Stop Policing Our Thoughts, Including the Hateful Ones

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Presenting
himself as part John Stuart Mill, part Uncle Sam, the Lib-Con deputy
PM Nick Clegg last week launched his Your Freedom initiative for
which he NEEDS YOU to help make Britain a ‘less intrusive,
more open society’. You log on to the Your Freedom website,
propose which nannying New Labour laws and other unnecessary legislation
should be fed into the shredding machine of history, and who knows,
says Clegg, ‘some of your proposals could end up making it
into bills that we bring before parliament’. The ultimate aim,
in Cleggspeak, is to ‘restore Britain’s traditions of
freedom and fairness’.

Okay then.
Leaving aside, for now, the small matter that freedom is better
understood as a living, breathing thing that individuals exercise
every day rather than as a tradition that the authorities must preserve
on our behalf, spiked is going to take this initiative in good faith.
Over the next two weeks we’ll call for the repeal of various
acts of law, in the interests, not merely of restoring certain freedoms,
but of clarifying what freedom is and why it is, in our view, the
most important thing in society. And to kick off: Clegg, I want
you to rip up the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

Introduced
by the New Labour government in 2006, the Racial and Religious Hatred
Act is an attack on what is for spiked the most important freedom
of all, the freedom upon which all other freedoms are built, the
freedom without which we cannot be free-thinking, free-associating,
independent citizens: freedom of speech. The act captures the dual
fear that has motivated the authorities’ many, myriad attacks
on free speech over the past decade and more: their fear of ideas,
which they consider to be toxic and virus-like, and their fear of
the masses, whom they look upon as an easily stirred-up mob, a pogrom
waiting to go forth and decimate.

Building on
earlier acts of law that criminalised inciting racial hatred, the
2006 act makes it an offence to ‘stir up religious hatred’,
too. It makes it a crime to use words or imagery – explicitly
covering everything from placards to plays performed in a theatre
to making a recording with the intention of distributing it –
which intend to ‘stir up hatred against persons on religious
grounds’. The use of any ‘threatening words’ or ‘display
of any written material’ which is designed to spread hatred
of a religion or its adherents is banned and punishable by a fine
or prison sentence.

One of the
most striking things about the religious hatred legislation is how
determined New Labour was to introduce it, and how keen it was,
initially, not only to criminalise the ‘stirring up’ of
hatred but also any potentially hurtful criticism and ridicule of
a religion and its followers. New Labour first floated the idea
of criminalising religious hatred and ridicule after 9/11, when
it predicted, wrongly of course, that there would be an outbreak
of mob madness against Muslims. After much wrangling, and boosted
by another, post-7/7 panic about anti-Muslim uprisings (which again
was wrong), New Labour finally introduced the legislation in 2006.

But its outrageously
Orwellian desire to make it a crime to ridicule religion was defeated
– by comedians, campaigners and, unfortunately, the House of
Lords – and the final act contains a clause pointing out that
nothing in the legislation ‘prohibits or restricts discussion,
criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult
or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of
their adherents’.

Read
the rest of the article

July
14, 2010

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