The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973



'Police break up sit-in'
Animal-rights group escorted from Minster after five hours

By Terry Murden and Sue Johnson
From the Yorkshire Evening Press of December 17th, 1984:

Police broke up a sit-in at York Minster by about 60 animal-rights protesters.

A claim that protesters were "physically dragged" from the Nave was later discounted by Insp. David Todd.

The Inspector was one of about 15 officers who went into the Minster to clear the building.

"They were not dragged. They were escorted, some by the arm," he said. There were no arrests.

The protesters, members of Animal Aid, accuse the Church of "dragging its feet" on animal rights.


Their five hour sit-in was part of a campaign to involve the Church in the issue. They said they would stay at the Minster until the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Habgood, spoke to them.

Two protesters who went to Bishopthorpe Palace and saw Dr. Habgood there claimed afterwards he had told them that he throws animal rights literature in the bin.

He refused to go to the Minster to meet the other protesters, they reported.

Animal Aid's Northern organiser, Miss Kathryn Reynolds, from Bradford, said that the group would try to get Dr. Habgood to repeat his remarks in public.

She claimed that the Archbishop remained silent on the issue in public because he had carried out experiments on animals while at Cambridge in the 1950's.

Dr. Habgood today declined to comment either on the sit-in or the protesters' claims.

A spokesman at Bishopthorpe Palace said it was likely that the Archbishop would deal with the animal rights issue in the near future, possibly in a Diocesan newsletter.


Police were called to the Minster after the protesters had ignored appeals from the Dean of York, the Very Reverend John Southgate that they should abandon the sit-in.

The protesters arrived in the eary afternoon, and occupied the seats reserved for the York Musical Choir.

They threatened that, if necessary, they would disrupt the society's evening performance of Handel's The Messiah.

Despite the sit-in, the choir went ahead with a rehearsal, said Mr. Tony Pook, a spokesman for the society. The choir simply sat instead in the congregation stalls.

"Some members were a bit angry and tried to reason with the protesters," he added. "But we didn't really think our performance was under threat, as we knew that the Dean had called the police.

"He explained to them that we had a priority, and after a while we just ignored them and got on with the rehearsal."


Just after 5pm, Dean Southgate, in the company of Chief Inspector Brian Ellis, told Miss Reynolds: "As Dean, I order you to take them (the protesters) out."

The protesters remained in their seats, and at that point pressmen were asked to leave. Minutes later, the protesters holding aloft posters referring to laboratory experiments on animals, came out by the Chapter House door, with the police following.

Miss Reynolds said: "We were physically dragged from a House of God because we were there on behalf of God's creatures."

She added that the protesters had nothing against the police but insisted that they had been "dragged out." Both Insp. Todd and Chief Insp. Ellis denied her allegation.

Miss Reynolds said that when the Dean addressed the protesters he was "furious."

Of the Archbishop, she remarked: "It is quite amazing that someone in his position is refusing to speak to us on a moral issue, and that he says he throws animal rights literature in the bin. I think a lot of Christian people will be horrified."

Miss Reynolds, who during the sit-in spoke at great length to Churchmen had told pressmen earlier that the group had written to Dr. Habgood but had not received a satisfactory reply.

Once the protesters were out of the Minster, Dean Southgate said he was only sorry that other people had been inconvenienced.

"I think in the end they went with some dignity, without any abuse or violence. We tried to treat them with dignity and respect."


Asked if he had been "furious" with the protesters the Dean replied: "No, I was not furious. I was just very firm."

Earlier, he had said that the protesters' cause was a good one, an issue the whole world had to face.

Asked at that stage if he thought the Church was "dragging its feet," the Dean said: "I think the Church does have a great problem coming out on certain issues."

"But if you behave in ways people think are irresponsible, then people do not respond to you. The Church always drags its feet about rights because it thinks about its duties."

The protesters had travelled to York from all over the North.

On his election as Archbishop a year ago, Dr. Habgood told the Evening Press that he had performed experiments on animals while studying pharmacology. At the time, he said: "I think it is a regrettable necessity, because it is the only way you can learn many things which we need to know in order to practice medicine. But I think there could be less of them than there are."

*In 1990 the Archbishop of York preached a sermon in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals receiving Royal patronage from Queen Victoria. An excerpt appeared in the Church Times dated 19 October 1990 entitled 'Animal life is to be valued for its own sake' -

"On the one hand we depend on animals; sometimes directly as for food or pets; sometimes indirectly as for medicine or the maintenance of the environment. The uncomfortable truth is that as a human race we have got where we are by exploiting the rest of creation, and particularly our brothers and sisters the animals.

On the other hand, we cannot be happy with history. Many people feel increasingly guilty about it. We are aware of how disastrously we have undervalued the quality of much animal life, and underestimated the capacity of animals to feel suffering. Our looking at animals has taught us to see ourselves differently, no longer as lords and masters but as in some sense members of the same family.

There are deep theological issues underlying these changing perceptions. How are we to understand ourselves as creatures made in the image of God? What kind of responsibility does this give us in sharing God's concern for the rest of creation?

Lord, help me try
To love the fly

is a prayer which is not on everybody's lips. But it is encouraging that our human role within the created order is now an active area of theological study. And I hope the Christian Churches, and other religions too, will increasingly be seen as a resource for those who are dealing with the sharp end of the problems in the face of actual abuse. I hope, too, that inevitable disagreements will be seen as a necessary part of the process of learning who we are and what we must do in this world whose ecological horizons have been expanding so rapidly.

Meanwhile, the RSPCA has probably been wise to concentrate on the prevention of cruelty. Cruelty is directly observable. We know deep inside ourselves that it is wrong. We can appeal to a single moral principle that preventable suffering ought to be prevented. And we can avoid, I hope, the sophisticated twist in the argument which says that cruelty is wrong because it brutalises the perpetrator. No doubt it does. But it is wrong fundamentally because it causes suffering.

Yet even this simple moral basis for your work has its complications. We tend to be more moved by the suffering of animals which make sounds resembling the human voice. Crying, screaming, whining tear at our heart strings, as do large soulful eyes. Fewer people are moved by the suffering of rats. And do fish suffer? There's an explosive question. And how should we rate the suffering of animals denied their proper habitat or means of expression when it is claimed that they must be happy because they are eating?

Bit by bit we are being led to see that though cruelty is the necessary starting-point, there is a deeper shift of perspective required. We have to accept that animal life, all animal life, is to be valued and respected, not just for our sake, but for its own sake, and ultimately for God's sake. We have to dispel the idea that the creation exists exclusively for us. This doesn't mean we can't use it, and can't use animals within proper limits, for our own purposes. We have to as the condition of our survival. But we do so as partners in the business of being alive, aiming to enhance rather than to exploit, conscious of our dependence on one another in a world loved and valued by God." John Habgood

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