Free speech victory!
The Government backed down in the face of opposition in the House of Lords and allowed a free speech protection to be written into its proposed ‘homophobic hatred’ law in its Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.
The decision came after the Government was defeated for a second time in the Lords. Peers voted 178 to 164 in favour of the protection, confirming an earlier vote that they made last month.
This marks the end of a lengthy battle to establish that the new criminal offence should not interfere with free speech or religious liberty. Criticising homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct will not, in itself, be a crime. Words or behaviour which are threatening and intended to stir up hatred will still be caught by the offence, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.
The free speech amendment was tabled by former Home Secretary Lord Waddington. He was supported by The Christian Institute throughout the campaign. The amendment says, ‘for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred’.
In recent years there have been several cases of overzealous police officers wrongly interfering with the right of Christians and others to express the belief that homosexual practice is morally wrong.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: ‘I am delighted by this result. It is a victory for free speech, for the Parliamentary process and for common sense. The amendment is a necessary but modest safeguard which underlines the fact that expressing traditional Christian beliefs on sexual ethics is not a crime’.