A Catholic priest was questioned by police for more than an hour recently, under new race hate laws, for views he expressed in his parish newsletter last year, about a Muslim girl who went to court over her wish to wear a full veil in class. Father John Hayes, 71, from St Mary's in Hornchurch, Essex, had voiced concern about the growth of religious extremism in the UK, following the case of Shabina Begum, who, represented by Cherie Blair QC, claimed unsuccessfully that it was her human right to be allowed to wear her jilbab in class. Fr John wrote in his newsletter that it was never possible to convince anyone by argument in matters of religion. "My point was that you have to demonstrate what it means to be Christian through your actions," he said. He wrote: "It seems odd to me that Muslims can go around in burkas and demand that they wear veils in school but it is still against the law for a Catholic priest to wear his cassock in public or a Catholic to marry the heir to the throne." A sergeant and community support officer came to Fr John's presbytery with out warning after an allegation was made to a Scotland Yard 'hate crimes' unit. He said: "Apparently someone in my congregation was unhappy with my comments and, after waiting a year, went to the police to say he had been 'disturbed' by it." "They said they had come to see if I had intended to incite racial hatred. I was pretty surprised. It seemed to me that political correctness had gone haywire in this situation. "They were very polite and cordial, but I did say to them that surely they had better things to be doing with their time. "They seemed satisfied and when they eventually left the sergeant told me 'that's the end of the matter'. I felt the whole thing was a bit of a storm in a teacup." Fr John who has been parish priest at St Mary's for 13 years, added: "I have the greatest respect for Islam. There are so many more similarities than differences in our religions that I feel it is a great pity we concentrate on the few things that divide us." He said one of his main aspirations was to bring people of different backgrounds together. Last Saturday night he organised a 'One World' evening, where his congregation brought traditional cuisine from their country of origin. He said: "You can talk about integration until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day it's better to do this through actions - like getting people together over some food." Source: IRPP Press
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