Coffee House

Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS

29 August 2013

10:00 AM

29 August 2013

10:00 AM

You’re at home, enjoying a summery Saturday afternoon with the bees and nasturtiums on the patio, when the doorbell intrudes. You’re greeted by an impeccably courteous, fresh-faced police officer from the Norfolk Constabulary – ‘Dedicated to this neighbourhood’, according to their website – and he’s come to speak to you because there’s been a complaint.

Not, you understand, about the troubling number of burglaries, rising car thefts, incidences of property vandalism or madhouse music accompanying balmy barbeques. No, someone has reported you for sending them two gospel tracts by email, one entitled ‘Christ Can Cure – Good News for Gays’; and the other ‘Jesus Christ – the Saviour we all need’. Some people might have simply deleted them both and directed all further correspondence from you to ‘spam’, but these people got offended. Very offended. The allegation against you is that of ‘homophobic hate’.

The officer politely offers you a choice: you can either admit your guilt there and then, accepting an on-the-spot fine of £90. Or you can contest the allegation, provide a signed statement in your defence, after which it will be for a senior police officer to decide whether or not to refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service.

It is not clear at this stage upon what basis the police have judged the tracts to be ‘homophobic’. But it is made crystal clear that you may have committed a homophobic crime, having communicated by electronic means something likely to annoy or cause offence. You are the subject of a criminal investigation.

This was the scenario which confronted the Revd Dr Alan Clifford, Pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, the weekend before last. In theory, he could have declined the fine and refused to provide a statement, but Dr Clifford is a helpful and accommodating sort of chap. So, at 5.45pm on 17 August 2013, instead of settling down in front of the telly, he set about responding to a series of probing questions.

I have met Alan Clifford on a few occasions at various conferences: he is intelligent, educated and thoughtful. I don’t agree with his view of Islam (he says it is ‘evil’), and I’m not personally a fan of placards and tracts as a means of doing Christian mission. But his zeal for the gospel is burning and passionate: he believes every word of God’s plan for mankind and means every assurance he preaches. When he talks of healing, it is the sort that only God can bring to the sickness of the soul: an unavoidable surgery and lifetime of convalescence leading to eternal salvation. You may not approve of his medium or message, but ‘hate’ is as far from his essence as shade is from the surface of the sun.

Dr Clifford says he was not permitted to make a copy of his statement, so the precise details of his interrogation may not be exactly as recounted. But he recalls being asked why he had sent the e-mail in the first place – whether it was purposely to annoy or cause offence to the recipient(s). He responded: ‘No. I was reporting to the gay-pride people our Christian complaint against the public display of their homosexual propaganda, which we find offensive.’

In the hierarchy of competing rights, of course, offence is a one-way chase. He was then asked if he was aware that he’d actually committed a homophobic offence as defined by the official police leaflet which the officer then presented to him. It apparently defined such an offence as ‘any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’.

Dr Clifford patiently refuted the accusation, explaining pedantically (as a doctor of theology might) that the meaning of ‘homophobia’ stems from the Greek ‘phobia’, meaning ‘fear’, and does not embrace hatred. Whilst acknowledging the changing vernacular usage, he explained: ‘I certainly fear the influence of homosexuality on society, but this should not be regarded as “hatred” unless criticism is taken to mean “hatred”.’


He pointed out to the officer that his tract was actually subtitled ‘A Compassionate call to Christian Conversion’, and asked: ‘Is that hatred? We don’t hate these people. We love them and want to help them. So, even though the gay-pride people are upset, we are guilty of no crime.’

But the Norfolk Constabulary don’t seem to go for homophobia gift-wrapped in compassion: they had, it seems, already determined Dr Clifford’s guilt on the basis of a complaint by someone at Norwich Pride, hence the immediate offer of a £90 fine to make it all go away. This is speed-camera homophobia: capture an image of the incident; pay a reduced fixed penalty now; or dare to defend yourself in protracted court proceedings which might result in a greater fine and/or even a custodial sentence.

