A complaint has been lodged against Cherie Booth QC by the National Secular Society for giving someone a suspended sentence "because he was a religious person" [BBC News 4 Feb 2010, Independent 4 Feb 2010]
According to most news reports, Shamso Miah (25) was in court for breaking another man's jaw in a fight about queue-jumping in an Essex bank. Is there something particularly British or God-fearing about this crime?
Not to be confused with Shamsu Miah (52) who killed and ate a swan while fasting during Ramadan [The Times, 23 Nov 2006, Sky News, 27 Feb 2008]. The Telegraph has the best headline: Muslim does bird for eating swan. He was jailed for two months because, according to District Judge Andrew Shaw, killing a swan at night with a knife "is a taboo act". The concept of "taboo" comes from Polynesian religion, and in Māori society the concept was often used to protect resources from over-exploitation [Wikipedia: Tapu], but I didn't know it had been incorporated into English law.
(Was it the night-time or the knife that made it taboo? What if he had killed the swan with a coil of rope at midday, say in the billiard room?)
If Cherie Booth allows her judgements to be influenced by a generic category of "religious person", this appears to be consistent with a wishy-washy view of religion that some people have associated with The Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The Catholic Church has been particularly unenthusiastic about the Faith Foundation, and Professor Michel Schooyans of the Catholic University of Louvain has accused Blair and his wife of wishing to reduce all religions "to the same common denominator, which means stripping them of their identity" [Guardian, 13 May 2009].
I wonder where Polynesian religions belong in the Blairs' worldview. Would a noble savage with an ancestor cult be let off lightly in the Booth court? How about a devout cannibal? Or do only certain religions count?
Meanwhile, Booth's decision has prompted some more general questions about religion. On BBC Radio Four, Eddie Mair asks Are religious people more likely to be honest? Is it a coincidence that the Chilcot enquiry has just put Tony Blair's own honesty under the spotlight, while sparing others? [The media's tall tales over Iraq]
Finally, Andrew Brown of the Guardian complains that "everything we know about the case of Shamso Miah seems to come from one agency report of the court case" [Cherie Booth unfair to atheists]. As if this is unusual.
Update: How about the case of Lorraine Mbulawa? 'Possessed' teenager who stabbed her own mother five times is allowed to walk free after judge accepts she 'has strong spiritual beliefs'. (Daily Mail, 24 May 2011)
Update: Here's another curious one. A teenage mugger has been spared a possible seven-year-jail term after telling a crown court judge he found God in prison (Daily Mail 20 Feb 2012). Surely if he had really found God in prison, he would want to return to prison to be closer to God? I wonder what sentence he would have received had he found the Devil in prison?