Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International

  1.  The Libertarian Alliance is a non-party political pro-free market and pro-civil liberties pressure group and think tank established in 1968. Our Academic Advisory Council is listed on the accompanying letterhead. The Libertarian Alliance has over 700 pamphlets and monographs in print, publishes a quarterly journal, Free Life, organises regular meetings, seminars and conferences, and runs an internet discussion forum (The Libertarian Alliance Forum) and a regular internet ezine (Free Life Commentary). It regularly submits evidence to government and parliamentary inquiries, and its spokespeople appear frequently on the media. The Libertarian Alliance is the UK representative of the Libertarian International, and is also affiliated to LIBERTY (The National Council for Civil Liberties), The International Society for Individual Liberty, and The Sexual Freedom Coalition.

  2.  The Libertarian Alliance is wholly opposed to the existence of any law regarding blasphemy. We believe that the current law should be abolished in its entirety. The law of blasphemy is an utterly unjustified restriction of the right of free speech. The advocates of religious beliefs—whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or any other faith—have no right to be protected from criticism—or from ridicule and abuse of those beliefs, any more than the advocates of any secular political, social, ethical or other belief systems have to such protection.

  3.  The Libertarian Alliance is wholly opposed to the creation of any criminal offence of "incitement to religious hatred". Although advocates of such a law use the offence of incitement to racial hatred as a justification for religious equivalent we wish to make it perfectly clear that we also consider that law to be an abhorrent and immoral interference with free speech.

  4.  Some defenders of a law against "incitement to religious hatred" argue that "incitement to hatred" is distinct from rational criticism and hence not an interference with free speech. This is an utterly specious argument. Firstly, it is by no means clear why "incitement to hatred" is necessarily bad. The beliefs of many religions are seen as profoundly irrational and inhumane—as "hateful" and deserving of hatred—by rational and liberal critics. The heritage of irrationality, opposition to humane progress, of conflict, repression, persecution, war and suffering inflicted by all religions is undeniable. The rational response to this is arguably "hatred".

  5.  Moreover, the distinction between any form of criticism and "incitement to hatred" is utterly subjective. We would challenge any member of The House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences to examine the publications and discussion forums of, for example, the Muslims (The Muslim Students Association [MSA] internet discussion list is a leading and easily accessible one). You will regularly find ANY criticism of Islam labelled as "hatred".

  6.  We thus defend "hatred" and "incitement to hatred" as basic human rights, as part and parcel of free thought and free speech.

  7.  Any idea that a law against "incitement to hatred" would actually diminish "hatred" or conflict in our society is absurd. Such a law would actually institutionalise conflict between the many competing religions and those who criticise them. Indeed, do we really have to point out that a law against incitement to religious hatred would sanction the Islamic fatwa against Salman Rushdie and other critics of Islam?

  8.  The Committee should also bear in mind that radical libertarians, and civil libertarians from other political traditions, will launch their own fatwa against such a law. They will conduct a ceaseless war to disobey and resist the law. They will set up internet sites to assist all the competing "inciters of hatred"; they will encourage by any means necessary all efforts to ridicule and break the law. If you wish to encourage further social and religious division, and an unending campaign of civil disobedience and resistance against a law of incitement to religious hatred, then by all means proceed with such legislation—but be fully aware of the consequences.

  9.  Defenders of a law against incitement to religious hatred sometimes point to acts of violence perpetrated by adherents of specific religions. However, "incitement to hatred" is not the same thing as incitement to violence, neither is hatred the same thing as violence. The true role of the law is indeed to prevent and/or punish non-defensive, invasive violence. However, perfectly adequate laws against violence or conspiracies to commit violence already exist and should be enforced vigorously. However, we also wish to make clear that we would also oppose any enhanced penalties against religiously motivated (or indeed, racially motivated) crimes as illiberal and unjustified. The motivations of crimes are irrelevant. The creation of form of "hate" crimes, whereby religious, racial or political motivation are taken into account and further punished, are forms of thought control and persecution and to be rejected in their entirety.

  10.  To summarise: The Libertarian Alliance calls for the total abolition of ALL laws against blasphemy, and opposes the creation of ANY new criminal offence of "incitement to religious hatred".

  The Authors:

  Dr. Chris R Tame is the founder and Director of the Libertarian Alliance. He is a prolific writer and lecturer on many topics on sociology, economics, philosophy and the history of ideas. His articles have appeared in such journals as The Jewish Journal of Sociology, Economic Affairs, Science and Public Policy and The Freethinker. He is also the author of "Freedom, Responsibility and Justice: The Criminology of the New Right" in the book The Politics of Crime Control (Kevin Stenson & David Cowell, eds., Sage Publications, London 1991).

  Dr. Sean Gabb is a member of the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Alliance and edits the LA's journal Free Life. A university lecturer in law and economics, he is the author of Dispatches from a Dying Country: Reflections on Modern England.

8 June 2002

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