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The Bill is primarily about rectifying an anomaly that has led to an inequity in the present legal situation, namely that some groups are protected in law and others are not, which is an argument that we have rehearsed this afternoon. In my experience, protection is not afforded to not only Muslims, but many Catholics. Anti-Catholicism is as virulent now in many parts of the country and in some public discourse as it was four centuries ago. Although we have understandably focused on the Islamophobia that we face in this country, the treatment of Catholicism is also an issue, which is not to say that we should therefore protect either the Catholic faith or Islam.
This afternoon, many hon. Members have argued that the best way to defend the God in whom one believes is to argue, and to argue forcibly. In the 1970s, J. B. Phillips wrote a particularly fine book called "Your God is too small", which made it clear how it is sometimes better to argue God's corner rather than protecting him through laws.
A vast pool of religious hatred simmers in this country. Many of us do not face that religious hatred because we worship in a Church that is protected and
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perhaps even established by law, and the vast majority of people who face religious hatred on a daily basis are Muslims. The Bill may not be used after it has received Royal Assent. I hope that it will not be used, because by the very virtue of bringing it into law, we will have made a declaration that religious hatred is a problem in modern society and that we want to row back from it. We do not want to pour yet more water into that pool of religious hatred.
It was curious to hear several hon. Members who are prominent in their own faith communities effectively arguing in favour of religious hatred. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)a curious love-inseem to agree on their mutual religious hatred, one for another.
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) said that the Bill will lead to terrible self-censorship. When it comes to religious hatred, however, a little bit of self-censorship is an extremely good idea.
"I do not subscribe to the view that the common law offence of blasphemous libel serves no useful purpose in the modern law. On the contrary, I think that there is a case for legislation extending it to protect the religious beliefs and feelings of non-Christians. The offence belongs to a group of criminal offences designed to safeguard the internal tranquillity of the kingdom",
which is a quaint phrase. I wholeheartedly disagree with Lord Scarman. I do not believe that we should introduce a new blasphemy lawwe should have the old blasphemy law, a point that I shall address in a momentand the Bill will not give us a new blasphemy law.
It is perfectly possible to distinguish between beliefs and believers, just as in Christian teaching it has always been possible to hate the sin and the love the sinner, which is why I was gratified to hear the Home Secretary make it clear that, for example, confessions of faith in the Anglican Church, which might seem offensive to others, will not fall foul of the Bill.
"Transubstantiation . . . in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."
I suppose that that means that the Minister is being called superstitious by the tenets of the Church of England and that he could in theory take offence, but I
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think that he would assert, as the Home Secretary did earlier, that merely to restate the 39 articles would not fall foul of the Bill.
Mr. Grieve: I simply have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if calling somebody superstitious could be taken as being insultingsome people would be insulted by itit would be caught by the way in which the Bill is drafted. The only safeguard for getting out of that dilemma is the discretion that is given to the Attorney-General. That is what the hon. Gentleman and the Government seem completely to fail to grasp.
Chris Bryant: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman wholly fails to grasp the point that, as the Home Secretary stated this afternoon, if there is a necessity for clarification in the drafting process[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman can restrain himself and keep calm, he will be able to make a speech in a few more minutes and deprive his colleagues of yet more time.
"There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God."
I am sure that some Catholics would understandably find that deeply offensive, but it would not be caught by the Bill. If I thought for a single instant that it could, I would be unable to support it. I am glad that the Home Secretary made that clear this afternoon, but it may be necessary to clarify it further in Committee. Not only would the 39 articles and the Westminster confession not be caught by the Bill, but neither would "The Satanic Verses".
Several Opposition Members, although they spoke genuinely, called not only for freedom of speechwhich, as the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) said, is not absolute, as several laws, not least in relation to intellectual property and libel, have made clearbut, in effect, for freedom for hateful theology.
It is right that there should be a very high threshold for the Attorney-General before he agrees to go forward with a prosecution, partly because of the question of intention. One of the aspects that we will need to tease out in Committee is precisely how intention is measured. Strict liability as it has historically been appliedcertainly, since 1979, to the blasphemy lawswould be inappropriate were we to try to assert it in this context.
Similarly, it is important to tease out in Committee the likelihood of somebody being incited to racial hatred by the words that were said. None of my examples from the Westminster confession or the 39 articles would, on any common-sense basis, be assumed to be likely to lead to incitement to racial hatred. Further, we should consider whether the language in which somebody advances an argument is temperate or intemperate, and
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whether people are using contumelious abuse, as they all too often are. In those cases, yes, I believe that there should be prosecutions. I would say to the hon. Member for North Antrimit is a great shame that he is not in the Chamberthat when he talks of how he would like to be able to use robust language, he should remember the Letter to James, which issued very precise injunctions on how careful one should be about the use of language.
Let us consider whether we choose our religion. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) let the cat out of the bag when he said that he was the first Member of Parliament for Henley who was the grandson of a woman born a Muslim. Many people in the world never choose their religion. To all intents and purposes, it is chosen for them by their family and parents.
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