First off the bat I believe that all hate crime legislation is an insidious dead end, bad for society and disastrous for jurisprudence. I would like to see it all overturned tomorrow. Specifically:
1. Many if not most crimes are committed with an element of hate, so defining a specific subset of laws as 'hate crimes' is meaningless
2. These very laws in fact imply the inequality of citizens before the law (as they grant 'castes' of special sub-groups privileges other groups do not enjoy).
3. The government should outlaw actions, not thoughts or states of mind.
That position, however, is unlikely to get me very far in the current climate of opinion. (I'm scarcely hiding it though as I'm publishing it here.)
I've been corresponding with PEN about the NO Offence campaign. The line that they are taking is that because Labour has made this a manifesto commitment, it is unlikely to get voted down completely so they have been working with the House of Lords to try and make sure that the Bill is amended so that its nastier implications are strictly contained.
So, while they purport to recognize the government's good intentions in putting forward this bill, they say its very loose drafting means that it is open to a great many abuses which will cost society a great deal as the bill is likely to be read as a de facto extension of the blasphemy law that will have to be tested time and time again in court cases and police investigations of complaints; and further that it will be used to intimidate writers, directors and performers.
So they support the Lords amendments which spell out in great detail requirements for
- the protection of free expression
- the need for an 'intention' to incite hatred to be written into the face of the bill
- the words 'insulting and abusive' to be removed so that what is criminal is what is threatening.
There are negotiations going on in the upper house at the moment and quite soon there will be a third reading which will include some amendments as concessions.
The PEN Amendment for the Protection of freedom of expression reads as follows: Nothing in the Racial or Religious Hatred Bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system."
Which seems reasonable enough until you start going round in circles thinking, in that case why have the blasted bill in the first place? Which is of course where I started off.
So again, while not deluding myself that I have any influence, should I decry the whole deluded misadventure or soberly boost the first two PEN objectives? As of today I just can't decide.