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Religious hatred bill is unveiled

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Religious hatred bill is unveiled

Controversial plans to make incitement to religious hatred illegal are being unveiled by the government.

Critics say the re-introduced bill - which bans insulting words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up religious hatred - will stifle free speech.

But ministers have pledged the new law will not affect "criticism, commentary or ridicule of faiths".

If it mirrors racial hatred laws, the maximum sentence for those found guilty will be seven years in prison.

The bill will apply to comments made in public or in the media, as well as through written material.

Freedom of speech

The government says the legislation is a response to the concerns of faith groups, particularly Muslims.

The Muslim Council of Britain has welcomed the move, arguing that the courts have already extended such protection to Sikh and Jewish people.

Sher Khan, a council spokesman, said to protect some groups but not others contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

"This is not protection of faith, it is a protection of those who are attached to a particular identity marker," Mr Khan said.

Rabbi Jacqueline Tabick, chairwoman of the World Congress of Faith, also said the legislation was necessary.

A bill introduced prior to the general election was opposed in the House of Lords, with some peers claiming it was an assault on freedom of speech.

Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, also said the legislation would curtail free expression.

Similar laws in Australia had stirred up tensions between different religious groups, he argued.

Comedy threat?

BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said some British Muslims believed religions must be allowed to criticise each other, and that the proposed new law could open a Pandora's box of prosecutions between faiths.

However, he added: "Followers of different religions will be allowed to criticise each other, but they will not be allowed to use insulting behaviour that is likely to stir up hatred."

Actor Rowan Atkinson is among those to have spoken out against the proposed new law, arguing comedians could be at risk of prosecution for lampooning religious figures.

Home Office ministers say this is not the point of the legislation.

believe this is a law that will seriously endanger that legitimate free criticism of different religions. Who is to tell someone that the criticism made of their faith is not 'abusive' or 'insulting'?

James Croucher, Oxford

I actually agree with the new legislation. I think the point is regarding not to make criticism at all if we are living in a civilised country. As for the comedians who are worried, well I got one thing to say to them.....humour is about making people laugh and good comedians do not leave bad negative remarks in the air!

Mujtaba Tahir, Leicester

This bill will stifle discussion and debate

Samuel, Bristol, England

This bill will stifle discussion and debate. It is a ridiculous imposition on our freedom to express our views. This is a tolerant, secular country - this law is set to drive wedges between people with different faiths and different intellectual beliefs. If someone is obviously rabble-rousing there are laws already in place to deal with them. One of the most sacred things in this world is intellectual independence and the freedom to express ideas and beliefs. What next, a law that stops us criticising our own government?

Samuel, Bristol, England

I hate and despise all religions as being oppressive, repressive, fairy tales and I am vocal about speaking out against all of them. Looks like I am going become a criminal through the virtue of being myself. This is a law I am going to be happy to break.

Jason Mead, Bristol

Sadly, yet another example of political correctness gone overboard. I agree that any ratification of this bill will only act to curtail freedom of speech. I agree that any attempt to deliberately incite religious hatred is fundamentally wrong. However making it illegal will do nothing to deter the small and ignorant percentage of the population who seem unable to respect each others faiths, whatever they may be. We are supposed to live in a free society and bills like this are clearly restricting this freedom bit by bit.

Alex Spendley, Bristol

I am sick of this government telling people what they can and can't say. I understand the need to be aware of other peoples/cultures feelings and to try and respect by making sure we all get on, but this latest bill is just another excuse to try and curb freedom of speech. With ID cards and the state's ability to imprison people without trial (under terrorism laws) we seem to be slipping into a George Orwell novel. What's next? Maybe a tracking system for cars to see where we're going.

Paul, Swansea

"Followers of different religions will be allowed to criticise each other, but they will not be allowed to use insulting behaviour that is likely to stir up hatred." So that's alright then... um... what about those of us who aren't members of any religion?

Jonathan, London UK

The more new rights become law, the less rights you have yourself.

AS, London, UK

Whatever Home Office ministers regard as being the point of the Religious Hatred legislation is irrelevant. My experience as a police officer tells me that wherever certain behaviour fits the definition of an offence, there is often pressure from interested parties to use it in different and creative ways. The Protection from Harassment Act was intended to address issues of stalking and is regularly used to address a list of behaviours totally dissimilar in nature. The original point of the legislation cannot be relied upon.

