A new report on identity and immigration has found that nearly half of England's population support legal limits on free speech when religion is concerned, and that support for freedom of expression has fallen significantly since 2011.
A poll of 4,015 people conducted by Populus for the Fear and HOPE 2016 report found that only 54% agreed people should be allowed to say what they believe about religion. 46% said there some things that you should not be able to say
about religion .
In 2011 just 40% agreed that some statements about religion were off-limits, compared with 60% who agreed that people should be allowed to say what they believe about religion .
The report, on English attitudes towards identity, multiculturalism, religion and immigration was written by Professor Robert Ford of Manchester University and Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate. The report notes that support for limiting free speech to
respect multicultural sensitivities had grown over the past five years . Limiting free speech is most popular among the young and among those most confident with multiculturalism. 58% of under 25s back similar limits on religion as exist for policing racial hate.
Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaigns manager, said the report made for grim reading :
This report demonstrates how the concept of offense, and the violence that sometimes accompanies it, has created a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the UK. Whilst bigotry of all kinds should be robustly challenged, now is not the time to start
sacrificing fundamental freedoms in order to protect 'religious sentiments'. Restricting free speech will do nothing to improve social cohesion -- and one satisfied demand to 'respect' religion will only lead to yet further demands.
Stringent penalties are in place for religiously-aggravated crimes but the law is not there to prevent us from feeling offended. Free speech is the cornerstone of democratic life any new legal restrictions would be counterproductive, only serving to
stifle debate and erode hard-won civil liberties.