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The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006

Comment 1st July 2010

This act should be repealed as it is an attack on our basic rights of free speech and freedom of expression. Is it sensible that someone's beliefs can be given the status of being publicly unquestionable by this law? It is surely our basic right to be able to clearly, openly and publicly question beliefs or opinions which others wish to force upon us as "eternal or universal truths". This surely remains the case even if offence or ridicule is involved.

There are sufficient safeguards within existing legislation to ensure that anyone who abuses our hard-won freedoms can be suitably restrained. If this can be shown not to be the case, and sufficient grounds for concern can be demonstrated, then the case for additional law may be made, of course. The Act as it stands goes too far in the direction of protecting "beliefs" and seriously undermines  freedom of speech and expression. It has been said that this is not the case and any judge would dismiss a case involving mere offence or ridicule. It seems to me that to have an Act that allows such prosecutions to be brought in the first place is obviously ill-conceived. It should be repealed.

Why does this matter?

As outlined above, the Act seriously undermines our basic rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Additionally it gives undue protection and regard to a person's "beliefs". Whatever our religious or otherwise persuasion it is the case that our beliefs are matters of faith, not fact. As such they must be questionable without limit, otherwise we'll end up in a totalitarian state. I agree that criminal acts, such as threats of violence, or other unacceptable intimidation cannot be allowed to prevent anyone from holding their "beliefs", but to extend that protection to the beliefs themselves is surely quite wrong.

The effect of this legislation has been to prevent ordinary people from feeling able to openly and reasonably express their views on other people's beliefs. This, in itself, is sufficient grounds for rolling this law back. The effect of the Act has been pernicious in creating an atmosphere of fear when "beliefs" come up for discussion. Such views are then hidden and not clarified by open discussion. This will result, in my view, in the opposite efffect intended by the Act. That is, the Act is fostering resentment and ill-informed views among ordinary people who feel unable to publicly debate or air their sincerely-held opinions and questions, or even objections to others' beliefs.


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