Michael, Birmingham

I work for a Christian organisation in one of the most culturally & religiously diverse areas of England. I believe this bill is going to be completely counter productive - increasing tensions between faith communities rather than dissolving them. The strange thing is that I don't know of anyone who actually wants this legislation! Still, there can't be many pieces of legislation that unite evangelical Christians, gay rights, secularists, and most mainstream religious bodies!

Peter Shields, Bradford

I note the comment from the Home office that it is not the point of this bill to stifle free speech or to prosecute comedians who lampoon religious figures. However this does not provide any comfort as I know the equivalent bill in Australia was used for the purpose which it was not set up to do. In this country the bill is criminal law and prosecution would be much more severe. It will thus undoubtedly stifle free speech and sincere debate. It must not be allowed to go ahead.

Nigel Robinson, Dudley UK

The Home Office might says that prosecuting comedians/free speech "is not the point of the legislation" and it might not be the point of introducing this but that is exactly what will happen. How can you legislate between insulting behaviour and sarcasm?

V Gill, UK

I have a real concern that this bill will be constantly misused and cause more conflict between faiths than it will heal. There have already been high profile trials in Australia and the US where well meaning people have been misinterpreted and taken to court, where there was no intention of causing offence. When will the Government see sense on this Bill? I expect there will be another use of the Parliament Act soon.

Karen Blackburn, Coventry England

A law that can result in 7 years prison for using "insulting words". George Orwell would be proud (or terrified).

Johnny Gritz, London

This bill is a complete and utter disgrace and once again reinforces that this government believes people of religion are superior to people of no religion. It offers too much protection to the kind of legitimate, reasonable criticism of religion that is so badly needed when there are so many conflicts at home and abroad caused by religion. This will only give more power to the kind of people who want to ban any plays, films or television programmes that contain anything that challenges their belief. It has absolutely no place in a supposedly liberal democracy.

Keith, London, UK

Religion should not be politically legislated; nor vice-versa. Remember all the wars because of this?

Tony Fusaro, Fife, Scotland

As a Christian, my concern is that most faiths disagree on the basic truths but must be allowed to promote them in an ethical manner. My faith and (e.g.) Islam disagree fundamentally on who Jesus Christ is. Will I be able to say, publicly, he's God and the only way to eternal life? Because that's saying Muslims are wrong to believe what they do. If they're offended, will I be prosecuted? Will Muslims be able to state their own beliefs publicly? Because, in turn, they would be saying (e.g.) Hindus are wrong to believe what they do. If Hindus take offence, will the Muslims fall foul of these new laws?

Andrew Waugh, Reading, Berks

Surely there is already enough legislation - breach of the peace would seem to cover these type of offences

Nigel Smith, London, UK

Where do you draw the line? Will this law punish those who incite hatred or using insulting words against non-believers? Surely there is already enough legislation - breach of the peace would seem to cover these type of offences.

Nigel Smith, London UK

Yet again the nanny state rears its ugly head. I suppose at some point speaking will be banned as will texting, maybe we should all find a cave and some mammoths to hunt as well as communicating using the word ug, that is unless people who are called "ug" object.

Mark Fox, Doncaster, England

How backwards are the critics to this law? They themselves obviously have some issues with people of different religions. Personally, I am not religious but I could never hate someone simply because they were and I expect the same in return. This law is not an attack on free speech, but trying to rid this world of one of its biggest problems, the people against this should maybe get a clue.

Rob, Nottingham

It looks like the government has ignored the genuine fears that people expressed last time this legislation was proposed, when loose wording was seen as a religious extremist's licence to gag anyone else. If this legislation goes ahead it must explicitly only protect people (individuals as well as groups) of faith and not their beliefs, so the blasphemy laws should be scrapped at the same time.

Fabian, UK

Protecting people of different faiths from persecution on the grounds of their faith is all very well but will it also take into account the majority of us who do not subscribe to one of these religious clubs? After all, we are the most frequent victims of religious bigotry and hatred. I'm tired of hearing myself referred as if I were some kind of aberrant with no moral values whatsoever. It's time all of us were given this kind of protection!

Jim Francis, London

I believe religion is a personal thing. Being a Muslim, I neither hate the religion of others nor like others to hate my religion. However, imposing a law won't stop hatred. Society needs to change first.

Fahim Akhter, London

I do not believe that this is 'good law' as it is not specific and could easily be misused by one extreme faction or religion against another religion. Free speech must be preserved and the right to state that one religion is wrong in its beliefs must remain.

E Thompson, Croydon Surrey

Story from BBC NEWS:

This bill is just scary

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