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Wednesday, February 02, 2005


A wobbling edifice

Rowan Atkinson delivered an excellent speech to members of the House of Lords last week, in opposition to the proposed law against incitement of religious hatred (which the government has bolted on to its Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill). Some extracts:

"To criticise people for their race is manifestly irrational but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas - any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society and a law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It promotes the idea that there should be a right not to be offended, when in my view, the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended, simply because one represents openness, the other represents oppression."

"I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who are seeking this legislation but I do question the government’s enthusiasm for it so close to a general election, an enthusiasm that must be rooted in their belief that this measure could help their cause in some marginal constituencies with large religious populations, many of whom are critical of the government’s prosecution of the war in Iraq. It seems a shame we have to be robbed permanently of one of the pillars of freedom of expression because it’s needed temporarily to shore up a wobbling edifice elsewhere."
I do hope the silence of Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten on this issue is not due to opportunistic concerns about any wobbling edifice of their own.

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