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House of Commons Adopts Modified Racial and Religious Hatred Bill

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy (02/01/06)

Washington , DC – The British House of Commons in a historic move voted to reject the Government’s version of the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Commons instead sided with the House of Lords, accepting their amendment to the Bill aimed at safeguarding the freedoms of speech and religion.

The defeat for Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour Government marks only the second time since taking office that his party lost a vote; Blair’s Terrorism Bill was defeated in November 2005.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill had been a source of passionate debate across party lines. Those supporting the Bill believed the measures set forth would protect various minorities from physical and verbal persecution.

However, strong opposition had arisen in the name of freedom of expression, with politicians, activists, and celebrity figures uniting under the common cause. Many believed the regulations and punishments outlined in the Government version of the Bill were too stern, while entertainers feared religiously thematic humor would become restricted and condemned.

In response to the passage of the Lords’ amendment Joseph K. Grieboski, President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, stated, “This was a clear victory for freedom of speech by people of all faiths and racial backgrounds in the United Kingdom . The passage of this less invasive version secures the ability to express one’s feelings without fear of disproportionate repercussions.”

Prior to the Blair defeat, the House of Lords had weakened the Government Bill by distinguishing between “threatening words” being banned and not those that are insulting or abusive. Acts would also have to be intentionally provoking in order to be considered racial or religiously motivated.

Mr. Grieboski went on to say, “Overreaching laws like the Racial and Religious Hatred Act do not serve to protect members of any religious community – Muslim, Jewish, Christian – but will in fact serve to alienate, and potentially harm, religious respect and cooperation and development in Britain. The steps taken today to modify and reduce the magnitude of this law are signs of this realization.”