14 December 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Human Rights (Incitement on Ground of Religious Belief) Amendment Bill has passed its First Reading in Parliament and been sent to the Justice Select Committee. This Bill criminalises speech that ‘incites hostility’ by being contemptuous, ridiculing, or insulting, against religious groups. This is little more than the reintroduction of blasphemy laws, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.
"Despite repealing blasphemous libel from the Crimes Act in 2019, the Government is now reintroducing similar archaic legislation. To make it an offence to so much as “bring into contempt” a religious group is to use the force of law to put religious beliefs above criticism, elevating them outside of public debate.
"Law of this kind should be left in the middle ages.
“The Justice Minister has already admitted that such laws could do more harm than good. This is the reason she gave for dropping 5 of the 6 proposals released by the Ministry of Justice last year. This remains true for this Bill, nonetheless she is pressing ahead.
“Rather than strengthening social cohesion, it will do the opposite. Laws singling out groups for special protection from criticism incite resentment against those very groups. Rather, sections 61 and 131 of the Human Rights Act should be rewritten to reflect the high bar of inciting violence, and extended this protection to all groups rather than a select few.
“We are committed to fighting this latest attempt by the Government to shut down debate and restrict free speech. A tolerant society not only allows differing ideas, but robust criticism and contempt for those ideas also."
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