The Public Order Act 1986 will probably be amended to add an offence of inciting to religious hatred, at least in England and Wales.
bq. The bill would create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred and would apply to comments made in public or in the media, as well as through written material.
bq. The plans – which have failed to make it through Parliament twice before – cover words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up religious hatred. Jews and Sikhs are already covered by race hate laws.
From a commentary by Paul Stokes in The Scotsman:
bq. I wonder what was going on in the minds of those six Hearts fans who were charged last week with the hate crime of religiously aggravated breach of the peace after booing and jeering during the minutes silence in memory of Pope John Paul II at Hampden Park. …
bq. The actions of the fans were disrespectful, and they have brought shame and embarrassment on their club, and on this country. But that is still no reason to charge them with a criminal offence.
bq. They have every right to dislike the Pope for whatever reason they wish, and to express that dislike in what would normally be considered a legitimate form of protest. In recent weeks Celtic fans have booed their chairmen for being tight with the transfer cash. No one was charged with financially aggravated breach of the peace. Since when has it been illegal to boo at a football match?
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has a report too, although it costs money to see it (search for Gesetz über “religiösen Hass” on 23 June).
bq. Zwei Kampagnen religiöser Lobbys illustrieren die Gefahr gesetzlicher Einengung. Trotz massiven Protesten von christlichen Gläubigen hat die BBC eine leicht blasphemische skurrile Oper mit einem debilen und homosexuellen Jesus mit entsprechend grossem Zuschauererfolg ausgestrahlt. Würde sie Ähnliches wieder wagen, wenn Klagen vorliegen? Das Birmingham Rep-Theater war dagegen gezwungen, das Stück einer Sikh-Autorin abzusetzen, nachdem deren Glaubensgenossen gewalttätig demonstriert hatten (und sie sich wegen Todesdrohungen verstecken musste). Würde ein Salman Rushdie – er sprach sich gegen das Gesetz aus – mit seinen “Satanischen Versen” immer noch Asyl und Polizeischutz erhalten?
Surely no legislation that endangers Jerry Springer – the Opera should be condoned? And it has been suggested that Life of Brian would not be possible with such legislation in force (millions in Germany would be heartbroken).
At least the bill provides that prosecutions may be instituted only by or with the consent of the Attorney-General (better than the private prosecutions for blasphemy of Mary Whitehouse).
BBC Q & A: Religious Hatred Law
House of Commons debate of 21 June in Hansard (a lively debate because opponents of the bill staged a ‘backbench revolt’ against it)
UK Criminal Justice Weblog (scroll down)
(Thanks to Paul Thomas)