IFEX comments on the continuing controversary surrounding the Racial and Religious Hatred bill

IFEX, the weekly newsletter of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange discusses in ‘Proposed Religious Hatred Law Draws Controversy’:

Britain’s plan to introduce tougher laws criminalising religious-inspired hatred is being challenged in a forthcoming book published by English PEN.

Index on Censorship reports on its website that in a new book entitled Free Expression is No Offence, Lord Anthony Lester asserts in a stinging critique of the legislation, that modifying existing laws to tackle those who use religion as a proxy for race is a far better alternative to enacting a new law criminalising religious hatred The critique, written by the member of the British House of Lords, of the Liberal Democrats party, claims that the proposed laws cast an excessively wide net. They would make it an offence to promote religious hatred by using threatening, abusive words or behaviour, displaying or publishing written material, which is threatening, abusive or insulting. The laws would also criminalise any public performance of a play or distributing, showing or playing a recording, or broadcasting a programme deemed hateful. They would also make it an offence to be in possession of religiously inflammatory materials.

These offences would be committed not only if the defendant deliberately intended to stir up religious hatred but also where religious hatred is “likely in all the circumstances” to be stirred up. The offences could be committed in a public or a private place. The crimes would be punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.

Lester contends that if passed, the laws would have a chilling effect on free expression.

A BBC poll conducted between 8 and 10 July 2005 to gauge attitudes in Britain to the proposed legislation, suggests a fairly even split between those backing a legislated ban on inciting religious hatred and those who say it curbs free speech.

For more information, see:

-Index: Easier ways to crack a nut http://www.indexonline.org/en/news/articles/2005/3/britain-the-case-against-new-labour-s-religi.shtml

-Index: A government sponsored bear pit for religious extremists http://www.indexonline.org/en/news/articles/2005/2/britain-plan-to-outlaw-incitement-to-religio.shtml

-BBC: Enthusiasm fades for hatred bill http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4691447.stm

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/aboutenglishpen/campaigns/offence/archiveofnews/ifexcommentsonthecontinuingcon/

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