Dr Clifford helpfully explained the law to the police officer, pointing out that the European Court of Human Rights, in Handyside v UK (1976), made it clear that freedom of expression embraces not only information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also, ‘those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society’.

But that didn’t wash either. Since Dr Clifford felt he was effectively in the dock, a little more case law was adduced by the defence: Lord Justice Sedley, in Redmond Bate v DPP (2000), famously said that, ‘Free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and provocative provided that it does not tend to violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having’.

Both European law and the English common Law establish by precedent that Dr Clifford may exercise his freedom of speech – especially in regard to religious liberty and preaching the Word of God – even if this might cause offence.

The police officer was nothing but polite and courteous throughout, and asked Dr Clifford if he wished to contact a solicitor. Dr Clifford declined, and was then informed that a senior officer would decide whether the complaint should be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A decision has now, in fact, been taken: a senior police officer at the Norfolk Constabulary has got a whiff of homophobia under his nostrils, and the case has been referred to the CPS. The Revd Dr Alan Clifford, BA, MLitt, PhD, Pastor of Norwich Reformed Church, now awaits a decision on whether he will indeed be prosecuted.

I have read these tracts, and there isn’t a word of hate in them. Certainly, they rail rather robustly against the ‘liberal elite’ and ‘politically correct decadence’ (they also have a go at the ‘cowardly churches’). But their overriding message is theological and soteriological, impressing upon the reader that the wages of sin is death and that Christ is absolutely necessary for healing and salvation. Didn’t Christ warn his disciples that people would hate them for bringing such a message? Dr Clifford makes it clear that other violations against the laws of God include fornication and adultery: in the Early Church, he tells us, ‘ex-sodomites sat alongside ex-fornicators, ex-adulterers, ex-drunkards and ex-thieves’. So it was all redeemed sinners together in the kingdom.

But you know how it is: a seared mind will magnify the words and categories which personally offend, and those sentences come crashing over all reason and compassion. Any talk in these tracts of love, comfort, support and prayer is displaced in the peeved mind by ‘perversion’, ‘disorientation’, ‘shameful’ and ‘immoral’. It’s a good job adultery, drunkenness and theft aren’t protected characteristics – there’d be nobody left to preach to.

The curious thing is that there is nothing in these tracts that isn’t written in the Bible and certain sections of the Qur’an. And Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote that the homosexual inclination – not merely the act – is ‘ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil’, and so it must be seen as an ‘objective disorder’. Since neither historical context nor dogmatic theology are any longer a defence against causing offence, this statement may undoubtedly be ‘perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’. Forget the fact that the Pope referred to the need for a compassionate response to personal problems and difficulties; forget that he talked about the need for care of the whole human person; forget that he eschewed ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ as overriding the fundamental identity as a child of God. The victim will read ‘intrinsic moral evil’ and ‘objective disorder’, and will surely perceive homophobia.

Have we really reached the stage where one may be prosecuted for sending a Papal pastoral letter to Stonewall? If ‘Good News for Gays’ is prohibited by law, then ‘Good News for Muslims’ and ‘Good News for Jews’ must likewise be banned. In fact, Good News for any protected characteristic may be deemed to constitute ‘hate’, so we might as well abandon the pulpits and close all the churches. The gospel may now only be preached safely to white, able-bodied heterosexuals, and you’d better hope that ‘any other person’ doesn’t happen accidentally to overhear.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 contains the offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Anyone using threatening words or behaviour, or anyone displaying, publishing or distributing any written material which is threatening, is liable for prosecution. Former Conservative Home Secretary Lord Waddington won an amendment to an earlier version of the law, which established that no one might be prosecuted for stating their belief that homosexuality is sinful or wrong. It read: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.’

But that protection will be illusory for as long as homophobia is defined and understood by the police as ‘any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’.  Against that background, all mission-orientated Christians will need to temper their proselytism – especially on Gay Pride marches.

