Church incense could become illegal as an “unintended consequence” of the new Psychoactive Substances Bill, which aims to outlaw all forms of “legal highs”.
The Bill, which will make it a criminal offence to sell “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”, has attracted considerable criticism. One problem, according to Professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is the inability to prove psychoactivity in a court of law, “which is pretty fundamental to a Bill that seeks to ban psychoactive substances”.
Two ecclesiastical bodies have expressed concern “that use of incense in worship would be an unwitting casualty of the new legislation”. The Association of English Cathedrals said last week “that the term ‘psychoactive substances’ in the Psychoactive Substances Bill can be interpreted so broadly that it risks criminalising the use of incense in cathedrals, churches and other places of worship as, we assume, an unintended consequence of the Bill’s drafting”.
The Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service, whose members include the Catholic Church, the Church of England and other Churches, said: “We cannot for one moment believe that [it] is the intention of the Government to make the use of incense in religious worship illegal. We would urge that, for the avoidance of doubt, a specific exemption for the use of incense in places of worship be inserted into… the Bill.”
Former Government “drugs tsar” Prof David Nutt said the Bill is “so poorly thought through that it is embarrassing to think educated politicians would support it”.
“By targeting people’s mental and moral wellbeing this Bill is the worst since the act of supremacy in 1559 banned the practice of the Catholic faith,” he added.
The Association of English Cathedrals said: “Cathedrals regularly make use of incense during worship services, especially celebrations of the Eucharist. Incense has been used for worship purposes for millennia, and by the Christian church since its foundation. Incense has an important symbolic role; the smoke represents the presence of God, prayers rising to God, and the offering of gifts and lives as a sacrifice to God. Its use provides a sense of purification and aids preparation for worship. Incense is a vital part of multi-sensory worship, Christians are encouraged to worship with their whole bodies: colour and lights in services have visual impact, music uses our sense of hearing, and incense uses our sense of smell.
“Incense is used to enhance the worship experience, and no longer being able to use it would have an adverse impact on the conduct of worship.”