Debate and discussion - Against Blunkett's Religious Hate Law

Submitted by Anon on 12 August, 2004 - 2:54

Home Secretary David Blunkett has revived proposals for a Religious Hate law. The government first attempted to introduce a law that would ban inciting religious hatred in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
It is not yet clear exactly when the plans will go before Parliament.

Blunkett believes that there is a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they hold a particular religious faith. He states both that the law is needed to protect Muslims from "Islamophobia", and that the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions, meaning - in reality - it would be used mainly against Islamists.

Blunkett told Radio 4's "Today" programme the legislation would not curb people's right to express their view of other people's religions: "The issue is not whether you have an argument or discussion or whether you are criticising someone's religion. It's whether you incite hatred on the basis of it."

But the comedian Rowan Atkinson fears a law change could outlaw jokes about religion.

The author Tim Lott, writing in the Evening Standard, commented: "Why shouldn't I have the right to voice hatred of religious fundamentalism? As it is I'm intimidated about criticising Muslim fanatics in case someone in Bradford issues a fatwa against me. Now it looks as if I can't call George Bush - or Tony Blair for that matter - a fundamentalist Christian nutter without facing the possibility of five years in choky. Of course, it is strictly religious sensitivities that are being protected. Such poor little lambs, the pious."

The National Secular Society denounced Blunkett's proposals as "an invitation to religious fanatics to use the courts to silence critics… [these] proposals will lead to a severe curtailing of freedom of speech and are tantamount to the reintroduction to the statute book of blasphemy laws - but this time applying to all religions." As the NSS points out: "A similar law was introduced recently in Victoria, Australia. The 'vilification of religion' law has resulted in a prosecution (still ongoing) that has descended into farce. A fundamentalist Christian group is on trial because it offended the sensibilities of a Muslim group during a sermon critical of Islam. Now the court finds itself in the ridiculous position of having to decide whether particular 'sacred texts' contain incitements to hatred."

A columnist writing in the Independent wrote: "I have no hesitation in boasting that I actively encourage hatred of religion, which is dangerous claptrap. Once again David Blunkett seeks to conflate our laudable protections against racism, sexism or homophobia - all hatreds directed against aspects of a person's fundamental humanity - with protecting religious belief. Religion is a matter of voluntary choice; race, gender and sexuality are not. Those who choose to adhere to the anti-intellectual, anti-reason, medieval, superstitious nonsense that is the theistic religions must not be afforded any legal protection from the rightful opprobrium their nonsense creeds have earned them. The Home Secretary is seeking to legislate against reason."

And the Labour peer Lord Desai also believes there is no need for Blunkett's law. He told "Today": "We will get into a real muddle if we take religion as a ground for prosecution, rather than ethnic stereotyping. When people insult Muslims they are not attacking the religion, they are attacking Muslims as a racial group. The protection required is already covered in law."

Dan Katz, south London

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