Keep libel laws out of religion
Padraig Reidy: Keep libel laws out of religion
17 May 10

I’ve just got back from the courts, where Mr Justice Eady has put a permenant stay on the case of Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Hardeep Singh.

British Sikh journalist Hardeep Singh had written an article for the UK-based Sikh Times in August 2007, in which he was highly critical of India-based Jeet Singh, who he described as – among other things –being “one of several high-profile accused Cultists who are causing difficulties for the [Sikh] community worldwide.”

Now, I can entirely understand someone taking offence to being called a cultist. But Mr Justice Eady in blocking the case made the entirely right decision, pointing out that whether Jeet Singh was or was not within the mainstream of Sikhism was a matter that should not, and could not, be decided by the courts. Had the case continued, we would have found ourselves in the bizarre position of a secular court making a judgment on a religious dispute. Religions are ideologies that evolve through debate. They will split, schism and reform as members argue about meanings. The state and the judiciary have no part in any of this. To paraphrase the First Amendment, the judiciary should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.