Exorcism, “witchcraft” and religious abuse

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has contacted the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to express concerns about Daniel Olukoya, a Nigerian pastor who works to “overpower witchcraft”, addressing 20,000 people at the ExCeL centre in Newham by video link from America this evening. The BHA has drawn attention to the harmful impact that beliefs in witchcraft can have on the safety of others, particularly children. The Newham Recorder reports that “Pastor Olukoya’s books and his church’s websites say witchcraft must be fought and ‘overcome’, with prayers held at its branch in Houston, Texas, to ‘destroy the covens of witchcraft’.”

In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu was murdered in Newham by his sister and her partner when he drowned in the bath during an attempted exorcism. In response to Olukoya’s proposed speech a Newham Council spokeswoman said:

“We would have concerns about these events taking place in the borough and would work with partners to ensure the safety and security of our children. Following the tragic death of Kirsty Bamu, we worked to capture any learning and work with our local community to raise awareness of abuse linked to belief systems.”

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal commented:

“Given the history of children being abused following accusations of witchcraft both in Nigeria and in London, we have serious concerns about anybody who genuinely wishes to ‘destroy witchcraft’ from being able to preach such beliefs to a UK audience, given the potential for incitement to violence. We have complained to the Home Office and to Project Violet, the Metropolitan Police’s project designed to prevent abuse due to faith, over Daniel Olukoya’s planned speech, and will be actively monitoring the situation.”

For what it’s worth, we share the BHA’s concerns. Freedom to manifest under Article 9 ECHR is – very properly – subject to “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”: this case seems, potentially at least, to engage “the interests of public safety”.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Exorcism, “witchcraft” and religious abuse" in Law & Religion UK, 19 September 2016, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2016/09/19/exorcism-witchcraft-and-religious-abuse/

15 thoughts on “Exorcism, “witchcraft” and religious abuse

  1. The terrible effects of the treatment of ‘witch children’ in Nigeria speak for themselves. Extremist beliefs such as these have no place in Western society in general and Christianity in particular.

  2. I don’t understand why this wasn’t banned before it took place. For him to be described as a Pastor, places all with that title or role into a bracket of potential abusers.

    Surely, there is enough evidence of his preaching, to have him extradited under an International Arrest Warrant to be prosecuted in the UK for his address. At the moment, UK citizens can be sent to the USA, quite frequently, for lesser charges – it’s about time a reciprocal arrangement took place.

    • I did wonder about that myself. But since he hasn’t delivered the speech/sermon yet, he hasn’t yet done anything that could provide the basis for a warrant. And he’s doing it in the US: is it possible to issue a warrant in such circumstances? It did occur to me that if he says something that (eg) breaches the laws against hate-speech, the people over here who are arranging the transmission might be liable.

      But I’m not a criminal lawyer, so the above is just ill-informed speculation!

  3. Olukoya can probably say whatever he likes in the US under the terms of their constitution’s free speech amendment. People in the US can and do say the most incredible things and are only ever prosecuted if they breach libel or slander laws.

    It would be an interesting development if the Home Secretary were to issue a banning order against this individual from being allowed to transmit messages into the United Kingdom using the international internet or something similar.

    Does the Home Secretary have powers to ban and stop international communications coming into this country? Presumably, during war time they do have war times powers to stop such activity. But what about during peace/non-war times?

    If such an internet banning procedure were adopted, however, how might this affect other aspects of free speech in our country?

    It’s no wonder they say that bad cases make for bad laws!

  4. The condemnation of such practice should be context-dependent. Most Pentecostal/Evangelical pastors that preach to ‘destroy the covens of witchcraft’ speak about prayers that target these covens in a spiritual realm, not a physical one. This is no incitement to Salem witch hunt. They do not preach to physically attack individuals who are witches or possessed. No doubt these are uncommon beliefs which may be viewed upon with sarcasm or/and contempt. However, given that praying against witchcraft is an harmless act, I do not see how preaching to people to pray against such witchcraft can be held as a criminal offence which merits extradition.

    Obviously, any incitement to physically attack individuals (adult or children) who are judged to be witches or possessed is another matter altogether. The claim that I am making here is that this is not what Pentecostal/Evangelical pastors normally do. So before condemning Olukoya, the BHA and Newham Council should make sure they understand what the man is actually preaching about.

    • Anyone seriously believing in the existence of so-called “witches” is clearly delusional. All such people should be properly controlled as a threat to society.

      In Uganda, a family ignorantly believing in witches drove a nine inch nail into the head of a young girl they had been told was “possessed” by “evil spirits” – to drive them out. We want none of that here, thank you very much!

      • On your reasoning anyone believing in Satan (allegedly the father of all witches and dark forces) should be properly controlled as a threat to society. Given that many religions, certainly most Christian denominations, believe in Satan, a few billion people ought to be ‘properly controlled’.

        I am no apologist for religion, including Pentecostal/Evangelical. My view is that these religions contain many intolerant practices and beliefs (against LGBT and women) so people should not subscribe to them. However, the freedom to preach your own religion, even if it involves belief in Satan or witches, is an essential requirement of ‘here’ ( i.e. a liberal democracy).

        It goes without saying that the law should criminalise people who nail other people.

        • Surely it’s a question of the forum internum vs the forum externum. People are free to believe whatever they like – and Article 9 ECHR protects that right unequivocally. As it should: were it otherwise, we would be in a 1984 world of Thought Police. The right to manifest, however, is subject to “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

          I agree with John Adenitire that “The condemnation of such practice should be context-dependent”. Where the criminal law must intervene is when the expression of religious opinions drifts into hate-speech.

        • As a humanist, I do not accept the claimed existence of god, satan or witchcraft.
          The only true evil is when people like Olukoya propagate such harmful rubbish.
          In itself, his speeches are the babblings of a deluded idiot.
          A problem arises when other equally deluded idiots decide to act on his ramblings.
          Let’s face it: Olukoya says what he says – for money.
          It is his way of exploiting and gaining control over gullible people.
          He targets hate speech against vulnerable children and innocent elderly people.
          He is an utter disgrace and so is anyone who defends his grubby practices.

  5. I have to agree also with John Adenitire’s view as he keeps the subject quite grounded.

    However, and there is always an however. Exorcism, and, witchcraft, are subjects as priests, certainly in the C of E, we do not speak about openly, and we most definitely do not go around sharing experiences. Why not? it’s part of our calling to deal with it, and the BHA are helping by keeping the lid on that which should not have a voice.

    So, praying against evil that exists in the world here and now is so very important, call it what we will.

    • Exorcism and claimed witchcraft are equally nonsensical.
      They may help to sell books and films but they are both fictional.
      Giving credibility to Olukoya’s nonsensical babblings is plain wrong.
      He is out to manipulate simple people for his own benefit.
      He is a disgrace to humankind.

  6. Do witches exist? That is perhaps, to some degree at least, a question of definition. There are certainly people in my parish who self-identify as witches and practise what they consider to be magic. One is buried in the local cemetery with a pentacle on her headstone. I wouldn’t for a second advocate exorcising them – let alone anyone who hasn’t self-identified as a witch (which seems to be the case in these ‘witch children’ cases), but I can’t approve of their beliefs or practises.

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