LONDON, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- British performers and writers fear a proposed law banning incitement to religious hatred will reduce freedom of speech, The Times of London reports.
As a result of interventions by such personalities as "Mr. Bean's" Rowan Atkinson and author Salman Rushdie, the government agreed to modify the name of the proposed offense to "hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds" to make clear it is not religious jokes, beliefs or ideas that are being targeted.
The pair also signed a letter to the House of Lords, which was also signed by authors Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith, and hundreds of members of PEN, the writers' organization.
Atkinson said comedians had told him similar legislation had "gone badly wrong" in Australia.
The new incitement offense will carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison after passing through the House of Lords, or upper chamber in about a month, the newspaper said.