Blasphemy Laws May Be Extended to Muslims

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES SLACK;STEVE DOUGHTY

ANCIENT blasphemy laws could be extended to protect Muslims, it emerged yesterday.

Ministers said they were willing to consider the case for changing the laws, which at present only cover attacks on the tenets and beliefs of the Church of England.

The move raises the prospect of charges against anyone who criticises or pokes fun at Mohammed.

Cartoon images of the Prophet - printed across Europe, although not in Britain - caused protests across the Muslim world earlier this year.

The fact Ministers are mulling a change in the blasphemy laws is a surprise as they have just passed a Religious and Racial Hatred Act in the face of fierce opposition in Parliament.

This offers protection to multiethnic faiths such as Islam which are not covered in existing laws which apply to faith groups from one ethnic background such as Jews and Sikhs.

Blasphemy laws were at one stage to have been abolished in favour of new religious hatred legislation.

But, under pressure from Turkey, which wants EU-wide blasphemy regulations, Ministers may now look at extending the law.

Any new blasphemy law could be used to strengthen the new religious hatred laws, which were watered down in a rebellion by MPs and peers earlier this year.

The Commons inflicted a defeat on the Government and removed clauses banning 'abusive and insulting' material aimed at religious belief.

Unlike other EU nations which flatly refused the Turkish request, Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland said she would be 'content' to listen to their case.

She invited Muslims and other faith groups to come forward and lobby the Government.

In a statement to the House of Lords, she said: 'Any change relating to the law of blasphemy would have to begin with a review in which various options could be considered.

'All UK faiths and interested parties, particularly the established Church, would need to be consulted and the issues examined in some depth.

'We have no plans to initiate such work, but would be content to listen to representations on the subject. …