11th January 2005
Your columnist, Melanie Phillips, misrepresents the government's proposals to prohibit Incitement to Religious Hatred, by claiming that they will restrict freedom of speech and that:
"This proposed law will almost certainly put Christians, among others, in the dock for expressing legitimate opinions - as we can see from what has happened in Australia, where a similar law recently resulted in the criminal conviction of two Christian pastors for merely criticising Islam." (Daily Mail, Monday January 10th, 2005)
In fact, the Australian judicial tribunal found Pastor Scot and Paster Danny Nalliah guilty - not of criticising Islam - but of inciting fear and hatred of Muslims by claiming that Muslims were liars and demons.
Our own government's proposals do not seek to outlaw criticising someone's beliefs but rather inciting hatred against entire religious groups. This is a much-needed and common sense measure and cannot be sensibly described as a restriction on our freedoms any more than the existing incitement to racial hatred laws can be described as restricting our discussions about race.
The far right British National Party has clearly been trying in recent years to exploit the existing loophole in our laws to incite hatred against faith groups - and in particular British Muslims - with a view to creating social strife in our country. In the summer of 2001 we witnessed riots in several northern towns where the BNP had deliberately set out to foment trouble. Does Melanie Phillips think that the BNP should continue to be allowed to do so?
The Muslim Council of Britain
London E15 1NT