Racial and Religious Hatred Bill receives Muslim seal of approval

Nathalie Thomas

The Muslim Council of Britain has declared its support for the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and in some cases would even back attempts to use it against bookshops selling the Koran.

Khalid Sofi, chair of legal affairs at the council, said it would be right for the Bill, which returned to the House of Lords yesterday, to be used against such shops if it could be demonstrated they were inciting racial hatred.

The evangelical group Christian Voice has said it would use the Bill to have the Koran banned on the grounds that it calls for the slaughter of Jews.

Sofi said: "Our view is that if anyone is inciting hatred of religion or race, then they should be prosecuted."

The council believes the Bill will offer Muslims the same protection from racial and religious hatred that Jewish and Sikh communities currently enjoy.

"There has to be a level playing field," added Sofi.

The Bill has divided the voluntary sector. Liberty, the National Secular Society and the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship have all warned that it could limit freedom of expression.

"We believe the Bill is totally unnecessary," said Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, which last week spearheaded a new cross-party campaign against the Bill.

"As the Bill stands, prosecution thresholds are absurdly low. The implications for censorship and self-censorship are huge."

A spokesman for Liberty agreed. "Racial hatred focuses on immutable characteristics, whereas religions are identified by ideas and practices," he said.

"This criminalising of religious hate speech greatly undermines freedom-of-conscience expression."

It is estimated that 80 per cent of members of the House of Lords are still against the Bill.

FACT FILE

A similar Act in Australia has resulted in different religious groups taking each other to court

Christian Voice has threatened to use the Bill to 'ban' the Koran because it calls for the slaughter of Jews

Comedian Rowan Atkinson has warned that the Bill could make religious jokes illegal

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, is the latest to claim the Bill threatens civil liberties.

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