Occupy Faith Challenges Illegal Religious Discrimination by the Inter Faith Network


Occupy Faith UK (Interfaith Alliance UK) in its Chair and Board of Trustees unanimously and officially opposes the illegal religious discrimination by the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN), against the Druid Community – speaking as we do, as diverse faiths working together to promote equality, justice and respect for all faiths without discrimination.

On 30 April 2012, the Director of the Inter Faith Network, Harriet Crabtree, rejected the application by the Chair of the Druid Network, Phil Ryder, for TDN to join the Inter Faith Network.

The top human rights law firm, Bindmans LLP and friend of Occupy, has published this Legal Document which establishes clearly how the IFN Director, Harriet Crabtree, IFN Co-Chairs and Executive Committee have unlawfully discriminated against the Druid community in contravention of the Equality Act 2010 and related law.  You can download this document from the Religious Freedom UK website.

The Times Newspaper published this article covering this question of the illegal discrimination by the IFN against Druids, and the BBC presenter and Church of England clergyman, the Revd Peter Owen-Jones spoke out saying:

“The Inter Faith Network is publicly funded. By refusing entry to the Druid Network, it raises huge questions about whether it can continue to operate as a publicly funded body.”


Letter by the Board of Occupy Faith UK to the Inter Faith Network – 16 May 2013

Dear Revd Bob Fyffe, Dr Manazir Ahsan, Dr Harriet Crabtree and the Executive Committee of the Interfaith Network

We hope you had a joyous Beltane.  

With a dual sense of ennui and nameless dread, Occupy Faith UK (we are an IFN member organization, and we are speaking here as an incorporated legal entity) finds itself compelled anew to counter your recent correspondence of 3rd May 2013. In it you called our open letter to you of 9th April ‘defamatory’ without any explanation or actual content to your reply whatsoever. We again attach our original letter below this email.

Suffice to say, your response was disappointing, but ultimately unsurprising, amounting as it did to little more than a predictably desperate downpour of bureaucratic argot, a steadfast refusal to resolve basic questions, and inexorable references to the status, advancement and, indeed, quality of the strategic review. Considered in its totality, your latest communiqué called to mind an apparatchik from the Ministry of Truth in an incantatory trance, endlessly reiterating the mantra that Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia.

Nonetheless, we feel obliged to state our wholehearted agreement with the fundamental underpinning of your latest missive – namely, that it would be futile at this point for you to regurgitate the responses already given to our allegations (if not for the sake of brevity, then our collective sanity, at least). However, as the rejoinders you have offered to our contentions have not amounted to ‘answers’ by any objective definition of the term, we believe posing them again is a worthwhile (although, based on current trends, perhaps pointless) endeavour. We shall repeat them below, in the event they have slipped your minds.

1. You have repeatedly rebuffed the opportunity to enter into discussions with Bindmans LLP about the legality of your Membership Policy. Since the Strategic Review, of which you are quite so fond, is clearly not mandated by the AGM to address questions of legality – these issues can only be tackled by a full and frank dialogue with Bindmans. So as long as you remain intractably refused, rectification of the issues we have raised remain intangible. John Halford, Joint Head of Public Law and Human Rights at Bindmans, has made it clear that your representatives at Bates, Wells & Braithwate had requested your permission as their client to enter into such a dialogue with him to discuss the IFN’s illegal membership policy. Our colleagues are in close communication with Bindmans, and to date, we have not been advised that IFN has given permission to its lawyers to enter into any kind of on the record dialogue with Bindmans LLP on these legal questions – under any format or arrangement. Rather we have been informed to the contrary, and instead, what we do see is Harriet Crabtree and the IFN Co-Chairs manufacturing increasingly absurd, evasive and dishonest excuses about arrangements for such a dialogue. You demonstrate that the IFN is clearly too afraid to enter into such a dialogue on legal issues with Bindmans, because it knows it is legally in trouble.

2. Dr. Harriet Crabtree deceived the IFN’s AGM of 12th July 2012 and Dr. Crabtree as principal responsible officer for drafting AGM papers withheld documents, and thus the IFN falsely presented to the Meeting that only “two” members had raised concerns about the IFN’s illegal membership policy. As both Crabtree and the IFN as a whole well know, in fact a number of IFN Member Organisations had passed resolutions or issued formal statements through their officers expressing these concerns about the IFN’s membership policy.

