UK Politics

You Can’t Say That

Even-tempered Times columnist Matthew Parris raises his voice against the proposed Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. One section of the bill currently going through parliament:

“Amends existing race relations legislation so that it will include in its net the stirring-up of religious as well as racial hatred.”

He’s worried that statements like the one below from Nineteenth Century clergy baiter Havelock Ellis could soon be illegal if uttered after the law comes into force:

“The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum”.

Such a statement could easily be caught under the proposed new law. The bill has been drafted so that if a person uses abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays written material which is abusive or insulting and intends thereby to stir up religious hatred then they become a criminal in the eyes of the law.

Read the whole thing. It’s food for thought. Here’s the conclusion if you don’t.

Religion can oppress. I hate — yes hate — the sect and its followers who are stopping women in Saudi Arabia from voting. Religion can bully, it can cow, it can coerce. One of the ways it does so is by impressing upon its adherents the idea that none dare offend it, twit it or tweak its tail. Such sects or faiths cast a spell — cultural, even political, as well as theological — over their adherents. Such spells must be broken. A necessary weapon in the hands of those who would do so is ridicule, contempt and the power of real anger. Ask Voltaire: scorn, laughter, calumny and abuse are vital to those who confront bullies.

At the very core of many faiths lies a kind of hatred of and a tremendous insult to non-believers. How else can you characterise the teaching that unbelievers are eternally damned? The very word “infidel” is hateful. To fight such teaching we need recourse to language that goes beyond disagreement, but expresses our violent antipathy, on occasions our rage, at those who peddle them, our contempt for those who are taken in and those who take them in.

It’ll be interesting to see if such a law will be used to prosecute bloggers used to internet free speech.

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