We risk criminalising the innocent if we remove a free speech shield from the ‘homophobic hatred’ law, a former Home Secretary has said.
Lord Waddington, writing for the Guardian website, says “Civil liberty surely implies the freedom to express your own views, and with it a readiness to defend the right of others to express their views about you.
“To stir up hatred can never be right, but it would be a sad world in which every comment and criticism was assumed to have been made with evil intent.”
A free speech shield was tabled by Lord Waddington and accepted by Parliament in May 2008.
But the Government wants it removed. In March this year MPs agreed to delete it. However, this was reversed by the Lords in July.
The protection makes clear that discussion or criticism of homosexual conduct is not, in itself, a crime.
“This is no storm in a teacup,” writes Lord Waddington on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.
He continued: “Not so long ago five officers approached a church worker as he handed out invitations to an Easter service and seized them for examination, citing allegations of homophobia.
“Not surprisingly they contained no reference to sexuality and the police dropped the matter. But this case should set alarm bells ringing in the ears of all who care about free speech.”
In his article, Lord Waddington points out that homosexuals Matthew Parris, Peter Tatchell and Christopher Biggins support the free speech safeguard.
He concluded: “I hope those who consider themselves to be the allies of civil liberty will agree to let the safeguard stand.”
Lord Waddington was Home Secretary 1989-90.