From The Herald http://www.theherald.co.uk/
Artur Boruc was born in the very year Solidarity took Polish workers on to the streets of Gdansk, so changing the course of European history. His parents no doubt told him what life was like before his birth in 1980, when puppet governments following Moscow's command tried to impose official atheism on the deeply religious country. Catholic priests were gagged, senior clergy placed under house arrest, convents raided and church magazines banned. But no-one was ever cautioned for making the sign of the cross.
We can only imagine what the ageing Lech Walesa will think of the news - surely playing big in Poland - that the young Celtic goalkeeper has been reprimanded apparently for blessing himself at an Old Firm game in February. The Crown Office now says the player was censured for other provocative gestures towards the crowd. But several days into the row, that sounds like a limp attempt at belated damage limitation. Comments by the player's agent suggest that the player believes he was cautioned over his blessing.
The message has already gone around the world: Scotland stamps on religious freedom. Footballers blessed themselves in both hope and trepidation each night during the World Cup finals. For many, it is as much an instinctive, superstitious sign as an expression of profound religious belief. It is all rather perplexing for those uninitiated in the ways of Scotland's west.
Ruth Kelly, the minister for communities at Westminster, waded into the mess yesterday, oblivious, as English ministers usually are, to the fact that this was a devolved issue. Kelly asked if such a decision was appropriate in a country that values religious and cultural diversity. But there is also considerable concern among informed people closer to home. The Catholic church, SNP leader Alex Salmond and the Labour MP Jim Devine have all condemned the treatment of Boruc. What kind of country criminalises someone for such an innocent act?
We know China persecutes adherents of Falun Gong, while Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan have a poor record of tolerance towards non-muslim minorities. But Scotland? Have we really changed so little since the days of John Knox?
This sounds like an extreme reaction, but the comparison will be drawn. Some Celtic fans will rush to claim it is another example of Scotland's shame - the same anti-catholic prejudice that blighted this nation for centuries. These fans, let us call them the martyrdom tendency, will blame a Presbyterian legal establishment for the fate of poor Boruc.
This is untrue and unfair. The police have worked hard to implement the Scottish Executive's commitment to end sectarianism. They have made large numbers of arrests under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) 2003 Act, that decrees a crime can by aggravated by religious hatred. An analysis by the prosecution service of the law's first six months found that twice as many of the attacks involved "Protestants" abusing "Catholics". Celtic fans have no grounds for suggesting the Boruc blessing incident reflects some sectarian malaise in our justice system. However, those police and prosecutors who were directly involved in this decision have done themselves - and the law - no favours. No video evidence exists of the goalkeeper's alleged misbehaviour. The decision instead relies on video footage of reaction among the crowd. What does this prove? That the crowd got ugly at an Old Firm derby? Did the fans provoke Boruc after he blessed himself, leading to those other gestures the Crown now insists are key to the case?
There are witness statements but, as always, the Crown Office need not provide any evidence to justify its decisions, however bizarre these may appear to ordinary mortals. Was the key witness a linesman, a press photographer, a police officer - or was it that chap with the Red Hand of Ulster tattooed on his forearm? Since the case will never reach court, we will never find out.
If there is an explanation for this sorry saga, it may lie in a confusion about the issue of what constitutes sectarianism. The broad-brush approach insists that football is a sport, and associating it with anything else - religion, politics, ethnicity - is asking for trouble. But it is a brave official who comes between fans and their traditions.
A few years ago Glasgow City Council invoked a mixture of outrage and hilarity when it was suggested that all national flags should be barred from football grounds.
The threat was not carried out, yet it had logic. The violence associated with the Old Firm is as much to do with ethnic/political divisions as it is with religion. But to wipe out this aspect of the clubs' traditions, you'd also have to stop Celtic wearing green and sporting a shamrock crest. God Save the Queen would become a
sectarian song. Where does it all end?
A truly tolerant society can live with difference. Imposing homogeneity for the sake of good community relations can have the opposite effect - as the French discovered when they outlawed muslim headscarves. Sectarianism is not about expressing your own religion or culture, as Boruc did, it is about demonstrating ill-will towards someone else's religion or culture. This is quite clearly defined in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act. So a Rangers fan flying the Union flag is not sectarian, but he becomes so if he sings of immersion in Fenian blood. A Celtic fan rejoicing in his Irish identity is not sectarian, but becomes so if he flaunts an image of Bobby Sands, whose organisation killed and maimed many Northern Irish Protestants.
It is not always so easy, of course. What of Paul Gascoigne's infamous fake-flute playing all those years ago? That was considered inflammatory by the SFA - not to mention many of those who witnessed it. But then we get into difficult territory. The Orange Order, to its members, is a traditional organisation that celebrates religious freedom. For many Catholics, however, it celebrates Protestant supremacy.
Despite such difficulties of definition, Scotland has made great strides in tackling religious hatred. The action plan published by the executive this January is comprehensive, covering everything from football banning orders, the licensing of parades, to discrimination at work. Crucially, it concentrates on educating young people. There is an excellent resource for teachers and community workers, Don't Give it, Don't Take It, which offers an intelligent and thoughtful approach to the problem.
The key football clubs have done their bit too. This season, Rangers relaunched their Pride over Prejudice campaign with a blue book of approved terrace songs.
Scotland is facing up to its shame. We are doing something about sectarianism after many years of pretending it would go away if we just ignored it. What a pity our esteemed Crown Office has sent the opposite story around the world.