The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 finally received Royal Assent on 16 February 2006, although it did not come into force until 1 October 2007. This was the third attempt by the Labour government to introduce such legislation following the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001–2, and the Serious Organized Crime and Police Bill 2004–5.1 On each previous occasion, parliamentary opposition in both the lower and upper houses led to the removal of the clauses relating to incitement of religious hatred. The Bill that passed in 2006, which amended the Public Order Act 1986, was significantly altered by four amendments to the Government’s proposals: first, the provisions relating to incitement of religious hatred were to be separated from the existing provisions for the incitement of racial hatred; second, unlike the racial hatred provisions, the new offence would be confined to the use of ‘threatening’ words or behaviour, and not extend to words that were ‘abusive and insulting’; third, the prosecution would need to prove the intent to stir up religious hatred rather than — as is the case with racial hatred — demonstrate that it was ‘likely’ to do so; fourth, a new clause was introduced explicitly protecting freedom of speech — ‘Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents’.2

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