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UK Commons approves amendments narrowing scope of religious hate bill

[JURIST] Members of the UK House of Commons [official website] Tuesday narrowly backed amendments [official text; JURIST report] to the government's controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill [text; BBC Q/A] approved by the UK House of Lords [official website] last year meant to ensure freedom of speech and exclude simple insults and abuse from the list of punishable offenses. The government had urged MPs to reject the amendments, and the vote marks UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's second defeat in Parliament since 1997. The religious hatred bill was written to give followers of all faiths equal protection from incitement to religious hatred. Under the current Public Order Act [text], Jews and Sikhs have protection from faith hate crimes, but not Muslims, Christians, or followers of other religions. The bill is also designed to prohibit extremist Islamic preachers from calling on their members to commit violent acts. Critics of the bill, including politicians, writers and comedians, had urged MPs to accept the Lords amendments [JURIST report]. In Tuesday's debate [Reuters report], UK Home Office Minister Paul Goggins responded to hundreds of protestors [Evening News report] rallying against the bill outside Parliament by saying that the bill is only intended to punish those who "stir up hatred" and is not meant to jeopardize free speech. The amended version of the bill which now applies only to threatening and intentionally offensive hate speech will go on to become law. BBC News has more.

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