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The problem of hate legislation.

London -- The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill brought forward by Labour to bolster support among Muslims was described by Home Secretary Charles Clarke as of "vital importance" to protect Muslims and other groups from "religious hatred." Opponents of the bill argued that it could be used to censor films, books, and television programmes. They also warned that it could be abused by members of religious cults who could complain to the police about anyone who insulted their beliefs.

Others see the danger coming from "gays," whose activists insist on total equality and protection for their views and practice. A similar law in Australia was used by a jailed witch to launch a criminal prosecution of the Salvation Army after it criticized witchcraft.

Under the act, Satanists and witches would be able to complain about Catholic priests or Anglicans, for example, "vilifying" their beliefs. The stirring up of hatred against people of any religious faith would carry a maximum seven-year jail sentence.

In February 2006, however, the proposed law was substantially watered down in a rare parliamentary defeat for the Labour government. The government lost twice, once by ten votes and once by only one. As Parliament voted, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside to protest against what they saw as an unjustified erosion of free speech. The Guardian newspaper noted that this was the third attempt by the government since 2001 to pass a law on this subject. According to the editorial, the government's proposal "conflated threatening behaviour and material, from which religious people deserve protection, with insult and abuse of religious belief, which is a necessary part of an open society."

A letter published in the Daily Telegraph asking parliamentarians to vote against the legislation was signed by a group of humanists, secularists, Muslims and evangelical Christians. The views of the two Muslims who signed it were in contrast with the stance of the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's most representative Muslim body. The letter said that a free society "must have the scope to debate, criticize, proselytize, insult, and even ridicule belief and religious practices in order to ensure that there is full scope--short of violence or inciting violence or other criminal offenses--to tackle these issues. According to the Guardian, one Protestant evangelical group, Christian Voice, warned it would consider using the new law to prosecute bookshops selling the Koran for inciting religious hatred.
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Title Annotation:Great Britain
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2006
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