Skip to comments.Atkinson defends right to offend (U.K.)
Posted on 12/08/2004 12:02:17 PM PST by nickcarraway
Rowan Atkinson defended the right of comedians to poke fun at other people's religion last night as he joined the campaign against Government plans to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.
The star of the BBC's Blackadder television series lined up with leading barristers, writers and politicians to oppose the proposed law.
Ministers say the Bill will protect faith groups - particularly Muslims.
Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, which will have its second reading in the Commons today, anyone judged to have stirred up religious hatred through threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour, would be liable to a maximum of seven years in prison.
But opponents of the measure say that while it is well intentioned, stopping the right to criticise other religions would end centuries of tolerance and could stoke tensions between religious groups rather than ease them.
Speaking at a press conference in the House of Commons, Atkinson said the proposals would destroy one of society's fundamental freedoms - the right to cause offence.
It would also threaten the livelihoods of all those whose job it is "to question, to analyse and to satirise". These included authors, academics, writers, actors, politicians and comedians.
There was a "fundamental difference" between cracking a joke about someone's religion and being offensive about their race which was, rightly, already an offence, he said.
"To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion - that is a right. That is a freedom," he said.
"The freedom to criticise ideas - any ideas even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.
"And the law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed.
"It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended.
"The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness - and the other represents oppression."
He was joined by the newspaper columnist Joan Smith, officials from Christian groups, the Barnabas Fund, the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship and politicians from the three main parties.
Paul Cook, the advocate manager of the Barnabas Fund, said: "There is a real danger that this law could be used by extremists to silence organisations like ourselves from highlighting the persecution of Christians and other human rights abuses which occur within some religious communities."
The law will be opposed by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Several Labour MPs including Alice Mahon, the member for Halifax, are expected to vote against.
Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney general and a Church of England church warden, said people in the United Kingdom had "thrived on" the ability to "ridicule and caricature other people's views".
The Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who chaired the meeting, said: "There is a great deal of concern about these proposals across political parties.
"There are already enough laws to deal with incitement to violence and to deal with disorderly behaviour based on religious grounds."
A Home Office spokesman defended the Bill, insisting that it would not interfere with the right to free speech. She said: "There is a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of inciting hatred against members of a religious group.
"The incitement offences have a high criminal threshold and prosecutions require the consent of the Attorney General."
Mr Atkinson said comedians should be able to make jokes about whatever they wanted. If they went over the top, people would not find their jokes funny. "There should be no subject about which you cannot make jokes."
Benny Hill would never get on today's BBC.
Neither would Monty Python.
More crazy nanny state legislation.
Without insults there is no British comedy
Looks like Great Britain needs a 1st amendment.
I agree. Ban the Quran.
They would be expecting the Spanish Inquisition.
I've got to hand it to Mr. Bean, this is a serious matter, the law against giving religeous offence sounds so broad as to muzzle just about any criticism, let alone comedy. You just know it will be applied selectively. This is the same thing as those euro and canadian laws banning anti-gay "hate speech" (i.e. disagreeing with gays).
Blackadder goes forth! (yet again)
...as long as they are mocking Christians or Jews...
"They would be expecting the Spanish Inquisition"
NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!
Our 2 weapons are Fear - Surprise - and an almost fanatical devotion to the.......
Our 3...3 weapons are....
The right to ridicule almost anything should be protected. There shouldn't be thought crime.
FWIW, Benny Hill is currently being shown on Saturdays on BBC America. Monty Python was also on not so long ago.
All PC based laws normally have the opposite effect: they contribute to segregation of communities and mutual distrust.
Well there we have it. We need a new law to protect those nice muslims. Excuse me while I am sick.
Life of Brian would also be baned.
M'kay but he should be aware that muslims don't accept mockery of their religion. He should consider watching some of the Islamic snuff videos they've released in the past few years where people have their heads slowly cut off with a dull knife.
Salman Rushdie hid out for years because of the bounty they placed on his head.
Just protecting muslims from revealing their murderous nature is all.
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