Dr Clifford tells me that Huguenot Calvinists are not easily intimidated, and that his faith in God is sustaining him: ‘I am not in deep shock: I enjoy perfect peace,’ he said. Others, of course, may not be so robust and may indeed prefer to pay a £90 fine. Much may depend on the tone and manner of the interrogating police officer.

I confess I used to view with a degree of discouragement and dismay those Bible-bashing Christians with their ‘end-of-the-world’-type placards, preaching fire and brimstone and hell and damnation. I find myself now feeling not much less than contempt for those gays who persecute and prosecute elderly hotel owners and B&B proprietors, or call in the police when they receive ‘Good News for Gays’ in their inbox. It is deeply and profoundly intolerant. They reduce public moral discourse to crass displays of boorish posturing and infantile ethics. For God’s sake, grow up.

Adrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian and educationalist. He writes a Daily Mail blog. Follow Adrian on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Richard Baron

    It so happens that I disagree with Dr Clifford in many ways: there is
    nothing remotely wrong with homosexual acts or relationships, they are
    just as passionate, meaningful and worthy as heterosexual ones, they do
    not need any kind of special justification, and there is no God anyway.
    But this is a clear example of the police wasting police time. It is
    also utterly wrong to refer to police leaflets as a source of law (and a
    quick search suggests that the quoted definition is a police definition
    of a hate incident, not of a hate crime, so falling within those words
    may not constitute a crime). I am reminded of what Voltaire actually did say (in response to the burning of an atheist book by Helvétius):

    Quel fracas pour le livre de M. Helvétius! voilà bien du bruit pour une omelette!

    • teapartydoc

      I think you need to find replacements for the phrase “utterly wrong” in your personal lexicon. They just don’t seem to fit in with everything else you say.

    • Mo86

      “there is nothing remotely wrong with homosexual acts or relationships,”

      The health stats say otherwise.

      “they are just as passionate, meaningful and worthy as heterosexual ones,”

      The social stats say otherwise.

      ” they do not need any kind of special justification,”

      And yet homosexuals are now demanding it by demanding same-sex “marriage” be legally recognized by the government.

      ” and there is no God anyway.”

      And you know that how?

  • alanhenderson

    How did the word “phobia” ever get morphed into a synonym for “prejudice?” “Phobia” isn’t just some ancient Greek root – it’s a modern American word with an objective definition.

  • malcolm

    The biggest con perpetrated by the “gay” community is that there is such a thing as “gay people” – there is no evidence for this. There are however people who choose to adopt homosexual lifestyles. Thus “gay” cannot be equated with race or disability since black and disabled people cannot change their race or disability.

    People who are practising homosexuals can make a choice to stop. Why do I say this – because I know many people who have done this. Many gay men have got married and had children – by this I mean a real marriage with a woman. “Gay” is better equated with vegetarianism as being a choice.

    • Tim

      What an absolutely ridiculous comment. Sexuality is not a choice and cannot be turned on and off like a switch. Gay people have no choice in who they are attracted to in the same way as heterosexual people have no choice.
      Many gay people do indeed ‘choose’ a heterosexual route but mainly are unhappy, many become emotionally unstable and most eventually succumb to their natural, in built orientation.
      Its little wonder that suicide rates are the highest amongst gay teenagers than any other group when breathtaking ignorance is displayed by contributors like Malcolm who is at best a troll or more likely a religious nutjob who foams at the mouth at any little deviation from that biggest fairytale of all time called the bible.

      • sheppied007

        I wonder what you mean by ‘sexuality is not a choice’. So, it’s involuntary, like the contraction of internal organs, the heart, the stomach and the intestine.

        If that’s the idea, all sexuality, however extreme in expression, is beyond conscious control. Of course, given the context, it’s only orientation sexuality that you view as involuntary. And how do you see off any objective contention that ‘not a choice’ affirms all other expressions of sexuality, however extreme, as involuntary?

