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Further to our Urgent Actions of 17 and 24 June 2005, we are writing to update you on the progress of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and to request further action.

As you are aware, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is designed to create a new criminal offence with a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail of ‘stirring up hatred against people on religious grounds’. The Government has said that the new law is meant to be for the benefit of Muslims living in Britain who need protection from attacks on them which have become more common since September 11, according to reports by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF).
Whilst a law against stirring up hatred may seem like a good idea in theory, in practice the way the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill has been written means that it could result in the curtailment of freedom of speech, and, in particular, the freedom to preach the Gospel. The way the law is written means that it would not be enough for a person to say that they had not intended to stir up religious hatred – all that is needed is that is was likely that their words, behaviour or material would stir up hatred. In addition, existing laws against religiously aggravated harassment, property damage and violence are already adequate to protect Muslims and other religious minorities. There is a genuine fear that the ability to prosecute people of other religions because they teach beliefs contrary to your own could increase intolerance and threaten community cohesion.

For a further analysis of the implications that this new law could have on Christians and society in general, please visit www.christian.org.uk or www.lawcf.org/lawreform.php

ICC is further concerned that the passing of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in the UK could severely hamper our efforts to speak out against legislation such as the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan , Anti-Conversion Laws in India and Sri Lanka and Religious Ordinances in Vietnam .

What will happen next?

As you may already know, the Bill cleared all three readings in the House of Commons and it is now due to be debated by the House of Lords on October 11. There are a number of subsequent stages that the Bill will need to go through before it becomes law or is defeated. Essentially, however, there are three things that could happen, as articulated in an LCF briefing:

1) The Lords could pass the Bill in its present form and it would become law. This is the worst case scenario.

2) The Lords and Commons could work together to agree amendments to the Bill and a revised Bill could then become Law. This is an improvement but it does not prevent freedom of speech, including freedom to preach the gospel, being restricted to a greater or lesser extent.

3) The Lords could refuse to pass the Bill and the Government could then try to use the Parliament Act to push the Bill through. If the Government were successful then the original Bill would become law, but if the Commons rebelled and voted against the Bill, it would be defeated entirely. This is a dangerous course and could result in the worst-case scenario (above) but also raises the possibility of the best-case scenario occurring: the Bill being entirely defeated.

Take action!

We would like to ask you to join with Christians up and down the country in speaking out against this Bill.

1. Find out more about this Bill by visiting www.religioushatredlaw.info, a site which links to other key websites on this issue, including the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and the Christian Insitute.

2. Please ensure your church leader is aware of this impending legislation and that he/she informs your UK congregation of the facts surrounding the Bill.

3.
Mobilise members of your church to attend a rally in Westminster on October 11 at 12:30, subject to police permission. This will probably be preceded by a prayer rally on Saturday October 8 at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, again, subject to police permission.
Further details of these events will be posted on the LCF website at www.lawcf.org/lawreform.php and on the Evangelical Alliance website at www.eauk.org/contentmanager/content/currentissues/currentissues.cfm

4. Lobby your MP. You can do this by writing to him/her in the usual way or, preferably, arrange to visit your MP’s constituency surgery.
(Visit www.parliament.uk/directories/directories.cfm to find out what day of the week their surgery is held).
Labour MPs in particular are targets for lobbying as, by and large, they voted in favour of the Bill previously.
To find the name and address of your MP you can call the public Information Office on 020 7 219 4272 or log onto www.writetothem.com

5. Please do not lobby Peers (House of Lords) en masse. We have been asked by Peers sympathetic to defeating the Bill that representations be made to them by church leaders, organisations etc but not by mass mailing from the general public.

Thank you for standing together to oppose this legislation which could limit our freedom as Christians to preach the Gospel in a country with a Christian heritage and tradition.