Atkinson makes final bid to stop religious hate Bill

The comedian Rowan Atkinson is leading a final attempt to scupper the Government's "creepy and disturbing" plans to bring in legislation banning the incitement of religious hatred.

The Blackadder star was joined by the author Ian McEwan, the director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, civil liberties groups and MPs of all parties yesterday to warn that the proposed law would strangle freedom of expression.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has championed the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which will receive its second reading today. This is the third attempt to get the provisions on the statute book. With an increase in Islamophobic attacks since 11 September 2001, Mr Clarke insists the provision is essential to close a loophole that protects Jews and Sikhs, but not Muslims.

Opponents argued that the legislation was so ambiguous it could have a wide-ranging, and unintended, effect on producers, writers and comics. They said Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos, staged in the West End this year, could have been vulnerable to prosecution.

McEwan said anxiety over prosecution would make it much more difficult to raise funding for productions such as Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Atkinson, who famously lampooned a bungling vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral, said he had told jokes during his career that could have landed him in court. He added that comedians might also steer clear of sensitive religious subjects for fear of prosecution.

He said: "The Government has prepared a weapon of disproportionate power which can be deployed on their behalf at any time, or at least act as a very forbidding deterrent."

Atkinson said the "most creepy and disturbing" aspect of the Bill was the power it gave Government over whether to launch prosecutions. The Bill's opponents are backing an amendment to the race-hate laws to make clear that they cover attacks on religious beliefs if they are a "proxy" for racial attacks.

The Labour MP and QC Bob Marshall-Andrews said that there was growing pressure among his backbench colleagues for Tony Blair to grant a free vote on the Bill. Some 25 Labour MPs rebelled against a three-line whip to back the amendment in the last parliament.

Graham Allen, a Labour MP and former whip, said he would oppose the measure. He said: "Bringing the law into play in areas of religion will turn our courts into the playground of religious extremists." The Government argues that the legislation would be tightly drawn and not outlaw comedians' jokes, criticism of religion or provocative commentary on religion. Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, has said: "This will be a line in the sand which indicates to people a line beyond which they cannot go. People of all backgrounds and faiths have a right to live free from hatred, racism and extremism."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?