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Scottish Soccer fans could break law with Sign of the Cross

EDINBURGH, Jan 6, 03 ( - Scottish soccer players and fans who bless themselves during matches face arrest under controversial new anti-sectarian laws.

A report by Members of the Scottish Parliament recommends that the sign of the cross should be classed as a breach of the peace along with singing Loyalist and Republican songs.

Scotland has had its fair share of sectarian hatred and violence over the centuries. These days it is expressed in support for Celtic, traditionally a Catholic soccer team, or the Protestant Rangers. However, support on the playing fields often spills out into violence on the streets.

The Scottish Parliament hopes the new report will outlaw sectarian violence but a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland billed the conclusions as "absurd and unworkable."

The report states, "Gestures include Celtic fans making the sign of the cross ostentatiously at the Rangers fans. The sign of the cross itself is an expression of the Roman Catholic faith. However, using it to alarm, upset, or provoke others might be a breach of the peace in common law."

It also calls for a ban on Loyalist songs and for clubs to name and shame sectarian fans.

A Catholic spokesman told the Mirror newspaper, "These proposals strike at the heart of people's personal religious beliefs. Under no circumstances would the Catholic Church allow this gesture to become illegal."

He continued, "To prosecute someone for crossing themselves would be absurd. It is widely used across the world. It would be impossible for the police to enforce any law banning this sign at football matches. Many Catholic players use this sign throughout a match-- for example, before taking a corner or a penalty. Would this mean they are guilty of a crime?"

BBC "Church in religious gesture warning"
Guardian "Soccer row over sign of the cross"

8 Jan 2003