UK Religious Incitement Law Back

The Guardian notes that tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech to Parliament, in which the monarch runs through proposed new legislation, will include the issue of incitement to religious hatred (this detail is tucked away in an article on ID Cards):

Peers have rejected this proposal twice in the last four years on grounds of “free speech”, but ministers have told Muslim groups that as it was a manifesto commitment they would now be justified in invoking the Parliament Act to override opposition.

Unfortunately, the Guardian‘s journos go on to botch their wording a bit:

…The legislation on incitement to religious hatred would introduce a new criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, to close a loophole that allows criminal behaviour motivated by religious hatred.

I don’t think that’s quite the case at the moment. What they mean, of course, is that incitement to religious hatred is not currently covered by the law, while incitement to racial hatred is.

But this new development is a bit of a surprise – just before the election ASSIST Ministries reported that:

The British government has dropped plans to introduce laws banning Incitement to Religious Hatred before the election after coming under intense pressure from both opposition parties and a coalition of groups coordinated by Barnabas Fund who oppose the laws on free speech grounds.

According to the Barnabas Fund, the leader of the House of Commons Peter Hain announced April 5 that the government was dropping laws banning Incitement to Religious Hatred from its Serious Organized Crime and Police (SOCP) Bill in order to get the rest of the Bill through before parliament rises for the general election.

Many groups and individuals have problems with the legislation, which they fear will be used to stifle criticism of religion. That impression was strengthened when MP Khalid Mahmood suggested that such a law could have been used to “edit” Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. I covered the debate here.

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