UK: Government beaten on hatred billGovernment beaten on hatred bill
The government has been heavily defeated in the Lords over plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred. Peers voted by a majority of 149 in favour of a cross-bench move to put freedom of speech safeguards into the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Opponents say proposed legislation is drawn too widely and could outlaw criticisms of beliefs. Current race hate laws covers Jews and Sikhs but ministers say other groups, such as Muslims, need protection. Opponents of the bill argue that people can choose their religion, unlike their race, and so should not be protected against offence or criticism. Ministers reject claims that the current bill would stop free speech. But comedian Rowan Atkinson has called it "draconian". Last week a group of opponents, including him and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, suggested a series of amendments. These include making sure nobody is found guilty of religious hate crimes unless it is proved they intended to stir up hatred. Only "threatening words" should be banned by the bill, not those which are only abusive or insulting, they added.
UK: Religious hatred Bill is being used to buy Muslim votes
Critics rightly suspect a cynical attempt to claw back Muslim support for New Labour that has been squandered through the war in Iraq. It is a bone tossed to those who claim to speak on behalf of a Muslim community that overwhelmingly resides in Labour inner city heartlands. If Ms Ali lived here, she could find herself facing a seven- year prison sentence, for publicising the fact that in some Islamic societies, women cannot leave the home, let alone drive a car. Rather than dabbling in areas where it has no business, the Government should be wondering how to defend the likes of Ms Ali, since it is - tragically - too late for Theo van Gogh.