13 December 2004

Methodist Church Backs Religious Hatred Bill

The Methodist Church welcomes the aims of the proposal to outlaw actions which incite religious hatred contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. The Bill would make it a criminal offence to incite hatred against any individual or group because of their religious beliefs.

Although some have claimed that the Bill will make religious jokes or evangelism illegal, Methodist Parliamentary and Political Secretary Rachel Lampard says that these views are based on a misconception of what the Bill proposes. "The legislation is about inciting hatred," says Rachel, "not about satire, jokes or evangelisation. It is about preventing extremist political groups using loopholes in the existing law to promote hatred of certain religions. The test of hatred will be very high, and the Attorney General will have to approve each prosecution. If our jokes or methods of evangelisation could ever incite violence or hatred, they would be at variance with all that Christianity stands for.

The Bill is supported by a variety of faith communities, and Dr Elizabeth Harris, Secretary for Inter Faith Relations, says "the Methodist Church is committed to an open discussion of beliefs and ensuring that people of all faiths are protected from hatred. Other faiths tell us that they want this legislation. We have to respect this. This legislation is not about debating truth claims nor about whether all religions are the same. But it is about all individuals and communities having the right to live and work without the fear of violence arising from religious hatred. The legislation will apply to everyone, so Christians will be protected as well."

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