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Atkinson defends right to offend (U.K.)
Telegraph (UK) ^ | 07/12/2004 | Toby Helm

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."


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: bean; britishhumor; censorship; christianbashing; comedy; deaththreat; doublestandard; england; fatwa; firstamendment; freespeech; islam; islamicsnuffvideos; islamonazism; muslims; pc; politalcorrectness; politicallycorrect; religionofpeace; religionofpeacetm; religiousintolerance; rowanatkinson; shairalaw; sharialaw; uk
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I wonder if he has a cunning plan.
1 posted on 12/08/2004 12:02:17 PM PST by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

Benny Hill would never get on today's BBC.


2 posted on 12/08/2004 12:04:18 PM PST by Semper Paratus
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To: Semper Paratus

Neither would Monty Python.


3 posted on 12/08/2004 12:06:41 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: nickcarraway

More crazy nanny state legislation.

Without insults there is no British comedy


4 posted on 12/08/2004 12:06:55 PM PST by kingsurfer
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To: nickcarraway

Looks like Great Britain needs a 1st amendment.


5 posted on 12/08/2004 12:11:15 PM PST by bahblahbah
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To: nickcarraway
"There is a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of inciting hatred against members of a religious group."

I agree. Ban the Quran.

6 posted on 12/08/2004 12:11:21 PM PST by USF (I see your Jihad and raise you a Crusade )
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To: Billthedrill
Neither would Monty Python.

They would be expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

7 posted on 12/08/2004 12:11:46 PM PST by Semper Paratus
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To: nickcarraway

Subtle, too.


8 posted on 12/08/2004 12:13:44 PM PST by nina0113
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To: nickcarraway

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)


9 posted on 12/08/2004 12:14:56 PM PST by sinanju
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To: nickcarraway
Rowan Atkinson defended the right of comedians to poke fun at other people's religion

...as long as they are mocking Christians or Jews...

10 posted on 12/08/2004 12:15:18 PM PST by Alouette ("Who is for the LORD, come with me!" -- Mattisyahu ben Yohanon, father of Judah Maccabee)
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To: Semper Paratus

"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....


11 posted on 12/08/2004 12:19:32 PM PST by The Lumster
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To: nickcarraway

The right to ridicule almost anything should be protected. There shouldn't be thought crime.


12 posted on 12/08/2004 12:29:41 PM PST by SoDak (home of Senator John Thune)
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: Semper Paratus

FWIW, Benny Hill is currently being shown on Saturdays on BBC America. Monty Python was also on not so long ago.


14 posted on 12/08/2004 12:47:07 PM PST by rpage3
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To: nickcarraway

All PC based laws normally have the opposite effect: they contribute to segregation of communities and mutual distrust.


15 posted on 12/08/2004 12:52:22 PM PST by aliquis
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To: nickcarraway
Ministers say the Bill will protect faith groups - particularly Muslims.

Well there we have it. We need a new law to protect those nice muslims. Excuse me while I am sick.

16 posted on 12/08/2004 12:53:21 PM PST by protest1
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To: Semper Paratus
They would be expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Life of Brian would also be baned.

17 posted on 12/08/2004 1:19:09 PM PST by usurper (Correct spelling is overrated)
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To: nickcarraway

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.


18 posted on 12/08/2004 1:19:49 PM PST by weegee (WE FOUGHT ZOGBYISM November 2, 2004 - 60 Million Voters versus 60 Minutes - BUSH WINS!!!)
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To: usurper
They reissued Life Of Brian when The Passion set box office records. While the film is not wholly antiChristian, some of those pushing that film are.
19 posted on 12/08/2004 1:21:02 PM PST by weegee (WE FOUGHT ZOGBYISM November 2, 2004 - 60 Million Voters versus 60 Minutes - BUSH WINS!!!)
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To: protest1

Just protecting muslims from revealing their murderous nature is all.


20 posted on 12/08/2004 1:21:53 PM PST by weegee (WE FOUGHT ZOGBYISM November 2, 2004 - 60 Million Voters versus 60 Minutes - BUSH WINS!!!)
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