Friday, 10 February 2017

Nobody expects...the Church Police?

Photo: By Ertudu

An odd story caught my attention in Thursday's issue of The Times which reported that the private constables employed by York Minster Cathedral were to regain powers of arrest as a result of the growing threat of terrorism. To be honest I wasn't even aware the cathedral had it's own police force.

Just seven Cathedrals around the world have police forces including St Peters Basilica in the Vatican (which isn't so surprising) and the National Washington Cathedral. In the UK one other, Hereford has it's own constables  but they do not have any such powers.

The rationale behind this is the fear of atrocities such as the murder of Father Jacques Hamel in France by Islamist terrorists. However the private Constables will only be issued handcuffs.

These private police were actually established in 1106, though vanished for a while after a fire in 1839 until being revived in 1855. They are responsible for the security and fire safety and the movement of cash around the Minster. Oh and they direct tourists.

On it's own the decision to empower these constables does not raise any particular concerns. The problem is that this may set a precedent at a time when the encroachment of religion into public life is growing rather than retreating. Vigilante "Sharia Patrols" have been and continue to be a problem, especially when despite their condemnation by most Mosques, a network of Sharia Courts is known to be operating outside the country's legal system.

The Jewish Community has an organisation known as the Community Service Trust which cooperates with the police in order to prevent and deal with anti-Semitic attacks. They also have Beth Din courts which are quite often used by non-Jews for small financial disputes as they have a reputation for being fair and are a lot cheaper than the main legal system.

With the growth of Church run schools, Islamic academies and even the Prime Minister Theresa May foolishly suggesting that Sharia has a "place" in society there has never been a time in my living memory when the underlying secular nature of our society has been under threat.

One only has to look at the Islamic world to see why religion and the state must be kept separate. Saudi Arabia imprisons its women as second class citizens, suppressed religious dissent while Iran does much the same and executes gays on an alarmingly regular basis. Blasphemy laws are used and abused in Pakistan by individuals seeking to get out of debts and groups persecuting Christians. In Bahrain Christians are subject to Sharia Law which results in outwardly Christmas celebrations being illegal.

Not for one minute do I suggest that a handful of constables run by York Minster are going to take the role of the religious police in Islamic Countries and start whipping immoral women in the street or arresting passers by for blasphemy but since the "Rushdie Affair" the need to stand for secularism has never been greater.

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