Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lords amend Religious Hatred bill

Timothy Garton Ash writes about a short film from Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the treatment of women in some Islamic societies, which has lead to death threats:
This right to free speech, which is to an open society what oxygen is to human life, is under direct threat from people whose position is very simple: if you say that, we will kill you. And not just in the case of Islam. Remember that violent protests and death threats from extremists in Britain's Sikh community forced the playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti into hiding, and her play Behzti off the stage in Birmingham.
Ali was inspired as a student by the works of John Stuart Mill and Karl Popper and their Enlightenment values. Ash reports that the Lords have now significantly amended the Religious Hatred bill to protect free speech and the right to criticise religious ideas in the UK:
These amendments, in the formulation of which Lester played a significant part, do three things to make a bad bill somewhat less bad. They confine the offence to genuinely "threatening", rather than merely "abusive" or "insulting", words or behaviour. They require that the prosecution proves clear intent to stir up religious hatred. Above all, they introduce a "protection of freedom of expression" clause that reads: "Nothing in this part shall be read or given effect in a way that prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system."
The Government now needs to decide whether to make the most of a bad piece of legislation and accept these amendments. Or even better, withdraw the bill -- but don't hold your breath.

No comments: