Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Crucifix banned in Australian school

A Christian teenager has been banned from wearing a crucifix by her school. Jamie Derman, 17, told News Ltd newspapers she was stunned when told to remove her crucifix or she could be suspended. A Sunbury Downs Secondary College student, Ms Derman's cross is outlawed as part of the multicultural college's new rules on jewellery and dress. But churches have criticised the ban, saying it discouraged students' religious aspirations.

Ms Derman said she felt discriminated against. "I am angry, confused and upset," she said. "I honestly believe I should be allowed to acknowledge (my Christianity). Being told to take it off hurts. It cuts really deep." The cross had sentimental value because her baptism gifts were missing, Ms Derman said. "I can't understand why it is not all right for me to wear a cross," she said. "I honestly felt like crying."

Her father, Gordon, said the ban was the equivalent of ordering a female Muslim student to take off a religious head dress. "Nobody should take offence to anybody wearing a religious sign," Mr Derman said. "She has a right to wear it. I believe it is discriminatory. If we had a Muslim girl come wearing a headscarf, nobody would say `boo' about it."

A reasonable demonstration of one's faith was something Australians should rejoice in, said Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne auxiliary bishop Christopher Prouse. "People's religious aspirations need to be respected," Bishop Prouse said.

Sunbury Downs principal Brett Moore said teachers had enforced the new dress code. "It is not my decision, it is the policy," he said. "Necklaces should not be visible."



London is returning to an era of neighbourliness and low crime in which people are happy to leave their front doors open, according to the country's most senior policeman. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said the work of community-based Safer Neighbourhood Teams was making people feel as safe as they did 25 years ago.

He cited a recent visit to Haringey, North London, where he met two officers who had "adopted" a 19-storey tower block. "How long is it since police patrolled the corridors of a tower block?" Sir Ian asked. "It's as if, when the slums they replaced were flattened, the police stopped patrolling. People are opening their doors, leaving their doors open now, or leaving them unlocked, certainly, in a way they haven't done for 25 years."

In an interview with the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, published today, Sir Ian likened the leaders of the neighbourhood police teams to "the sheriff" keeping the peace on his patch. But the gaffe-prone commissioner's claims appear to be contradicted by local crime figures and his own force's crime prevention advice. In the year to July, Haringey police dealt with 2,834 burglaries of people's homes (54 per week) and 6,399 incidents of violence against the person. Crime in the borough, which includes the Broadwater Farm estate where a police officer died in rioting in 1985, is falling but there were still 33,138 incidents in the past year.

Far from telling people to leave their doors open, the Metropolitan Police website carries a wealth of information on how to make your front door more secure. The commissioner's comments provoked some surprise in Haringey, where his most recent visit, in July, was to inspect the work of a robbery squad. Local officers said they did not know which tower block Sir Ian was referring to. Damian Hockney, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said that the commissioner's remarks were "truly extraordinary".

Neil Williams, Liberal Democrat leader on Haringey council, was also surprised by Sir Ian's remarks. "Community policing has brought enormous benefits in making people safer and encouraging them to report crime. But we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water, people still need to take sensible precautions with their home security and I'm sure the police officers in that area would say that, too."

Sir Ian, who is on holiday, has kept a relatively low profile in recent months after widespread criticism. He said recently that reports of his demise were premature.

Sir Ian's record:

February 2005
With street crime rising, Sir Ian Blair announces crackdown on dinner-party drug scene

Declares Met "gold standard" for anti-terrorism hours before 7/7 bombings. Later says shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes directly linked to anti-terrorist operation

Accused of politicising police in lobbying MPs for anti-terrorism Bill

January 2006
Forced to apologise after saying he could not understand why the Soham murders were such a big story

Apologises again after admitting taping phone call to the Attorney-General, and five other calls, without consent

Another apology for Forest Gate anti-terror raid in which man was shot, no evidence of terrorism found


Some grassroots comments on Sir Ian's thoughts below:

The doors of Ermine House were firmly closed yesterday. Some of the flats had metal gates in front of them, others had cloth over the front door window to prevent prying. Lilian Heseltine, 69, has lived in the tower block in Tottenham, North London, for 30 years. "No way would I leave the door open, and I have never seen police patrolling inside the building," she said. "I'm not really happy here, but home is what you make of it and it is better than it was. I don't want to move."

The picture was similar at Stellar House, farther down the high road. A bored guard sat in reception monitoring his closed-circuit television screens and an entry phone had been installed to exclude non-residents. But it does not work, according to Sarah Elgar, 21. "You can get in if you don't live here," she said. "I see people smoking crack in the corridors and on the stairs. "I would never leave my door unlocked. Nobody that I know of does. The police don't patrol the building. The only time you see them they run past looking for someone. I was born in this area and the crime has got worse."

Laura Barrett, 38, a nurse whose motorbike was stolen recently, laughed at the suggestion that she would leave her door open or unlocked. "No way," she said.



At least their blatant hatred of Christians is being investigated

A criminal investigation has been started by Scotland Yard into an advertisement from the Gay Police Association (GPA) that blamed religion for a 74 per cent increase in homophobic crime. The Times has learnt that the inquiry into the advertisement, which was carried in The Independent, was ordered by the unit set up to counter hate crimes such as homophobia.

The advertisement depicted a Bible beside a pool of blood under the heading "In the name of the Father". It appeared in the newspaper's diversity supplement to coincide with the Europride event in London. It stated: "In the last 12 months the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74 per cent increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator."

Scotland Yard has rejected the 74 per cent figure, which it said did not reflect its statistics. Detective Chief Inspector Gerry Campbell, who leads the domestic violence and hate crime unit, disclosed the investigation in a letter to Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP. He wrote: "The original advertisement has been recorded as a religiously aggravated hate crime incident following a crime allegation by a member of the public. "This crime is now the subject of a proportionate effective and objective criminal investigation. The police senior investigating officer is in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service. Any decision to prosecute is the sole decision of the CPS."

The unit has referred the advertisement to the Directorate of Professional Standards at the Metropolitan Police. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has also been consulted.

Miss Widdecombe, a Christian who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1993, was angered by the advertisement. "It seems a deliberate attempt to stir up hate against Christians," she said. By using that famous line of worship, In The Name of the Father, the association is effectively alleging that Christians are solely responsible for hate crime. "The implication of this advertisement is that Christians stir up assault and abuse against homosexuals. "This is not true, as Christians are specifically taught not to hate; not just to refrain from acts or expressions of hatred, but not to give in to hate itself. "Imagine the outcry if the Koran rather than the Bible had been featured. Yet the teaching of both faiths is against homosexual acts. Why single out Christianity?"

Bernard McEldowney, the deputy chairman of the association, which is an independent body, said: "We wanted to focus on what we regard as a problem of faith-based homophobia, not just Christianity. "But when most people think about religion they think of the Bible which is why we agreed to illustrate the advert pictorially with a Bible. "In hindsight maybe we should not have used the Bible but we wanted to highlight serious homophobic incidents on the grounds and justification of religious belief." He said that they took out the advertisement in protest at the failure of the police service and its associated organisations to respond adequately to the problem. "We have highlighted a real problem by taking out the advertisement," he said.

The rise of 74 per cent was calculated by comparing the number of incidents reported to the association in 2004 that were either exclusively or primarily faith-based with those reported in 2005. The number of calls it received last year was about 250. "They were all serious," he added.


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