A controversial new ‘homophobic hatred’ law comes into effect today, but religious liberty will be protected by a free speech shield included in the law.
Critics of the original proposal feared that disagreeing with same-sex conduct may have been caught by the new offence, but Conservative peer Lord Waddington tabled an amendment to protect free speech.
The Government opposed Lord Waddington’s amendment, but nevertheless it successfully passed through Parliament and became incorporated into the new law.
This protection makes it clear that criticising homosexual conduct or encouraging people to refrain from or modify such conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
The need for such a free speech shield was widely recognised.
Actor Rowan Atkinson expressed his support for protecting free speech, as did several prominent homosexuals including journalist Matthew Parris, comedian Christopher Biggins and homosexual activist Peter Tatchell.
And Lord Dear, a former chief constable, also supported the free speech protection.
Homosexual lobby group, Stonewall, opposed the free speech protection.
But despite their failure to remove the free speech safeguard, it is hailing the new law as a victory.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “The newly-extended criminal offence of incitement to hatred will go some way towards addressing the hatred and violence directed towards lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in Britain at a time when homophobic attacks are on the increase”.
The ‘homophobic hatred’ law will carry a maximum punishment of seven years in prison or a fine.
In recent years an increasing number of law abiding Christians have found themselves being investigated by police for expressing Christian beliefs on controversial issues such as sexual ethics.
Last year Christian grandmother, Pauline Howe, was investigated by police for ‘homophobic hatred’ after she wrote a letter of complaint to her local council about verbal abuse she received at a gay pride parade.
And in 2005 Christian pensioners, Joe and Helen Roberts, were subjected to 80 minutes of questioning by police after they objected to their councils homosexual rights policy.
A recent Christian Institute report revealed the extent to which Christians in Britain are being marginalised, often by equality and diversity laws.
The report, called Marginalising Christians, catalogues numerous cases of Christians being sidelined by public bodies, popular media, employers and facing barriers to public funding.