        Just cry ‘homophobia’, threaten prosecution and invoke ‘protected characteristic’ victim status with no need to engage the power of reason. What a relief to you that must be!

        • Tim

          How very pedantic. Sexual attraction is indeed involuntary, I’m sure you don’t wake up and decide to find blondes attractive to the exclusion of all black haired women and then vice versa the following day.
          The chemistry cannot be changed but I would agree that someone can decide not to act upon that attraction or take an opposite course such as a gay man sleeping with a female.

          I will also agree there can be a degree of abuse of laws in place that are, quite rightly, designed to protect gay people. In this case the line has been overstepped, personally I am all for these religious fools spouting their rubbish because it demonstrates their ignorance and their own stupidity. Better they are exposed than trying to sweep that ignorance and stupidity behind a curtain of police cautions and prosecutions.

          • sheppied007

            If there was no genuine distinction between them, it would indeed be pedantic to distinguish sexuality from sexual attraction. The fact is that they are not one and the same. The process of how we respond to attraction is not a completely unconscious response.

            So, it’s not homophobic to declare that a person’s decision not to act upon an attraction or impulse ( including homosexual) is entirely possible.

            Neither is it homophobic to declare that, though it is often difficult, we can resolve not to indulge sexual imagination with respect to an attraction.

            It is also not homophobic to explain that Jesus with Messianic authority, challenged the ritualised concealment and externalised morality of Pharisees with the insistence that even the visual indulgence of a prohibited desire incurred the prospect of complete abandonment to the power of that indulgence. (Matt. 5)

            The qualms of conscience that he and John the Baptist aroused might have been deemed by today’s Public Order Act as ‘alarm or distress’, but it is not homophobic to extend to those with such qualms, the promise of eternal forgiveness and divine support of human resolve to avoid the indulgence of prohibited desires.

            Of course, anyone is free to view this position as empty superstition, but to prosecute on the basis of individual claims of alarm or distress, rather than a fair proportion of a person’s audience is patently false.

            • Tim

              I’m not entirely disagreeing with your sentiments, as I stated previously, I’m not entirely happy the application of hate laws are being implemented in the correct manner in some cases as highlighted in the article.

              I’m also not disagreeing it’s not possible to refrain from acting on sexual desire, many people lead a single life, gay and straight, without choosing to indulge in any sexual contact.

              Where I might disagree is someone telling another it’s not right for them to indulge in a practise just because they find it objectionable. I’m not necessarily including an audience of like minded people as you suggest but more on an individual basis. When someone tells me I’m wrong to engage with other men, I tell them to mind their own business and go take a hike (rather than call the police and call homophobia).

              On the subject of Jesus, there is now a school of thought that he had sexual relations with John the Baptist. Interesting considering the traditional line on homosexuality taken by many Christian denominations.

              • sheppied007

                I agree with much of what you say in your earlier paragraphs (why wouldn’t I?) It’s a refreshing change from trying to trump each other’s protected characteristics.

                The focus on preaching at gay pride celebrations seems disproportionate. The good reverend’s Calvinist ethos also eschews divorce for any other reason than adultery. So, I guess he should also set up his pamphlet stall outside our courts and solicitors’ offices to berate the shamelessness of ‘no-fault’ divorce!

      • malcolm

        Tim. You make statements with absolutely no evidence. What is the evidence that “Sexuality is not a choice and cannot be turned on and off like a switch”, I would suggest the evidence is that it is a choice or is inconclusive either way. There are even pro-gay marriage contributors on this site who accept that. There may well be homosexuals who regret choosing an heterosexual route but there are also homosexuals who marry a woman and are perfectly happy.

        Why am I a troll (whatever that is) or a religious nut job just because I hold views which are self-evidently correct. The last resort of those who have lost the argument is to resort to personal insults.

