Thursday, October 13, 2005

Incitement to Religious Hatred

The UK Government is currently trying to push its Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill though the House of Lords. I believe that this legislation is misconceived and that it undermines the time-honoured British right of free speech.
I believe that people of all faiths and none should live together peaceably in our society. Those who incite others to attack or persecute people because of their beliefs already fall foul of laws that forbid the incitement of criminal activity. That is right and good.

My concern is that the proposed a new offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred may be used to clamp down on legitimate inter-faith discussion. I am a Christian Minister. I therefore have certain beliefs with which people of other faiths would strongly disagree. That is their right in a free society. My belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to God, carries with it implicit criticism of other faiths. I wish to be able to discuss the claims of the Christian faith in a friendly and robust way with those of other faiths. I also want to be able, as part of my preaching and teaching ministry, to show why Christianity, not some other form of belief system is the true faith. This is something that Christian preachers have been able to do for centuries in this country. The threat of legal action may curb our precious and hard-won right of free speech.

Where such legislation has been passed in other countries, for example in Australia, a pastor was found guilty of "religious vilification" for exposing the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. Do we really want people of differing faith groups reporting each other to the police because their beliefs have been criticised by others? That would make for more friction between faiths, making the proposed legislation counter-productive.

Cults, sects and extremists may use the new legislation to silence criticism of their beliefs and practices. Investigative journalism and accurate news reporting may therefore be compromised by "incitement to religious hatred" legislation. A Christian organisation like the Barnabas Fund highlights the plight of persecuted Christians in the Islamic world. Could their reporting be construed as “Islamophobic” and lead to legal action?

Similar concerns have been expressed not only by Christians, but people of other faiths, secular journalists and even comedians. The “incitement to religious hatred” law may be well-meaning, but in my view, it is a misguided and unnecessary piece of legislation.
This Bill was debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday 11th October. Most Peers spoke against the legislation. The Bill will now be scrutinised and perhaps amended by special Lord's committees. For more details about this legislation and what we can do to combat it, see

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