A new lobbying Bill could stifle free speech and severely restrict the liberty of Christian groups to engage in the democratic process during election time.
The Bill sets strict limits on campaigning in the year preceding an election, and gives sweeping new powers to the Electoral Commission.
But the Commission, which regulates elections, says it does not want the new powers and it has major doubts over the Bill’s “workability”.
MPs are debating the Bill for the first time today, but it has already drawn fierce criticism.
Charities like The Royal British Legion, the Salvation Army and Tearfund have raised concerns about the proposals.
Leading human rights lawyer, Helen Mountfield QC, says it would create a “chilling effect”.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations says the Bill would catch legitimate campaign groups.
And former Tory MP, Paul Goodman, has raised concerns about the Bill’s unintended consequences.
Christians have a long heritage of using elections to campaign for humanitarian causes, like the end of slavery in the 19th Century.
Still today, Christian groups campaign on various issues from euthanasia to third world debt.
In a briefing for MPs, the Electoral Commission said: “the Bill raises some significant issues of workability”.
And it creates “uncertainty and burdens for campaigners,” the Commission added.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said: “We have major concerns that the provisions of the Bill are highly complex and unclear, and run the risk of discouraging campaigning.”
“We are asking the Government to make the rules clearer and less restrictive,” it added, so that “groups are able to undertake legitimate campaigning.”
The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert said: “This Bill effectively monopolises politics for the politicians.
“Christians have a proud heritage of promoting good causes, and speaking truth to power. Our society has been the better for it.
“But this Bill puts elections into the hands of the party machines, and kicks the rest of us out in the cold.
“It freezes out ordinary people from taking part in the democratic process of elections. Democracy thrives on freedom, not regulation, never more so than at election time.”