        For the record, I would expect most Christians who, for example, saw a gay person being attacked in the street, to intervene to protect that person. If you read a bit more about Christianity, you would see that their faith requires this. Also, I have never met a Christian who “hates” gays as is often alleged. They hate the sin that is being perpetrated by them not the sinner.

        • Tim

          If you claim sexuality may be a choice, by the same token you would have to agree that heterosexuals have the same choice. Considering most school of thought by the experts is that sexuality is not a choice and from the experiences myself and those I know, it is apparent that it is hard wired and cannot be reversed.
          Your views are not evidently correct either, you have no proof in your statement.
          As for Christians, true they may step in and help anyone in need and a minority may well hate the sin but not the person (in the same way some may hate the religion but not the person practising it) but that does not negate the fact that minority does a good job of trying to convey otherwise although most Christians have no problem with either the person or their sexuality. In fact, in a recent survey most were in favour of equal marriage.

          As for losing the argument due to personal insults – nope an observation does not lose an argument only flawed logic which I find most who object to gay people generally have.

          • malcolm

            Unfortunately you are wrong. I am a professional scientists and have researched the literature. There is no evidence that homosexuality is hard wired. Furthermore, if you go down that road you can argue that other things such as, paedophilia, violent behaviour, predisposition to lying etc etc are also hard wired. It is an useful means of avoiding personal responsibility.

            I think your logic is totally flawed but I dont resort to personal insults like troll and religious nutter

            • Tim

              How convenient you happen to be professional scientist but I will have to take your word for that. I have also read and researched this subject and there are colleagues of yours who would very much disagree with you including international bodies. I am afraid that in my opinion you are wrong. I will leave it there, we will have to agree to disagree.

              • malcolm

                OK. For the record – BSc and PhD in Chemistry,

                • Guglielmo Marinaro

                  BSc and PhD in Chemistry. Excellent, but not qualifications which give your opinion about sexual orientation any authority of superior knowledge.

                  I know for a fact that I did not choose my sexual orientation, but I cannot prove this to anyone else. If anyone insists that I did, I cannot prove them wrong. Other people say that they did not choose their sexual orientation either, but they cannot prove it to me or to anyone else. For all that I know, I may be the only person in the world who did not choose his sexual orientation, and everyone else who says that they didn’t choose theirs may be lying. This is logically possible. It is not in the tiniest degree likely.

                • malcolm

                  But it does mean I move in the scientific community and I am aware of the strengths and limitations of scientific methods. I also read the literature widely.

                  The point is homosexuals can claim there is a “gay gene” but nobody can prove that there isn’t one – you cant prove a negative. Despite years of searching there is still no evidence of a gay gene and so, at the very least, we must consider the possibility that there is no such thing. Clearly for SOME people it is a choice because they switch sexuality sometimes several times. Equally SOME people have been successfully counselled away from homosexuality.

                  Personally I am a libertarian and believe people should be free to pursue their own sexual orientation unhindered. However, I dont believe others should be forced to accept views they dont agree with. If a hotelier cannot in all conscience rent a room to a gay couple then he should not be forced to do so.

    • Guglielmo Marinaro

      I don’t doubt that people who are practising homosexuals can make a choice to stop, and that many gay men can get married and have children. (I know some who have done just that. From what they have told me, the decision was not a wise one, was fair neither to themselves nor to their spouses, and is not one which they would make if they had their time over again.) Similarly I don’t doubt that it is possible for men who are practising heterosexuals to stop, and even, for some at least, to form gay relationships – I mean real gay relationships with other men. What of it? There is no good reason why either homosexual or heterosexual people should act contrary to their natural sexuality.

      • malcolm

        I agree with much of what you say but why dont they say this and stop trying to brainwash us into believing that they are a separate class of people like (say) black people or disabled people whose must have equality in every walk of life. They already have that equality.

        Equally, gay people need to understand that a lare body of people find homosexuality repulsive and dont want it constantly thrus in their face

    • Mo86

      Absolutely right.

