether or not the perpetrator intended to do so is immaterial. Even an actor playing a bigoted character could be prosecuted under the proposed laws. An entire section of the Bill is devoted to the ‘public performance of a play’, which specifies that actors and directors can be found culpable if members of protected groups find the material offensive. So if you are troubled by the anti-Semitism of Shylock’s detractors, or the Islamophobia of Tamburlaine’s decision to burn the Quran, you can complain to the Scottish police. Next year’s Edinburgh Festival should be interesting.

The implications for stand-up comedy are similarly dire. As practitioners of an art form that often teases the limits of public tolerance, comedians frequently find themselves involved in free speech battles. The dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Roddy Dunlop QC, has already warned that stand-up would not be exempt from the SNP’s Bill, and that even an old-fashioned ‘Scotsman, Irishman and Englishman’ joke may be perceived as discriminatory. Certainly, some of the more subversive acts that regularly appear at Comedy Unleashed, a night I co-founded in London, would be at risk of prosecution should they venture north of the border.

The Bill even goes as far as to criminalise the possession of ‘inflammatory’ material, which is why senior Catholic bishops have raised concerns that possession of the Bible could become a criminal offence. Let’s not forget that Leviticus 20:13 calls for the execution of gay men.

In a statement that out-Donald-Trumps Donald Trump, the SNP’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has asserted that the Bill ‘does not undermine free speech’, but rather ‘protects it’. Given that this Bill could see those found guilty of ‘insulting’ behaviour imprisoned for seven years, Yousaf’s claim is at once hilarious and disturbing.

‘The Bill does not seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way,’ writes Yousaf. ‘People will still be able to express controversial, challenging or even offensive views as long as this is not done in a threatening or abusive way that is intended to stir up hatred or likely to stir up hatred.’ None of which addresses the problem of how such vague legislation is apt to be interpreted. In accordance with all official law enforcement guidance in the UK, the website for Police Scotland defines an incident or crime as ‘hateful’ based on the perception of the ‘victim’ (Newspeak for ‘complainant’). If hatred is a matter of perception and not intent, and even the context of dramatic representation is considered irrelevant, how can we possibly safeguard against the abuse of state power?

We must always be vigilant against the introduction of legislation when couched in such vague terms. Yousaf’s stated conviction that ‘free speech itself is never an unfettered right’ strongly suggests that the Bill’s ambiguity is no accident. Even the Scottish Police Federation has warned that its effects would be tantamount to the ‘policing of what people think or feel’, and the Law Society of Scotland had called it a ‘significant threat to freedom of expressions’. That the SNP seem determined to ignore these objections may not be particularly surprising, but it should be a matter of uttermost concern for those of us who still believe in the preservation of liberal values.