The Fellowship of Life
'Police break up sit-in'
Animal-rights group escorted from Minster after five hours
By Terry Murden and Sue Johnson
Police broke up a sit-in at York Minster by about 60 animal-rights
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
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
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
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
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
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
This site is hosted and maintained by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for wisiting all-creatures.org