3. The Chair of the Strategic Review has disgracefully refused to even hear, much less take on board, the substantive concerns held by a number of member bodies of the IFN as to the proper conduct of the Strategic Review. These concerns being, primarily, that the Review has been corrupted by threats barked by IFN attack dogs (or, ‘officers’) to damage the personal careers and livelihoods of clergy of different faiths, simply because they asked questions about the clear illegality of the IFN’s membership policy. In doing so, the IFN leadership has sought to stifle the freedom of expression of sovereign independent IFN member bodies, and their own members. In particular, we demand and will forcefully continue to demand a full and transparent investigation into the behaviour of one or two of the most senior officers of the Inter Faith Network whose shocking attacks on the livelihoods of our clergy friends of different faiths we have close knowledge of. We are quite ready to name and shame these IFN officers in public – we know who the culprits are, and that includes you, IFN Vice Chair, Vivian Wineman.

To distill the above points into easily digestible, query form, we provide you with the following quandaries:

  • Why did Harriet Crabtree mislead the AGM?
  • Why did Harriet Crabtree withhold documentation from the AGM?
  • Why hasn’t Harriet Crabtree resigned, as she has clearly lied repeatedly?
  • Why has the IFN repeatedly declined to speak to Bindmans LLP on the record, despite repeated prompting from Occupy Faith UK and other IFN Member Organisations?
  • When people are being intimidated for simply expressing an opinion and the Chair of that Strategic Review won’t even consider investigating these clear infractions into basic individual freedoms, what kind of Strategic Review is this?

If you are still in doubt as to our objectives in raising these issues afresh, let us make clear that we do not seek reaffirmations of the positive progress of the Strategic Review, nor referral to your Communications Policy. Only straight answers will do.

Finally, in response to the implicative threat contained in your assertion that our statement was ‘defamatory’ , we are reminded of the celebrated story of Squeaky the Mouse. One June morning, Squeaky was swimming backstroke down the Thames. As he approached Tower Bridge, this intrepid seafaring rodent was heard to squeak at the top of his pocket-sized lungs, ‘better raise it chaps, I have an erection!’…

For a statement to classify as defamatory, it must be slanderous. There is nothing libellous about our assertion that you are engaged in illegal religious discrimination toward the Druid community, nor our assertion that the Director of the Interfaith Network deliberately withheld vital documents from the group’s Annual General Meeting, nor our assertion that representatives of the IFN have made threats against clerical representatives of IFN member bodies.

If you truly believe any of those statements to be defamatory, we urge you to initiate legal proceedings – we, as the body legally incorporated in Occupy Faith UK (InterFaith Alliance UK), shall fight them, and we shall prevail. We are Occupy, and we are going to keep pressing our questions to you again and again and again and again until we get some honest answers out of the IFN leadership.

If instead you find yourselves beset by a miasma of Neronian dithering at our suggestion, then we urge you to set down your fiddles and prepare for us to challenge the illegal membership policy of the IFN by all lawful means at our disposal including, and not limited to vigorous lawful protest and legal redress. We as Occupy have taken on this issue of the Interfaith Network, and we intend to pursue it as energetically as with other hypocritical establishment religious institutions we have faced before.

Ever since the age of Enlightenment, liberty and democracy have been protected, not merely by the strenuous efforts of those of us who cherish it, but also – and perhaps most profoundly – by the illimitable stupidity of those who would ration these values and rights in an attempt to keep them a luxury for themselves, and themselves alone. They have thrived not in spite of institutions such as the Interfaith Network, but because of institutions such as the Interfaith Network. Whilst in the short-term you have invigorated feelings of dissent and protest within us, we are beginning to tire of you and your tactics, and, to quote Cromwell’s remarks to the Long Parliament, you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, we say, and let us have done with you.

Go in the name of God, and in the name of God, please go.

Yours sincerely

The Board of InterFaith Alliance UK/Occupy Faith UK*

*Occupy Faith UK (InterFaith Alliance UK) operates on egalitarian principles of the Occupy movement in which all ordinary members are equal and have an equal voice. The Board of Occupy Faith UK (InterFaith Alliance UK) consists of Alan Bolwell, George Barda, Steve Burak, Kit Klarenberg, Caroline Craig-Hallam, Cherry Paine.


