An amendment to protect freedom of expression that was voted down earlier this week in the House of Commons, has once again been reinserted by the House of Lords into the UK’s homosexual hate crimes bill. The Labour government has indicated that it has finally accepted the free speech clause in the Coroners and Justice Bill after the Lords voted for it 179 to 135 last night.
The Christian Institute, the lobby organization that organized opposition to the bill, said that the government’s “gay hate crime” law will now include a protection for the free speech of those who wish to express their religious or ethical beliefs about sexual conduct.
The clause reads, “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.”
Labour ministers had objected that the clause was unnecessary, saying that the offence “only covers words or behavior that are threatening and intended to stir up hatred.” But critics have pointed to the numerous cases in which mere religiously-founded criticism, public and private, of homosexual activity and political activism have already brought the police to the door.
But after last night’s vote, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said, “As this parliamentary session ends today we can no longer delay the passage of this Bill. It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the government has agreed not to remove the ‘freedom of expression’ section.
“There is no doubt about the threshold of this offence. No ‘freedom of expression’ section is needed to explain it. The threshold is a high one. The offence only covers words or behavior that are threatening and intended to stir up hatred.”
The clause has been voted out of the bill by the House of Commons four times and been put back by the Lords each time. David Lord Waddington, the amendment’s principal sponsor, has said that perseverance was the key.
Lord Waddington said, “Well, we are living in a time when Christian beliefs are under attack. It’s something that I never thought I would see during my lifetime.”
For the first time, he said, Christians are “compelled to state our beliefs very very clearly.” “When issues arise which clearly are matters which affect our faith, we have got to be prepared to state our case before the public.”