Fears about restrictions for Christian campaigning have not been eased by Government changes to the controversial Lobbying Bill, critics have warned.
The Electoral Commission, the body that will have to enforce the new rules, said that a key Government amendment “does not materially reduce the scope of what is covered by the Bill”.
And Ros Baston, a solicitor specialising in election law, said the Bill still catches issues-based campaigning and some of the amendments actually result in “new uncertainties”.
Several faith groups have raised fears that the Bill could have “unintended consequences”, in an open letter to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
The letter, signed by the Evangelical Alliance, World Jewish Relief, the Muslim Council of Britain and others, warns that the Bill will “curtail” legitimate campaigns.
It said: “We are concerned that this Bill does not adequately safeguard the activities of religious organisations and that there is a very real risk that non-biased political activity will be captured by the resultant Act.”
Both the Electoral Commission and the faith groups have said the passage of the Bill should be delayed to allow for consultation.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill cleared the Commons on Wednesday, and will go before the House of Lords later this month.
Christian leaders from The Christian Institute, CARE and other groups recently warned that Church hustings could be regulated out of existence under the proposals.
They wrote a letter to the leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley saying that such gatherings naturally focus on particular issues of concern to Christians and may exclude candidates from certain parties, like the BNP.
But Mr Lansley responded by claiming the rules will not be changed.
In a written reply to the Christian leaders, he even suggested that church hustings that exclude the BNP may already be in breach of separate electoral rules introduced in 1983 – despite no known cases under that law ever being brought against church hustings that exclude the BNP.