Gay activist welcomes Lords free speech win

Thu, 23 Jul 2009

A leading ‘gay rights’ campaigner has welcomed the decision of the House of Lords to keep a free speech protection in a controversial ‘gay hatred’ law.

Peter Tatchell was commenting after the House of Lords voted to reject a Government bid to remove the free speech protection.

The protection makes clear that under the new law against inciting homophobic hatred, criticising homosexual behaviour or urging people to refrain from it is not, in itself, a crime.

Mr Tatchell said he was “content with the Lord’s decision”, but added, “I’d like to see all the incitement to hatred laws repealed. They are unnecessary.”

He said: “There are already enough laws to deal with abusive and threatening words that go beyond reasonable criticism.”

Mr Tatchell, one of the founders of ‘gay rights’ group OutRage!, said most of the current laws were already open to police abuse, suggesting that things would only get worse if proposals were pushed through.

He pointed to the case of a Bournemouth street preacher, Harry Hammond, who was “unjustly convicted” in 2002 under the public order laws for saying homosexuality was immoral.

Mr Tatchell added: “He should have never been criminalised.”

Mr Hammond, 69 at the time and suffering from Asperger Syndrome, was preaching in Bournemouth town centre holding a sign bearing the words, ‘Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord’.

But a crowd of around 40 people who disagreed with his preaching forced him to the ground where some people poured mud and water on him.

When two police officers eventually turned up at the scene it was Mr Hammond who was arrested and charged. No violent members of the crowd were arrested. Mr Hammond died the following year.

Mr Tatchell’s comments echoed other well-known supporters of the free speech shield. Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson, and several prominent homosexuals including journalist Matthew Parris and comedian Christopher Biggins have spoken in support of the safeguard.

Mr Atkinson raised concerns that the proposals could create “a culture of censoriousness”.

Mr Biggins warned that the new law would even “override the basic requirements of freedom of speech, one of the pillars of our democracy”.

He added: “New laws so often have unintended consequences, especially when they are introduced not to combat a genuine crime but to establish the state’s view of orthodox thinking.”

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