Letter by the Board of Occupy Faith UK to the Inter Faith Network – 9 April 2013

Dear IFN Director Dr Harriet Crabtree, and the IFN Executive Committee

Open Letter to the Director and Executive Committee of the Inter Faith Network
We are writing this open letter on behalf of Occupy Faith UK (Interfaith Alliance UK), a member body of the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN).
Occupy Faith is an interfaith organisation working for the public benefit, which stands in solidarity with the global Occupy movement.  We are people of many different religions, spiritualities and beliefs speaking together for religious harmony, social and economic justice.  Most importantly, it is our explicit aim to speak truth to power – and, as people of many faiths together, to ethically challenge hypocrisy within establishment religious power.
We have been following with great concern the conduct by the IFN Director, Harriet Crabtree, IFN Chairs and Executive of the Inter Faith Network towards our sisters and brothers in the Druid community, and the treatment by IFN officers of our friends from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other faiths who have spoken out in favour of equality and inclusion.
On 30th April 2012, the IFN Director, Harriet Crabtree, rejected an application by Phil Ryder, head of the Druid Network, for TDN to join the Inter Faith Network.  The top human rights law firm, and friend of Occupy, Bindmans LLP, published a legal document at the House of Lords on 26th November 2012, establishing why the IFN’s rejection which discriminates against the Druid community on grounds of religion is entirely unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act 2010.  The document is attached and you can also download the legal document from here:
The actions of the IFN were discussed in the media in both “The Times” newspaper and on “BBC Radio 4″.  The BBC Church of England clergyman and presenter, the Revd Peter Owen-Jones, spoke for many when he said,“The Inter Faith Network is publicly funded.  By refusing entry to the Druid Network, it raises huge questions about whether it can continue to operate as a publicly funded body” (The Times, 1st December 2012)
Given the strength of the legal assertions by Bindmans LLP and the confirmed view by barristers from another firm that there was a 70-80% likelihood of successful litigation against the IFN for illegal discrimination, clergy from mainstream world faiths and IFN Member Bodies encouraged the IFN and its legal advisors to enter into a dialogue with Bindmans LLP to address these legal difficulties.  Invitations to this open dialogue were repeatedly offered to the IFN from 10th December onwards.  Eventually, on 12th February 2013, a response was sent by the IFN refusing to enter into such dialogue – making excuses which Bindmans LLP, we and other IFN Member Bodies find highly evasive and dishonest.
The repeated evasion by Dr Crabtree, the IFN Co-Chairs and the IFN’s legal advisors of the requests to enter into an open and and transparent dialogue about the question of legality is for us ample evidence that the IFN is too afraid to enter into such dialogue, because it knows that it is legally in trouble.
Furthermore, despite repeated requests, Dr Crabtree and the IFN have also refused the release to IFN Member Bodies the full and unedited correspondence history with its legal advisors, which we and others have reason to believe is likely to show that the IFN’s legal advisors are aware that they are in legal difficulty.
We therefore now demand an open, transparent and public dialoguebetween Bindmans LLP and the legal advisors of the Inter Faith Network, Bates Wells and Braithwaite LLP, which must be open to all IFN Member Bodies, all other interested organisations, and all taxpaying members of British public whose money funds the IFN in hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
Occupy Faith and our partners in the faith communities and Occupy movement will now set up such a public forum to discuss the questions of legality of the IFN’s actions, under the auspices of a mutually agreed neutral chair – and we will livestream the proceedings to the public.  As both an IFN Member Body and on behalf of the taxpaying British public we must insist that Dr Crabtree and the IFN Co-Chairs and Executive now demonstrate truthfulness, public transparency and public accountablity by no longer trying to evade participating in such a public discussion about legality – as a majority publicly-funded body.
We attach a list of missing documents which the IFN Director, Dr Harriet Crabtree withheld from the IFN Annual General Meeting on 12th July 2012.  You can download these missing documents from here:
The AGM papers which Harriet Crabtree was a key responsible in preparing, untruthfully represent to the IFN Members receiving those AGM papers, that concerns about the discriminatory IFN Membership Policy arose merely from “two individuals”, namely our colleagues, Phil Ryder and Muhammad Al-Hussaini, and from no others (see IFN Annual General Meeting papers for 2012, Agenda Item 8.1.1 and Agenda Annex A 1.1).  This is of course false and deceitful, and when preparing these AGM papers, Dr Crabtree was at the time fully aware all along of the correspondence which she had been sent by a number of other IFN Member Bodies expressing the same concerns about IFN Membership Policy:
