Holy Smoke

Why the legal harassment of today’s Christians is the last legacy of the Soviet Union

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In this episode

Damian Thompson

Today’s Holy Smoke podcast is about the increasingly brutal bullying and silencing of people – especially Christians – who hold the ‘wrong’ opinions on controversial topics. A culture of censorship is becoming ever more deeply embedded in public institutions not just in Britain but also throughout Europe.

In London last month we witnessed the nasty spectacle of John Sherwood, a 71-year-old Christian pastor, being dragged off the street and surrounded by policeman for public preaching against gay marriage. In Finland, former interior minister Päivi Räsänen, an Evangelical Lutheran, faces a jail sentence because she tweeted out the same view. The authorities took offence, rooted through all her previous statements on Christian topics with Stasi-like zeal and found further evidence of ‘hate speech’ – so those have been added to the charge sheet.

I mention the Stasi because there is a direct link between Europe's increasingly fanatical attempts to police public opinion and the former Soviet bloc. My guest Paul Coleman, executive director of free-speech legal advocates ADF International, explains that when Moscow and its satellites were involved in drawing up international human rights legislation after the Second World War, they insisted that it should include the criminalisation of speech.

One wonders whether Boris Johnson and his ministers are aware of this and, if so, whether they care. As Coleman points out, although European bodies are hunting down heretics with predictable relish, the behaviour of the heavily politicised police forces of post-Brexit Britain is in some respects even worse.