Why the free speech clause matters

|PIC1|The vote to keep free speech was lost by 328 votes to 174 in the House of Commons with the vote being whipped rather than a free vote. The clause was initially proposed by Lord Waddington, as part of last year’s Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, in an attempt to permit legitimate discussion of sexual practice.

This is a vital freedom for Christians who are called to love every individual no matter what their sexual orientation but must be free to speak out on biblical sexual ethics.

The Sexual Orientation Hatred Offence was originally proposed because homosexual lobby groups convinced the Government that there was a need to give homosexuals this particular protection. We are opposed to incitement to hatred against anyone, but existing legislation provides sufficient protection for every member of society.

In 2008, Lord Waddington successfully tabled a free speech amendment to allow ‘discussion or criticism’ of sexual practices. The free speech clause deals with the chilling effect that arises when restrictions are placed on freedom to express biblical views on sexual practice.

Although the Government has indicated that written Guidance will be provided to Prosecutors and Police Officers on this matter, this leaves Joe Public in a vulnerable position with no certainty about what he is free to say.

This is why free speech protection needs to be stated clearly on the face of the law. Without it those wishing to express legitimate and biblical views about sexual practice could face frightening police investigation for an offence that may carry up to seven years in prison.

Unless the church wakes up and stands against this law it will find itself silenced on this matter as so many Christian Legal Centre cases demonstrate with ordinary folk dismissed and bullied for voicing their beliefs in work and every aspect of life (see www.christianlegalcentre.com).

The Government and the Liberal Democrats, particularly, opposed the free speech clause and deemed it either "useless or dangerous". However, David Taylor, MP, (Labour) argued for free speech specifying that the real issue must be the protection of human liberties according to the Human Rights Act.

When Christians campaigned, the Lord miraculously (by one vote) allowed a free speech provision to be included in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (RRH Act 2006) regarding incitement to hatred on the grounds of religion. We should not forget this.

The incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation offence is modelled on the religious hatred offence. This is why it would have been consistent and coherent to maintain a free speech provision for this offence.

The desirability of there being a free speech clause in the sexual orientation hatred offence is imperative for a working democracy which requires the tolerance of individual opinions.

Tom Harris, MP, (Labour) highlighted "public concern that a person who voices an opinion that is not considered to be politically correct could end up being questioned by police".

The debate on the free speech provision was won though the vote was lost. See column 188 to column 204 if you would like to read the debate:

www.publications.parliament.uk

The Coroners and Justice Bill will now be considered by the House of Lords in May. Please prayerfully consider contacting Peers to ask them to support the free speech provision and to vote against any attempt to legalise assisted suicide.

Please pray for a miracle that God will restore the free speech provision to allow for freedom to discuss sexual ethics and biblical truths. A free speech clause is essential to defend orthodox, Christian beliefs on sexual morality. The rights of freedom of religion and of conscience with freedom of speech in a democratic society should allow for criticisms of different types of sexual conduct or practices.



Andrea Minichiello Williams is Director of Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Legal Centre. For more information visit www.ccfon.org or www.christianlegalcentre.com



Lifestyle