[JURIST] A new law criminalizing the incitement of religious hatred came into effect [press release Monday in England and Wales. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act [text] makes intentionally stirring up hatred against people on religious grounds punishable by a jail sentence of up to seven years. Previously, certain religious groups also deemed to be ethnic designations, such as Jews and Sikhs, received protection under laws against racial hatred; groups like Muslims and Christians that were only considered to be religious received different treatment under the law. The act is also seen as an important counter-balance to anti-terror laws which have been viewed as disproportionately targeting Britain's Muslim population. Critics have argued that the law will undermine [JURIST report] the freedom of satirists, comedians and writers, and stifle legitimate discussion about religion and religious practices.
The law was approved by Parliament [JURIST report] in early 2006, but under a statutory instrument [text], was not scheduled to take effect until October 1. Ekklesia has more. The Guardian has additional coverage.