August 28, 2006

Sign of the Cross and a Sad Sign of the Times

I don't know what incenses me more - the events which spawned this article or the tone of the article itself. Some background here. Apparently a goalkeeper on a Scottish soccer team made the sign of the cross during a match. This prompted a police investigation and led authorities. What offense say you? Let the PC prosecutor tell you:

On this occasion, the actions included a combination of behaviour before a crowd
in the charged atmosphere of an Old Firm match which provoked alarm and crowd trouble and as such constituted a breach of the peace.

Ruth Kelly, a former Education Secretary questioned the prosecutor's handling of the case, and this piece of objective journalism:

Kelly risks raising tensions on bigotry in football

By Lucy Bannerman

RUTH KELLY risked inflaming a row over religious bigotry in Scottish football
yesterday when she questioned the decision to caution a Celtic goalkeeper who
blessed himself during an Old Firm match.

In an unusual move, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, a Roman Catholic, expressed an opinion on the case, which was handled by Scottish prosecutors, saying that she was “surprised” by the warning given to a Polish player, Artur Boruc, for a breach of the peace after he made the gesture on the pitch.An investigation by the Procurator Fiscal found that Boruc had made several gestures, including the sign of the cross, which provoked “alarm and crowd trouble” and which were directed towards the primarily Protestant home fans during the match at Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium on February 12.

The fixture between Celtic and Rangers — each of which has strong religious associations — has long been a flashpoint for sectarian tensions, and Strathclyde Police and the Scottish Executive have taken a tough stance on bigotry within the game.

However, Ms Kelly, a member of the Opus Dei institution, yesterday questioned whether the police investigation of the complaints ran counter to values of religious tolerance.

Airing her views on the BBC News 24 Sunday Programme, she said: “I am surprised because this has traditionally been a country which has valued religious diversity — and cultural and racial diversity as well — and where there has been freedom of expression, both to express religious symbols but also other cultural symbols as well.”

Ms Kelly, the former Education Secretary, has repeatedly denied that her religious beliefs may influence decisions she makes as a minister.

Her membership of Opus Dei, the conservative religious organisation that regards practising homosexuals as sinners, came under particular scrutiny after her appointment as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, a position that puts her in charge of the Government’s equality unit and anti-discrimination policy.

The Catholic Church in Scotland has already condemned the decision to caution Boruc, 26, after complaints were made about his behaviour.

However, in a statement last night the Crown Office said that it had been “in the public interest” to take action against Boruc. A more minor incident would have been dealt with informally by police, it added.

The prosecuting body said: “We have a well-established policy of looking carefully and sensitively at incidents involving participants at sporting events. The Procurator Fiscal concluded that the effect of the behaviour of the player on the crowd was such as to require the consideration of criminal proceedings.

“It concluded it was necessary to bring clearly to the player’s attention that conduct which involved gesticulating at and incensing the crowd at a football match amounted to the offence of breach of the peace and was unacceptable.”

Prosecutors had not seen Boruc’s gesture because it was not caught on camera, the statement added, but they relied on witness statements and footage of the crowd’s response.

The caution, which is effectively an alternative to prosecution, does not leave him with a criminal record, although information about the caution will be retained.

A new strategy tackling religious bigotry within football is expected to be published this year.

Witness statements? Investigation? Breach of the peace. The world must be coming to an end because I just don't understand it anymore.


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