New religious hate laws unveiled

Inciting religious hatred is to be made a criminal offence under plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The government failed to get laws introducing the offence passed by Parliament in the wake of the US terror attacks in 2001.

In a speech in London, Mr Blunkett revived the proposals.

Religious freedom, tolerance, and intolerance
Religious Freedom
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).

Religious Persecution
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.

Religious Intolerance
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.

The following do not constitute religious intolerance:

  • Excercizing the right to challenge a religion’s claims (e.g. regarding alleged compatibility with, or superiority over, other religious beliefs)
  • Condemning and disallowing illegal practices
  • Rejecting a movement’s claim to be a ”religion” when there is sufficient evidence showing religion is used as a cover (e.g. the Church of Scientology).
  • Religious Tolerance
    Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.

    He said he was returning to the plans as there was a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they held a particular religious faith.

    Islamophobia fear

    “Extending anti-discrimination law is only worthwhile if we actually change the processes on the ground,” he said in a keynote speech to left-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research.

    Earlier he told BBC 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,” he said.

    There is already an offence of inciting racial hatred but this does not offer protection if someone is being targeted because of their religion.

    The government is worried in particular about discrimination against Muslims.

    The home secretary believes the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions.

    It is not yet clear exactly when the plans will go before Parliament.

    It is thought likely the plans will be part of other legislation rather than forming a Bill on their own.

    Tackling extremism, political and religious, was the central theme of Mr Blunkett’s speech.

    He is also expected to praise the enormous contribution made by Britain’s ethnic minority communities.

    He is keen to stress that the government does not want to create a single common culture but instead values Britain’s diversity.

    Battle predicted

    But Labour peer Lord Desai believes there is no need for the proposed measures.

    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.”

    Lord Desai suggested Mr Blunkett would have a “very tough time” getting the proposed measures through the House of Lords.

    Current race hate laws protect religious groups if they can also be identified as a distinct ethnic minority community – such as Jews or Sikhs.

    The anti-terror laws introduced in late 2001 after the World Trade Center attacks do include laws which mean courts can take religion, like race, as an aggravating factor when dealing with crimes of violence or intimidation.

    But in a last-minute compromise to ensure the main bulk of his anti-terror plans were passed by the House of Lords, Mr Blunkett dropped the proposed incitement to religious hatred offence.

    Life of Brian

    Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said at the time they would have backed fresh moves to introduce the law away from the pressures of emergency legislation.

    Comedians such as Rowan Atkinson raised fears the law change could have outlawed jokes about religion.

    The Blackadder star suggested Monty Python’s Life of Brian would not have been made if the law had been in force.

    At the time, Mr Blunkett said much of the criticism of the plans had been “nonsense”, adding that jokes would not fall foul of the proposed measures.

    Last month, the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia think tank warned that persistent and untackled Islamophobia in the UK could lead to “time-bombs” of backlash and bitterness.

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    BBC, UK
    July 7, 2004

    Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 7, 2004.
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