|Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill
||I would be most grateful if you could kindly oppose the Bill when it is debated on Tuesday 21 June.
I understand the legislation is based on loose definitions (it has been widely reported, for instance, that the measure will protect Satanist,Pagans and Atheists as much as Muslims and Christians) and threatens free debate and criticism of all faith positions.
Apparently the Government have been unable to clarify what language should be considered 'abusive' or 'insulting' and 'religion' will inlcude systems like Atheism and Satanism.
The Bill could also create 'self censorship'on matters of legitimate religious debate because of the fear of prosection and lengthy prison sentences.
I greatly appreciate your help over this matter which is of the utmost importance.
|Date Issue Raised:
||17 Jun 2005
||Thank you very much for your email about the Government’s plans for a new offence of ‘incitement to religious hatred’.
As you may know, the Labour Government have twice before tried to legislate for an offence of incitement to religious hatred: in the immediate aftermath of 11th September 2001, and again in the recent Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. On both occasions, the plans met with strong opposition both in and outside Parliament, with the result that the proposal had to be dropped. It now seems that, following commitments in Labour’s 2005 Manifesto, the Government will again try to get this law on to the statute book.
I have argued all along that this proposal will threaten freedom of speech without doing anything to protect religious groups from harassment or violence. In my view, freedom of speech is one of the great virtues and strengths of British society. Unlike race, religion is a matter of choice. That is why it is entirely proper such matters are debated and contested.
The Attorney General has himself admitted that the proposed law raises expectations amongst some religious groups of protection from criticism that cannot properly be satisfied.
Moreover, I continue to believe that the proposed offence is entirely unnecessary. Words intended to provoke violence, or to cause alarm, distress, or harassment, are all caught by existing laws. This legislation therefore plans to sacrifice freedom of speech for little or no gain.
For these reasons, my Conservative colleagues and I will continue to oppose this measure.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to email me. I will certainly take your comments on board when considering these issues in the future.
Best wishes, George Young