On 31 January 2006 the nation witnessed a tremendous victory for religious liberty when the Government suffered extraordinary defeats in the House of Commons over its Religious Hatred Bill. In two successive votes MPs backed House of Lords amendments dramatically narrowing the scope of the law and introducing a broad protection for free speech. The Government had been defeated only once before in the Commons since its election in 1997.
MPs voted first by 288 to 278, and then by 283 to 282. Although the Prime Minister voted in the first division, he then left and was absent for the second crucial vote, which was lost by a majority of one.
The Government’s proposals for an incitement to religious hatred offence were loosely worded and could have criminalised reasonable criticism of religious or atheistic beliefs. The Bill put Gospel freedom in jeopardy. Many people opposed the Government’s plans, citing the chilling effect on religious debate. The Bill was strongly opposed by Christians along with others from across the religious and political spectrum.
From November 2001 until the victorious vote on 31 January 2006 the Institute campaigned relentlessly. The Institute organised meetings around the country with Pastor Daniel Scot, who had been convicted under a similar law in Australia – thousands attended. We provided multiple briefing to MPs and Peers, organised meetings in Parliament and urged supporters to contact their MP and to pray.