HATE SPEECH LEGISLATION IN THE UK:
THE RELIGIOUS HATRED BILL
The Religious Hatred Bill:
A bill to combat religious hate speech was introduced by the ruling Labour
party to the British
Parliament in 2001. However, it did not become law. 1 A second
bill was introduced in 2004-JUL . The Conservative
and Liberal Democrat parties expressed opposition to the bill. The British
government retracted that bill on 2005-APR-06 in order to prevent other
anti-crime bills from being defeated in Parliament. 2
The Queen's speech to the UK parliament on 2005-MAY-17 included a reference
to a third attempt to pass a law restricting religious hate speech.
Most Muslim groups had been urging the government to
create this type of legislation since the early 1990s. "They
feel that such a law is required to protect their communities from Islamophobia,
especially from far-right groups." 3
The British Broadcasting Crporation stated that the
the new bill is targeting "members of extremist organizations who stir up
hatred against members of minority faiths and to individuals who seek to stir up
hatred against those who do not share their faith."
sentence for anyone found guilty of religious hate speech would be seven years.
The bill takes the form of an amendment to the Serious Organised Crime and Police
Bill (SOCP) which currently prohibits the incitement of racial hatred. The
amendment would increase the scope of that bill to include hatred based on
religion. Although the
existing SOCP law covers hatred against mono-ethnic faith groups such as Jews or
Sikhs, it does not protect multi-ethnic religious groups such as Christians and
Muslims. The proposed amendment is intended to plug this gap. 4
A Home Office spokeswoman stated in 2004-DEC: "There is a clear
difference between criticism of a religion and the act of inciting hatred
against members of a religious group. The incitement offences have a high
criminal threshold and prosecutions require the consent of the Attorney General.
There has not been a widespread sense that the existing offence has interfered
with free speech and we are confident that an offence of incitement to religious
hatred will not do so either." 5
Support for the legislation:
Many secular and mainline religious groups favor passage of the religious hatred bill
because they feel it will protect religious minorities from verbal attacks, such
as Jews, Muslims and Sikhs.
||Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops support
||Dr. Elizabeth Harris, Secretary for Inter Faith
Relations of the Methodist Church said: "The Methodist Church is committed
to an open discussion of beliefs and ensuring that people of all faiths are
protected from hatred. Other faiths tell us that they want this legislation.
We have to respect this. This legislation is not about debating truth claims
nor about whether all religions are the same. But it is about all
individuals and communities having the right to live and work without the
fear of violence arising from religious hatred. The legislation will apply
to everyone, so Christians will be protected as well."
||The Hindu Council UK has indicated its support for the bill by reprining a government Incitement to
Religious Hatred Bill Factsheet which states in part: "The proposed
provision is needed to combat the incited hatred that threatens the cohesion
of our communities. In evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on
Religious Offences, many organisations, including the Association of Chief
Police Officers, gave examples of problems where they faced difficulties
responding under existing legislation alone and where the extension of the
incitement provision to religious hatred would help them combat extremism."
Opposition to the legislation:
In 2004-DEC, a famous comic actor, Rowan Atkinson, spoke against the bill on behalf of the
Society. He said: "To criticize a person
for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticize their
religion, that is a right. That is a freedom....The freedom to criticize ideas,
any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental
freedoms of society and a law which attempts to say you can criticize and
ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law
indeed." He expressed concern that there have been "quite a few sketches"
that he has performed that might be considered an offense under the proposed
bill, "in the right hand and with the right energy." 5
There is very strong opposition from conservative Protestant groups who feel that the law would have a "chilling"
effect on the freedom of religious expression.
||Dr. Don Horrocks, public affairs spokesperson for the Evangelical
Alliance said: "Despite its noble intention, we still consider that
this legislation, unless significantly altered, is likely to undermine
freedom of speech, damage community relations and usher in a new climate of
illiberalism and repression." Earlier in 2005, he opposed the bill
even though it was "well-intentioned," because it
restricted freedom of speech, even the "free proclamation of the gospel."
||Andrea Minichiello Williams, the Public Policy
Officer for the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship, said: "Whilst we
are apposed to hatred being whipped up against any section of the community,
we believe there are sufficient laws already in place through the criminal
law to ensure that such behavior can be dealt with.
The Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill will in fact
and in law, curb freedom of speech about which every Christian should care
passionately. Every member and minister
of the Church of England should fight for this great freedom. With the proposed new offense we will see a
chilling effect on how people talk about their faith in the public square
and our opportunities to share the Gospel will suffer."
||The Barnabas Fund, an Evangelical Christian
group which advocates on behalf of Christians being persecuted in foreign
lands stated: "Critics of the law have previously pointed out that
existing legislation banning incitement to violence and other criminal acts
already provides protection if enforced properly. They argue that in reality
this new law could end up being used to prevent all reasonable debate and
criticism of another personís religion and create greater inter-religious
tensions. Barnabas Fund is particularly concerned that the bill could
potentially silence those who speak out on behalf of millions of people who
suffer as a result of particular religious teachings, such as Muslims who
convert to another faith (who should be executed according to Islamic law)
or Dalits (treated as 'untouchables' in the traditional Hindu caste system)."
Evangelical Christian groups in
Sweden and Canada have also expressed concern
over religious hate and religious propaganda laws in their countries. However,
their main concern involved clauses in the laws to criminalize hate speech directed
against persons with a homosexual orientation. This
is not present in the proposed British bill.
Religious author Michael Burleigh wrote in an opinion section of the
Telegraph newspaper stating that: "The Barnabas Fund, which campaigns for Christians
in Islamic societies, rightly points to how such a law will make it harder for
them to protect people [in other countries] whose [religious] choice renders them
second-class citizens, or who are denied any opportunity to worship publicly.
Expressions of support for an apostate like Hirsi Ali - who has pointed out that
she would have been executed in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia or Syria - will
potentially attract the unwanted attentions of the Attorney General, police and
courts. So might anyone who feels moved to expose paedophile shenanigans in the
Roman Catholic Church. And then there are cults. I happen to think that
Satanists and Scientologists are mad; am I going to be prosecuted for saying so
in print?" Burleigh notes that "Ms Ali inspired the liberal film-maker
Theo van Gogh into extending a traditionally earthy Dutch anti-clericalism to
Islam; the result being that he was shot and stabbed, with a warning note to Ms
Ali thoughtfully affixed to his corpse with a carving knife."
Possibility of prosecution of Jewish and Christian groups under this law:
The Bible contains many religiously
intolerant statements and describes many religiously intolerant actions. Most of
the genocides mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were motivated
by intolerance of neighboring tribes' religious beliefs. Some biblical passages
call for the execution of people of other faiths during times of war and peace.
Some examples from the Hebrew
||The book of Joshua described a religiously-motivated genocidal campaign
intended to exterminate all Canaanites
||Leviticus 17:7-9 prohibited alternative religious expressions and required
the death penalty both for Jews and foreign visitors.
||Four passages in Numbers, including Numbers 18:7 required that non-News
entering the Hebrew tabernacle were to be executed.
||Deuteronomy 17:2-5 required that a Jew who converted to another religion
was to be executed.
||Psalms 106:35-38 stated that the Gods and Goddesses of other societies were regarded as devils.
Some examples from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were:
||Numerous passages in the Christian Scriptures state or imply that God
intends to have all non-Christians tortured in Hell
for all eternity. This belief is frequently mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, but
is found throughout the other Gospels and Epistles as well.
||1 Corinthians 10:20-21 states that the Gods of non-Jewish religions are
||2 Corinthians 6:14-17 requires Christians to have no interaction with
non-Christians because the latter worship Satan.
||1 Timothy 4:1 implies that minority Christian groups follow seducing
spirits and devils.
||Revelation 9:20-21 is a description of an end-of-the-world genocide of
non-Christians who do not abandon their religion in favor of Christianity.
It is quite conceivable that a religious group which stresses these biblical themes
could be considered by the courts to be expressing religious hatred against
other faiths, and thus be found guilty under the proposed bill if it were to
become law. Even a single sermon could result in a charge being laid under the
law against a pastor.
"UK Christians Oppose Proposed Religious Hatred Bill," The Christian Post, 2005-MAY-25, at:
"Government drops religious hate law as election looms following intense free speech campaign," The Barnabas Fund,
"Muslims warn parties on hate bill," The Sunday Times, 2005-FEB-06, at:
Michael Burleigh, "Religious hatred Bill is being used to buy Muslim votes," Opinion.telegraph, 2005-MAY-31, at:
"Blackadder star teams up with Evangelicals to oppose religious hatred bill," Ekklesia, 2004-DEC-06, at:
"Methodist church backs religious hatred bill," Ekklesia, 2004-DEC-13, at:
"Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill Factsheet,"
Hindu Council UK, at: http://www.hinducounciluk.org/
"Religious Hatred Bill Puts Freedom at Risk, Says Atkinson," The Independent, UK, 2004-DEC-04, at:
Lucy Vanakova, "Evangelical Christians Emphasise Opposition to Religious Hatred Bill," Christianity Today, 2005-MAY-20, at:
"British Government Announce Intention for Incitement to Religious Hatred Law," The Barnabas Fund, 2005-MAY-18, at:
Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-31
Latest update: 2005-DEC-17
Author: B.A. Robinson