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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Religious hatred laws: You asked race expert
Inciting religious hatred is to be made a criminal offence under plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett believes the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions.

The government failed to get laws introducing the offence passed by Parliament in the wake of the US terror attacks in 2001.

But in a speech in London, Mr Blunkett said he was returning to the plans as there was a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they held a particular religious faith.

Is there a need for a new religious hatred law? How effective will a new law be?

Lord Bikhu Parekh, a Labour member of the House of Lords and race adviser was unable to take part in live interactive forum, but has answered a selection of your questions below.

Q: Neil, Burnley: Are the current laws not enough to deal with problems caused by religious hate problems?

A: No the current laws are not enough. In fact we don't have any law prohibiting incitement to religious hatred.

Q: Ben, London: Can laws really affect the way people view each other - wouldn't these laws actually be counterproductive?

A: Yes, laws do really affect the way we behave towards each other as well as the way we see each other. This is why race relations legislation has been so effective in reducing racial discrimination.

Q: Ian Gorman, Houston, Texas: What concerns me about all these incitement laws is the definition of incitement. I want to be able to criticise any group, religion, race, culture for what it is or is not. What is the definition of incitement?

A: Incitement refers to the intention to provoke hostility and hatred against a particular group with a view to provoking unacceptable actions against it therefore one can freely criticise a group but incitement is quite different.

Q: Reverend Dr. Gordon A McCracken, Scotland: What safeguards will there be for honest expression of criticism of another religious viewpoint diametrically opposed to another creed? Are preachers at risk if someone claims that such criticism led another to commit an offence which the preacher believes was not intended to encourage any such behaviour?

A: Honest criticism is not prohibited by the law because it does not amount to incitement to hatred. Criticism is a purely intellectual activity whereas incitement has a practical thrust. Therefore preachers who criticise and even mock other religions are not caught by law.

Q: Andrew Mitchell, London: What about a law to protect non-religious-people from religious hatred? I'm thinking of the discrimination and persecution that evangelicals, Roman Catholics and others constantly preach against homosexuals.

A: Although the law is primarily focused on protecting religious groups, it can also be used to protect non-religious people from religious hatred. If, for example, a religious preacher were to say that all atheists and agnostics should be distrusted or harassed, he or she would be guilty of inciting religious hatred.

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