Anti-discrimination law may be extended to offer protection to people abused or targeted because of their religion.
Home Secretary David Blunkett is reviving the proposal as he believes the change will bring benefits, especially in tackling religious extremists who preach against other religions.
But Labour peer Lord Desai who thinks otherwise said, "We will get into a real muddle if we take religion as a ground for prosecution, rather than ethnic stereotyping."
Current race hate laws only protect religious groups that are also classified as a distinct ethnic minority, which only covers Sikhs and Jews.
Will these lead to the creation of a single common culture in Britain at the expense of diversity? Will it help fight Islamophobia?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
As a Muslim I have long been a witness to extreme views both in my religion and other faiths. Islam teaches tolerance and it saddens me when certain Islamic individuals tarnish the whole religion with their beligerant ideals. Any disrespect for others, be it from a Muslim or Christian, should be treated as hostile to society and should be dealt with accordingly.
Jamil Hussein, Birmingham UK
When is the Government going to get out of the business of creating laws and offences to attempt to change social attitudes and behaviours?...It did not work in Canada, and is a nightmare to investigate and prosecute...Attitudes can be shaped and modified in more subtle and effective ways in my experience...We do not need more LAWS!
Tricia Vanderveer, Wallasey, Merseyside,U.K.
Change as many laws as you like, bring in as much legislation as you can, but you can never change peoples minds without educating them first. There will always be someone on hand who will hate somone else on the grounds of the way they look, talk practise their faith etc. etc. And as for a single common culture, of course it won't. Vive la difference!
Elaine, Letchworth UK
As a British pagan, I welcome this law. It will prevent discrimination based on religious beliefs and bigotry. The Christian majority must accept that other faiths are valid and people have every right to follow their faith without fear of persecution.
It's not a law - it's an ill thought-out, knee-jerk, vote grabbing reaction typical of the Blair administration. Me, I've got politicianophobia!
As an atheist I will probably have to tape up my mouth in order to comply with this absurd law. We must retain the intellectual freedom to criticise and ridicule religion, whether it offends people or not. And the religious are welcome to treat my atheism in the same way if they choose.
I completely agree with Jane from Manchester. Religion is a different issue that one's ethnicity. Religion is a choice and should be open to criticism. This is true in Great Britain and even truer in my home country, the USA, birth place of right-wing, bible-thumping religious extremism. We do not have to be tolerant of religions and beliefs that are intolerant.
Sean, Nashville, USA
I agree awith Jane and Sean. As an atheist I see religion as at best an opiate or ridiculous, at worst terribly dangerous. I want to be free to ridicule or criticise the ideas. I would never suggest that this should extend to attacking the believers. Sadly this is not a position taken by religious people, who have a history of persecuting those who do not believe as they do.
Julian Ziegler, Milton Keynes, UK
o difference whatsoever. Just another silly useless law which again makes us the laughing stock of the world, creates further resentment and widens the racial divide.
The cure to Islamophobia is education! If people can just take the time out to do their homework they might stop jumping to conclusions about Islam and improve their knowledge about the religion.
SY, Leicester, England
Another nail in the coffin of free speech.
David Clorley, Leicester, UK
I don't think multiculturalism works. Either people integrate or we have a divided society. If things keep going on this way mainland UK will become like Northern Ireland. We need unity. I think the rest of Europe doesn't have as many problems as Britain because minorities in countries like Germany and France integrate a lot more. How can we fully understand people who aren't a part of our community, and instead make their own outside ours? And I'm not trying to have a go at anyone. I just think the whole system isn't working. We don't need laws like this. It's not the answer in my opinion. But then am I allowed to say my opinion anymore?
Yet again David Blunkett panders to religious interests. It is not more religious freedom that is needed but more freedom from religion.
Gary, West Mids
It's a slippery sliding slope - how long before the Satanic Verses is banned here and Salman Rushdie goes back into hiding?
Nigel Cubbage, Redhill, Surrey
There is no Islamophobia in this country. The root of the problem is the politically correct brigade spouting off what they think will, and will not offend other people. If the government had any sense, they would back the majority view and ignore the PC mob!
Andy, Leeds, UK
The French have got it right.
Rick Hough, Knutsford, Cheshire
Reading some of these comments it saddens me that some people seem to feel that the right to freedom of speech gives them the right to abuse people because of their religion or speak inappropriately and insensitively about them. The simple fact of the matter is that religious intolerance is alive and well in the UK today as demonstrated by some of the comments offered in this debate. If we cannot get rid of this culture of intolerance ourselves then sadly the law will need to assist.
Bringing in this law will just cement the destruction wrought upon this country by the political elite. We are now living in the nightmare that George Orwell predicted in 1984.
Stephen Glover, Stockport, England
I'm not sure why on earth most people seem to assume that this law is being introduced for the minority groups only. It is being introduced for everyone. Not before time either. I'm sure a lot of people had the same opinions about anti-race laws, or any other anti-discrimination laws, yet can anyone honestly say that they were not needed?
