Religious hatred bill: ‘censorship by stealth’

Condemning the religious hatred bill, Mike McNair claims that “the chilling effect of the new act will be considerable. Behzti and Jerry Springer, the Opera would not be staged; Monty Python’s Life of Brian might be filmed in the US, since the first amendment is robust, but would not be shown by British cinemas, and a great deal of the television series would not be broadcast; Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses might well be de facto banned by English law”.

Weekly Worker, 29 September 2005

This is not only hysterical nonsense, it’s also unbelievably ignorant. The staging of Behzti was already covered by the provisions in the 1986 Public Order Act dealing with incitement to racial hatred, as Sikhs are held (on the basis of case law) to be members of a mono-ethnic faith. The extension of those provisions to cover religious hatred, as is proposed in the present bill, would make zero difference to whether or not Behzti could be prosecuted for inciting hatred. The effect of the bill is simply to extend to other faiths (notably Muslims) the defence already available to Sikhs and Jews under existing law.

In another article in the same issue Jack Conrad approvingly quotes Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: “… there is a profound difference between hatred based on race, sex or age – all of which are thrust upon us; we have no choice – and on religion, which is not thrust upon us. Religion is a matter of choice.”

This argument was demolished by Sadiq Khan MP in the same House of Commons debate: “The idea that one cannot choose one’s race but can choose one’s religion so that the former but not the latter should get protection is absurd. Some people talk about religion as a lifestyle choice, but what is being suggested – that Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims should convert to Christianity or become atheists?”