Free speech vote in the House of Lords

The House of Lords will vote today on whether a free speech protection should be removed from a controversial law on inciting homophobic hatred.

Should the free speech protection be removed?

Listen to the issue being debated on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The protection makes it clear that criticising homosexual practice or urging people to refrain from such conduct is not, in itself, a crime under the incitement offence.

It was added by Parliament when the new incitement law was passed last year.

But the Government says the protection is “unnecessary” and is now attempting to repeal it.

In recent years there have been a number of heavy-handed police investigations against Christians, sparked by complaints to the police of ‘homophobia’.

Christians and others are concerned that without the protection such incidents will become more common.

Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “In theory, if the protection was removed Christians would remain free to express their beliefs about homosexual practice.

“The law ought only to catch the use of threatening words or behaviour which have the intention of stirring up hatred. No genuine Christian should find themselves falling foul of that.

“But we believe a free speech protection should nevertheless remain attached to the offence to clarify an area of the law which could easily be used as a pretext for silencing Christian views on sexual behaviour.

“Given the level of intimidation faced by Christians on the issue of homosexual practice, an explicit free speech protection is a reasonable approach.”

Andy Robertson, 2008

Police officers told an open-air preacher in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, that it is a criminal offence to identify homosexuality as a “sin”.

They said this to Andy Robertson, an evangelist with the Open Air Mission, even though he had never mentioned homosexuality in his preaching.

Miguel Hayworth, 2008

A Christian street preacher in Manchester was silenced, taken into the back of a police van, questioned and detained for over an hour following a complaint of ‘homophobia’.

Miguel Hayworth had been publicly reading from the Bible, from Romans 1:17-32, when a member of the public complained. The officers later released Mr Hayworth and he was permitted to continue preaching.

Julian Hurst, 2007

Church worker Julian Hurst was distributing leaflets inviting the public to an Easter service when five police officers arrived to investigate the literature.

They had received a complaint from a member of the public that the leaflet was offensive. When no evidence of this was found, the individual changed his complaint, claiming it was offensive that an evangelical church was allowed to advertise itself in a region which had a sizeable gay community.

Stephen Green, 2006

Stephen Green, a Christian campaigner, was arrested for handing out evangelistic tracts at a gay pride festival in Cardiff. Police admitted that he had not behaved in a violent or aggressive manner, but confirmed that officers arrested him because the leaflets contained biblical quotes about homosexuality.

Mr Green was held at a police station for four hours, questioned, charged and eventually committed for trial. The case against Mr Green was subsequently dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, 2006

A Member of the Scottish Parliament asked Strathclyde Police to investigate remarks made by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow.

The Archbishop had defended the institution of marriage and criticised civil partnerships in a church service.

Lynette Burrows, 2005

Lynette Burrows, an author and family-values campaigner, took part in a radio talk show about civil partnerships for homosexuals. Mrs Burrows said she did not believe that adoption by two gay men would be best for a child. Subsequently, a policewoman telephoned Mrs Burrows to speak to her about her comments.

The police officer said a ‘homophobic incident’ had been reported against her and that record of it would be kept by police. Mrs Burrows felt that the policewoman was pressurising her even though she had committed no crime.

Joe and Helen Roberts, 2005

Christian pensioners, Joe and Helen Roberts, were interrogated by police in 2005 because they had expressed their opposition to their local council spending public money on a ‘gay rights’ project.

After launching legal action, the couple eventually won an apology and damages from Lancashire Police and Wyre Borough Council. The police and the council also changed their procedures to avoid making the same mistake again.

Cambridge Christian Union, 2004

The Christian Union of the University of Cambridge was reported to the police following its distribution of St John’s gospel to students and hosting an evangelistic meeting where the Dean of Sydney Cathedral put forward “a traditional biblical view on homosexuality”.

The Bishop of Chester, 2003

In November 2003 the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, was investigated by Cheshire Constabulary after he told his local newspaper that some homosexuals re-orientated to heterosexuality with the help of therapy.

A complaint was made to the police that his remarks were a ‘hate crime’, and the Bishop was berated in the media by the Chief Constable. The police passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service, who decided not to prosecute because the Bishop had not broken any “current” laws.

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