Criticising religion is a "fundamental freedom of society", a leading international comedian affirmed last night, as he headed a coalition opposing measures to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred.

Rowan Atkinson, the star of Blackadder, gave an impassioned defence of the right to lampoon religion as he joined Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour backbenchers, lawyers, and academics opposed to part of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill - which today gets its second reading.

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