Title & Purpose

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.


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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Will the Haass proposals include Public Meetings such as 'Christian Commemorations', 'Gospel Open-airs' & 'Christian Protests'?

A previous attempt to resolve issues, through legislation, surrounding 'parading' in Northern Ireland  did envisage including Gospel Open-airs & Christian Protests. It was back in the spring of 2010 that the then proposed legislation was going to require anyone organising an open-air Gospel meeting or protest, where there was the prospect of more than 50 people in attendance, to have to give 37 and 22 working days notice respectively. Objectors to such events would only have had to give 7 days notice.

These proposals were only dropped after a storm of protest. At the time objections were received from the Human Rights Commission and the likes of Emmon McCann, hardly the frontline defenders of Gospel liberties!

This therefore begs the question whether the Haass proposals this time around will seek to include something similar? In reading through the 'Haass Proposals' the section dealing with 'Parades, Select Commemorations, and Related Protests' is not entirely clear. The document uses a raft of different wording and phraseology. For example, it includes the following words/phrases: 'parading and marching'; 'parades, protests, and events'; 'parades, protests, and other events'; 'parading, protesting, and assembling'; 'parade, commemorate, and protest'; 'parades, select commemorations, and related protests'; 'parades, select commemorations, and protests'; 'parades and other events' & 'parade or select commemoration', etc.

Some definitions are specifically given. For example:
Select commemorations are events:
• That are intended to commemorate or mark in any way any event of public significance that has occurred in Northern Ireland, or that occurred in another jurisdiction but holds a clear connection with events in Northern Ireland; 
• That hold the potential to disrupt normal public services, including vehicle traffic, public safety services, or public access to any location; and 
• In which the participants are moving or stationary.

Event- related protests are defined as protests that:
• Hold the potential to disrupt normal public services, as defined above; 
• Are held at or near the route or place of a parade or other event for which notification is required; 
• Are held at or around the time of the parade or other event; and 
• Have the purpose of demonstrating opposition to the parade or other event.

Requirements regarding notification for these 'event related protests' are also included:
Notification provisions for event-related protests are given separately below. They shall be treated by these new arrangements in the same fashion as parades, select commemorations, and related protests but subject to a necessarily shorter timeframe.

Notifications shall provide the information required by the Office in the procedures it establishes, including, at a minimum, the event’s sponsoring organisation and desired timing and location, estimated size, and purpose. Notifications shall also include the full name and contact information, including a telephone number, of an individual or individuals (up to three) notifying the event, who shall be considered the organiser or organisers

The document also contains a short paragraph which reads:
We agree that the legislation giving effect to these arrangements shall list events exempted from these notification requirements, including but not limited to funerals.

Will this list of exempted events include public meetings such as 'Christian Commemorations', 'Gospel Open-airs meetings' & 'Christian Protests'? I hope they will be exempted! However, with the ambiguity in the multiple use of different words and phrases it will be interesting to see what transpires if there is an agreement and legislation. It would not be surprising that those who have no time for evangelical religion in this Province would seek to curtail its expression. Increasingly, we are living in times when evangelical religion is pushed to the side and deemed to be something that only finds expression behind closed doors, and even then the state, and those with a secularist attitude, want to interfere. 

There are three specific areas where clarity is needed:
1. If a Christian organisation wanted to 'commemorate' or 'mark' some event of historical significance to say, Presbyterianism or more generally to Protestantism, would this come within this proposed legislation? It would seem that this type of commemoration does come within the proposals. The definition given refers to events: "That are intended to commemorate or mark in any way any event of public significance that has occurred in Northern Ireland," & "participants [are] moving or stationary".
2. If a 'protest' was arranged at short notice, say, against the blasphemous production 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at the Opera House or Odyessy Arena; or at the Marie Stopes Clinic; or at the Presbyterian General Assembly, as have all happened in recent times, would such protests come within this proposed legislation? It would seem, and I hope I am correct, that protests have to be connected to an event that initially requires permission such as a parade and is not inclusive of all protests. Nevertheless clarity is needed.
3. Will there be limits on 'events' such as open-air gospel meetings? Will there be limits as to where such 'events' can be convened? What are these 'other events' that are envisaged in this use of the term in the proposals? 

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