An e-mail to Dr Crabtree of 28th June 2012 from Jackie Lukes, Secretary of Hull and East Riding Interfaith, being a unanimous formal Resolution of that IFN Member Body:  “This group supports the Druid Network and Pagan Federation application to become a member of the IFN, in accordance with the principles of tolerance and understanding – the spirit in which this group works…It seemed puzzling and paradoxical to all who spoke that the organization set up to lead opinion in favour of learning about and valuing faith and belief groups, IFN, should be opposed particularly to so benign a movement devoted to nature and countryside”.
An e-mail to Dr Crabtree of 1st June 2012 from Dr David Capey, Honorary Executive Officer of Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource (SIFRE) and also East of England Faiths Agency (EEFA) stating:  “Dear Harriett, As you will be aware from our previous conversations first with Brian and subsequently with yourself, SIFRE and EEFA have both been concerned and mystified by the fact that IFN membership is restricted to organisations from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian traditions.  It will therefore not be a surprise to you that both the Boards of SIFRE and EEFA, both being members of IFN, have resolved that they support the application for the Druid Network to be admitted to membership of the IFN.”
E-mail correspondence from Cynthia Dickinson, Secretary of Leeds Concord Interfaith Fellowship dated 26th June 2012, being a formal Resolution of that IFN Member Body:  “In favour of overturning any prior bye-law which restricts or excludes TDN [The Druid Network] from eligibility to join and in favour of TDN’s application for membership of IFN-UK.
We consider it a very serious and deliberate and deceitful misrepresentation by the IFN Director in the 2012 AGM papers, through her withholding knowledge from the AGM of these resolutions by IFN Member Bodies and documents which she was in receipt of, and instead actively and falsely suggesting in the AGM papers that merely “two individuals” had raised concerns about IFN membership policy.  In any other charity such conduct would be a resignation issue, and other interfaith colleagues around the UK have voiced similar concerns.
We are most seriously concerned about the personal testimonies we have received regarding the political pressure applied by IFN officers, and intimidation by them, and attempts by them to damage by the personal careers and livelihoods of clergy and faith leaders from mainstream world faiths who have spoken up in support of dialogue around the strong legal concerns that have been raised about the IFN’s actions.
We demand a full and public inquiry in open public forum into this history, and we demand the immediate removal from office of any IFN officer who has in any way, directly or indirectly, been involved in applying political pressure of any sort on IFN Member Bodies or faith leaders in this way.
We consider the IFN Strategic Review to be quite farcical while IFN officers have been involved in personally threatening and intimidating those who have expressed their views in support of inclusion, and attempted to intervene in the sovereign and independent policies of IFN Member Bodies.
We also wish to express our strong concern to the Chair of the Strategic Review Working Group about these matters which have led to certain IFN Member Bodies being too afraid to submit questionnaire returns to the IFN Strategic Review.  We also note with concern that the Strategic Review Working Group appointed by the IFN has not a single member on it from among the excluded faith communities, and not a single member on it from among those women and men who have been publicly critical of the IFN’s policies.
As an IFN Member Body, we are explicitly committed to a full-scale Reformation of the Inter Faith Network, in order to make it more truthful, transparent, democratic and accountable to the British public from which it has taken millions of pounds.
We find the conduct of the current leadership of the Inter Faith Network to be shockingly dishonest and that of religious politicians who have shown a respectable face in public, while behind the scenes quietly and ruthlessly damaging the personal lives of those who speak up to criticise IFN behaviours.  What we find most galling is the consistent double discourse from the IFN leadership and its supporters in the “Interfaith Industry” about “respectful language” – as the showing of a respectable mask of courtesy in public, while doing wicked political things to hurt people behind their back.
We reject this deceitful language about “respect”, of white lies and Janus-facedness, as a tactic of the IFN leadership to maintain political power and stifle truth from being spoken – and we as Occupy Faith UK, in accordance with the moral teachings of our faiths, refuse to speak this language.  We do not consider such interfaith politicians to be people of “respect” at all.  Rather, we consider them to be very good actors.
Occupy Faith UK and our partners in the Occupy movement  at all times reserve the right to lawful protest against illegal or immoral activities by the Inter Faith Network leadership.
Yours sincerely
The Board of Occupy Faith UK (Interfaith Alliance UK)*

* Occupy Faith UK (Interfaith Alliance UK) operates on egalitarian principles of the Occupy movement in which all ordinary members are equal and have an equal voice.  The Board of Occupy Faith UK (Interfaith Alliance UK) consists of Alan Bolwell, George Barda, Steve Burak, Kit Klarenberg, Cherry Paine.

Danny Diskin

Danny Diskin

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