  • matthewdolman

    To be honest the precedent that this whole homosexuality episode sets scares me, a lot.

    Effectively the “victim” is the jury, and decides if a person has committed the crime.

  • Ike

    He is right, Islam denies that Jesus died on the cross, that He is Lord and Saviour – those are anti Christ views. John’s letters deal very ably with this issue of the anti Christ, anti Christ views stand for, permit evil. He who is not with me is against me, Jesus says..

  • Hugh_Oxford

    “Dr Clifford helpfully explained the law to the police officer, pointing out that the European Court of Human Rights, in Handyside v UK (1976), made it clear that freedom of expression embraces not only information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also, ‘those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society’.”

    Why didn’t the police officer know this before he even thought of disturbing Dr Clifford? What does this say about the woefully inadequate training of police officers today?

  • Demon Teddy Bear

    A useful article – thank you. So, Dr Clifford is being harassed by the police for daring to respond with a pamphlet to a Gay Power march (let’s call it what it is). Takes you straight back to the 1660’s, doesn’t it? How dare a man object to these perverts parading down the centre of his city, just to make sure everyone in this rural place knows who holds the power. They will now torment him; the standard treatment of “the process is the punishment” routine, of “investigations” and “questionings”, drawn out as long as possible. It’s not applied to Moslems, of course, who might riot; only to a harmless old clergyman.
    But Norfolk Police are a sinister lot anyway. They didn’t protect an frail elderly farmer named Tony Martin from repeated attempts at burglary; when a gang of professional robbers came to his house one night, the police were all busy nicking motorists on the Kings Lynn by-pass. Martin was a brave man and let off a shotgun at them, accidentally killing one; whereupon he was thrown in jail and kept there for the maximum possible period.
    Likewise the plod in December 2000 witnessed a huge gathering of vagabonds in Yarmouth at the millennium, taking over the centre of the town and preventing any millennium celebrations. The police did nothing to remove the occupying gangs; and, afterwards, handed the town a bill of quarter of a million pounds for “overtime”.
    I don’t know what sort of role Norfolk Police played in the unreported race riots on Thetford — itself a sleepy small town on which a huge population of immigrants has been quartered. But I can guess.
    Norfolk Police look like a force of occupation to me. It’s time Norfolk people treated them as such.

  • la Catholic state

    The police need to realise something. They are here to protect the public from crime….and catch dangerous criminals. They are not here to enforce the ideological agenda of the chattering (but vicious) classes!
    Get it right police please!

  • Donald Spitz

    Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals
    commit crimes against God and against the Holy Bible. After reading this story I
    now know why God wrote:
    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he
    lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall
    surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
    Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to
    uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies
    between themselves:
    :26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile
    affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is
    against nature:

    :27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use
    of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that
    which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error
    which was meet.

  • malcolm

    These laws explain why opinion polls (wrongly) suggest that a majority of the population approve of homosexual marriage. Who in their right minds is going to say they disapprove if they face this sort of intimidation

    • Guest

      Considering opinion polls are anonymous and considering just saying no to the equal marriage question, I would suggest most are supportive and therefore opinion polls are correct

      • malcolm

        You are joking. When you see what has happened to Alan Clifford and to other people who have lost their jobs. Keep your own counsel I would say

    • Tim

      Considering opinion polls are anonymous and considering just saying no to the equal marriage question would in no way constitute violation of any laws, I would suggest most people are supportive and the polls are correct.

  • malcolm

    Lets face it. The police are exceeding their powers in situations like this and there is also no consistency between police forces.

    This is purely a case of police intimidation by threatening prosecution.

  • Tim

    Sounds like this Dr Clifford is your average deluded religious nut job who thinks it’s his place to spew his rubbish. As a gay man I have no problem with that as long as I have the right to tell him to get lost. On a side note, I bet Dr Clifford wears clothes of a different mix of fibre and doesn’t stone people to death because they work on the Sabbeth.