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Monday, February 07, 2005


Always look on the bright side of life?

Another blow for freedom of speech. The government has defeated a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Serious and Organised Crime Bill.

The government's bill includes a provision to outlaw 'incitement to religious hatred' but its broad definition of racial and religious hatred risks criminalising honest debate. The Lib Dem amendment, supported by comedian
Rowan Atkinson, would have tightened this definition.

Speaking on Radio 4's
Today programme on Monday morning, Atkinson said,

"...the only safety valve that they have put in the legislation is the fact that the attorney general will have the final say. A safety valve operated by a politician subject to the political agendas of the day is not to me a good enough safety valve.

"The incitement of religious hatred doesn't even have to be intended, it is just if it offends any person.

"This is undoubtedly a politically motivated move on the government's part because they think it will give them some advantage among certain religious groups in the imminent general election."
The government insists its new law will not threaten our right to criticise or lampoon religions or religious beliefs. I wish I could share its faith. A more likely scenario is that, the minute this bill becomes law, there will be a rash of court cases brought by an assortment of religious bigots.

In the meantime, congratulations to Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris for pursuing this issue. He recognises a good Liberal cause when he sees one, unlike one of his colleagues I could name.

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