For every stupid anti-discrimination law there are thousands of people who use that law to get away with doing nothing at work or other abuses of the system. This will only increase the nonsense.
Richard Ross, UK
Rather than stopping people saying what they think, maybe the government should look at why there is this Islamophobia. There's no smoke without fire - maybe we really do have something to fear from Islam and desperately need to discuss it, not make people scared to open their mouths.
Why are religious views being given special treatment again? People can't choose gender or ethnicity at birth but have choice on world views. Incitement to violence against categories is not acceptable under many circumstances but either have no new law or one that covers political or other key views too. What about discrimination like the UK head of state having to be Protestant? For goodness sake make sure satirical comment can't be accidentally muffled too.
Jerel, Cambridge, UK
I trust this will finally put an end to persecution of the Jedi. We have to put up with other people constantly accusing us of not being serious.
Adam, London, UK
Muslims are not a distinct racial group which have the protection of race discrimination laws. Muslims are from every race and it is not always possible to tell by looking at an individual if they are Muslim. Race discrimination laws do not protect a white Muslim from Islamophobic comments made by white people. I have heard of many instances of Islamophobic behaviour and feel this law must be bought forward to protect a group of citizens which have been attacked purely on their religious beliefs.
Azeem Ahmad, London
It will be interesting to see how many Muslim extremists are prosecuted under the proposed law for inciting racial hatred.
S Horsforth, Leeds, UK
Yet another nail in the coffin of a free and fair society. We should treat all people as equal; if a man hits another man, the punishment should be consistent; he should not face additional punishment because he happened to hit a man of another religion. Soon the news will be full of religiously motivated crime, when often religious beliefs are not the motivating factor. This law will create yet more special protection for minorities at the expense of the majority. Which rather than solve the problem, will simply inflame the strong anti-Muslim feelings that are already rising. We cannot go on treating the majority as lesser citizens.
R Callister, Brighton
The right to criticise a religion, whether it be Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism or anything else is a fundamental right that should be protected from the likes of the Home Secretary and his politically-correct advisers. Laws such as this lead will lead to a police state, its complete lunacy!
Gordon Peters, London, UK
Will it be used to stop a teacher at our local junior school berating children in class as stupid if they admit to attending church? I doubt it. We need to admit that all religions suffer from prejudice, not just Islam.
Lizzie Jewkes, Chester, UK
I don't understand why there isn't a simple law against incitement to practical hatred, then we don't need the definitions of religion, race etc. For some football is a religion; others prefer shopping.
Mike Kelly, Milton Keynes
Why doesn't our Queen Elizabeth put her foot down regarding this? We are a Christian society with a monarch as our head of state. She must stand up for her subjects and ban all other faiths. If Muslims wish to worship Islam then let them go to an Islamic society to practice their faith.
Mark, Romford, England
This is a very bad law. Religion is something that you choose, not something that you can't help such as your age, height, skin colour etc. It should not be the subject of similar laws. Are we going to prosecute the Labour party for stirring up hatred of the Conservatives next?
Isabella Jackman, Slough, Berkshire
Whatever happened to freedom of speech? There is a very good reason why Islamophobia is with us. Take 9/11, the execution of Nick Berg among others. You cannot legislate against the way people feel. That said, a law stopping people from approaching people in the street inviting them to their church would be welcomed.
Gavin, Cardiff, Wales
Since the emancipation of Catholics almost 200 years ago the mainland of the UK has, unlike large parts of the world, been relatively free from religious turmoil despite having many peoples from many lands settling here over the centuries. We need to ask ourselves why as a nation we are considering this law now. Perhaps it would be better for certain communities to reign in their more extreme elements? I fear that a new law could be used for mischief making by minority pressure groups.
John D'Silva, Harlow, England
I am a Christian and am concerned that this type of law would be used to infringe my rights to preach that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. I have no problem with others expressing their beliefs (within reason i.e. child sacrifice to a god would be beyond the bounds!), but in an era when government is insidiously attacking the Christian faith, I would be unhappy to see poor legislation forced through.
Keith Waters, Ely, UK
Religious discrimination has been occurring between Catholics and Protestant for years. Why is there such a focus on pacifying the Islamic world? Yet again its only white people who can discriminate ... apparently!
I hope this law is not just about Islamophobia. Islam is just as prone to inciting hate against Christians (or the West). For it to work the law must be treated with fairness to all religions, not just one specific group.
Scott Mills, Birmingham, UK
People that dress bigotry, sexism and intolerance in the guise of religion should be prosecuted more aggressively, not protected by misguided legislation.
Ash, London, England
It's all well and good bringing in these new laws, but will they be implemented fairly, i.e. it has to work both ways. And let's face it - there only seems to be a problem with some people in the Muslim community. You very rarely hear the Sikhs and Hindus whinging on how hard done by they are...
Where in this proposed legislation is there mention of respect for the Atheist perspective? Since religious beliefs and the people who promote them have been responsible for most of the oppression and persecutions this world has witnessed throughout history I am very concerned about what it will mean to be an Atheist under such a law. It is as if having a religious belief is the norm, but what about the view of those of us who reject religion as irrational and superstitious at best or, at its worst, an insidious form of political oppression and social control?
