01 March 2005
Dear Sir, Camilla Cavendish (The Times, 1st March 2005) distorts some basic facts in order to build her case against the government's proposals to prohibit incitement to religious hatred.
She claims that 'anyone who insults the beliefs' of amongst others, Christians and Muslims, could face seven years in prison if the proposals become law. This is plainly untrue. It is made very clear to those who have read the proposed law and consulted interested parties that only hatred incited towards followers of a religion would be outlawed, and not hatred of religion itself. This is even made clear in the explanatory notes to the legislation. In addition, the Attorney-General has taken a very strict view of what constitutes incitement with our existing incitement to racial hatred law. Only 4 out of over 80 cases brought to him have been approved for prosecution in the past three years. There is no reason to suppose he would be any less strict with the proposed religious hatred law.
The government's proposals are supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Law Society and human rights organisations, like Justice and the Commission for Racial Equality. Their knowledge and experience in the use of the current racial incitement laws, which already protect the Jewish and Sikh communities, must surely be an important consideration. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this type of law, as currently exists for Sikhs and Jews in mainland Britain and for all religions in Northern Ireland, has had any of the negative impact suggested by Ms Cavendish.
Ms Cavendish claims that under a similar law in Australia, Pastor Daniel Scot was found guilty of incitement 'for explaining why he had fled from his home from Pakistan.' This is nonsense. In fact, the Australian judicial tribunal found Pastor Scot and Pastor Danny Nalliah guilty - not of criticising Islam - but of inciting fear and hatred of Muslims by claiming that 'Muslims were liars and demons who were planning to overrun Western democracy by violence and terror.'
The Muslim Council of Britain
London E15 1NT