In 2008 it became a crime in England and Wales to incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Under the law, the hateful action must be threatening, not merely insulting or abusive. Now the House of Lords is considering widening that law to cover less than physically threatening speech. Rowan Atkinson, the man most of us know as Mr. Bean, objects.
Comedian Rowan Atkinson has criticised hate speech legislation, saying that the House of Lords must vote against a government attempt to remove a free speech clause in a homophobic hatred offence. The Blackadder actor, addressing a meeting of Lords on Tuesday, warned of creating a culture of “censoriousness” by removing free speech. He said: “Do I think that I would risk prosecution because of jokes or drama about sexual orientation with which I might be involved if we don’t have the free speech clause? Not really – but I dread something almost as bad – a culture of censoriousness, a questioning, negative and leaden attitude that is encouraged by legislation of this nature but is considerably and meaningfully alleviated by the free speech clause. I do not believe that legislation of such a censorious nature as that of hate speech, carrying as it does the risk of a seven-year jail sentence for saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, can ever by justified merely by the desire to ‘send the right message’.” He cited Christian groups as being “particularly concerned” the law will be used against them, adding that “heavy-handed police intervention” had been used before in instances of groups condemning gays and lesbians.
In 2004 Atkinson campaigned against the law that made it a crime to “stir up religious hatred.” As I’ve mentioned here many times, I am very uneasy about hate speech laws such as those in Canada and the UK.