Vivienne Clark, Totnes, UK
Islamophobia? What's with the latest trend of adding phobia onto the end of words to give the original issue political credibility? Firstly it was homophobia, then Europhobia, now Islamophobia. I don't support gay marriage, I would like sovereignty back from Europe, and I dislike Muslims demanding our country bend over backwards for them. I'm not scared of gays, Europe or Islam though.
Free speech is not pretty. Free speech is about the right be provocative, challenging, extreme and, indeed, offensive. Blunkett's proposals are symptomatic of an illiberal, intolerant government that seeks to impose a conformist tedium by silencing those who dare to challenge the bland politically-correct hegemony.
David, Bristol, UK
I believe HS David Blunkett's proposal in its essence will only raise awareness in Islamophobia than restraining it. It is my view that the best approach is to include Islamic culture and teaching in the curriculum as well as attributing intense media programmes about the history of Islam.
Ahmed Farah, Sheffield
Why not just make it illegal to incite hatred. It can't be right whether your doing so because of race, religion or a football team.
Chris, Bedfordshire, UK
I think this will stir up further resentment in those who are already Islamophobes. What we need is understanding not more minority groups being singled out.
Chris Morris, UK
I don't see how discrimination laws can fight Islamophobia - other than making it illegal? The way to fight Islamophobia is to raise the profile of Islam so that people have a better understanding of it and what it means - that way people break the link between Islam and fundamentalism and are happier to treat people as individuals. I'm not particularly religious but I don't get into a flap on Christmas day because it's a Christian celebration - simply respect, even if I don't share, their views.
Giles Clinker, London, UK
If the intention is to promote diversity, mutual co-existence and respect then I will back this. As a Muslim I am equally fed up of a small minority of extremist Islamic preachers profaning the vast majority of UK Muslims, with their offensive views. Equally, the Far Right have exploited this gap to propagate their racist views, using the term Muslim as a proxy for people from ethnic minorities. What concerns me is how even-handedly the law is used, if it ends up with just Muslims in the dock then it will create more problems than it attempts to solve. I am especially concerned, for example, at how historically the division between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism has been blurred.
While it's fair to protect people against discrimination because of their religion, I'm worried that this will extend the right of religion to be above criticism. Would the law be used to stop atheists expressing anti-religious views?
Ray, Exeter, UK
Yet another law that leaves more unanswered questions than answers. How will the police determine a crime has been committed? How will the judge determine the difference between religious hatred and racist hatred? Will this law be used in Northern Island? Are there not enough laws already covering this? Will this protect me from being called an infidel? This sounds more like the government pandering for vote of the minorities and the politically correct at the expense of common sense!
Ray, London, England
It would appear that the powers that be are lining themselves up with the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Bible; making up their own rules to govern religious and democratic rights to freedom-of-speech. As a Christian, I expect to be riled, persecuted and ridiculed, because I am different and live by my faith. Many do not understand and thus are intolerant. My God protects me and stands up for me - in God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid - what can man do to me? Governments interfering in religious beliefs and the inevitable conflicts has never been a recipe for success.
David, London, UK
Formulating a law against promoting religious hatred is not before time. It will help others as well as Muslims. I am fed up with being heckled and preached at by Christians when I attend Pagan events.
Ann, London, UK
All religions are just ancient, out-of-date superstitions that have caused global-scale problems and strife for millions of people - they need abolishing not protecting. What about a law to protect non-religious people from religion? Can we stop evangelicals and Roman Catholics persecuting homosexuals for example?
Andrew, London, UK
I'm sick and tired of being told what I must, and must not do generally. In this particular case this type of legislation is liable to increase intolerance, not reduce it.
The laws will have to be crafted very carefully, as the government must be careful not to alienate the majority in the protection of the minority. These laws will have to protect people for whom religion is just nonsense from being persecuted by the devout as well as protecting the interests of followers of different religions from each other.
GP Russell, Peterborough, England
Try going to an Islamic country and complain that you're being victimised because of your Christianity... the UK is trying to please every minority, and is only succeeding in upsetting the majority.
John, Southampton, UK
Did the Race Relations Act stop inflammatory press headlines? No. I come across them every single day. Will this law be enforced against Islamophobia? I am not very optimist. It is not just the law itself, but how its enforcement will be carried out. I believe it will be a useful tool to prosecute people in grounds of their religion, though.
Raul Pinto, High Wycombe, England
A great idea. Islamophobia, especially, is on the increase and needs to be stopped. It's about time Blunkett made up for all the tabloid neo-conservatism he's been peddling of late, and this is just the ticket to get Labour's social policy back onto a clear liberal-socialist track. More of the same, please!
Rob A, London, UK
Presumably this will finally silence the likes of Abu Hamza from spouting his anti-Jew, anti-Christian, anti-anything-Western garbage. Discrimination cuts both ways.
John B, UK