A wise column by Geoffrey Robertson in The Scotsman (thanks to Teri), although I doubt that his prediction that a Muslim cleric will fall victim to the statute will prove true in the current climate:
TODAY, my friend Salman Rushdie – whose life is still under threat from Islamic extremists – will lead a delegation of writers to ask the Home Office to abandon its plans for a new offence of “inciting religious hatred”. The proposed offence has nothing to do with combating terrorism or crime: it is an entirely unnecessary restriction on a freedom to criticise religion that is more necessary now than ever….
“Religious hatred” is defined as widely as possible: it means “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief”. Incredibly, this would include Satanists and secularists as well as Rastafarians, Sikhs and children of God.
The offence is committed if religious “hatred” (ie intense dislike of its dogma) is likely to be “stirred up” (whatever that colloquial phrase may mean).
This clumsy drafting has produced a very serious offence – seven years” imprisonment is also the maximum sentence for arms smuggling – which can be committed by harsh but truthful attacks on the most unprepossessing people, merely if they belong to a group “defined by reference to religious beliefs” and are likely to take offence, for reasons that may be paranoid or vicious.…
False hopes seem to have been raised in Muslim communities that critics and apostates will be jailed for blaspheming against Islam.
But the real victims of the new law will be those very people whose punitive expectations have been raised so high. Just as the black power advocate Michael X was the first to be jailed for “incitement to racial hatred”, back in 1968, so I expect that it will be a Muslim cleric who has railed against Christianity who will be the first to suffer prosecution for inciting religious hatred. The law will serve to create martyrs – laws which criminalise free speech always do – and jury acquittals of offensive speech will serve as public relations triumphs for bigots and fanatics.