Methodist church backs religious hatred bill

In the face of opposition from a number of conservative Christian groups, the Methodist Church has publicly backed Government proposals to outlaw actions which incite religious hatred.

The measures, contained in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill currently before Parliament, would make it a criminal offence to incite hatred against any individual or group because of their religious beliefs.

The bill is however being actively opposed by conservative Christians.

An unusual alliance including Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, as well as comedians, writers, religious groups and representatives of the National Secular Society, met at the House of Commons last week, to highlight their campaign against elements of bill.

Conservative groups including the Barnabas Fund, the Evangelical Alliance, and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, have signalled their opposition on the grounds it might prevent them from evangelising.

The Bishop of Manchester has however already pledged the backing of the bench of bishops in the House of Lords to the Government’s proposals.

Methodist Parliamentary and Political Secretary Rachel Lampard says that the conservative 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.

Dr Elizabeth Harris, Secretary for Inter Faith Relations, said; "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."