LONDON Evangelicals across the United Kingdom this week have warned that if the governments version of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill is passed by the House of Commons on Jan. 31, there will be a clear negative impact for society and religion.
The Evangelical Alliance and the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance (ACEA) released the warning, commenting on the immense negative implications that would arise should the bill be passed.
The reaction comes about after an announcement made by the government on Jan. 24 in the House of Lords that it will seek to reverse the changes made recently by the Upper House of Parliament.
Specifically, the Evangelical Alliance has issued the stark warning that a return to the previous Racial and Religious Hatred Bill proposals poses a major threat.
The Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, Dr Don Horrocks said, Our previous relative relief that the Lords had delivered a workable and less extreme Bill that still met the Labor Governments manifesto commitment to criminalize incitement to religious hatred has now turned to alarm.
The fact is that, unless all the opposition parties and significant numbers of Labor MPs vote against the Governments insistence, it will reintroduce its original proposals under the guise of major concessions, he added.
We are likely to see the onset of an era in which freedom of speech and good relationships between religions will be threatened.
According to Horrocks, if the Governments version of the bill goes through, whatever it says about proof of intent or recklessness being necessary for prosecution for incitement to religious hatred, the practical effect will be to inhibit free speech and writing in such a way that people will worry about saying anything critical of religion.
This goes way beyond what the Lords deemed appropriate for a sensible balance between inciteful behavior and civil liberties, he added.
In October 2005, the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian social concern charity CARE celebrated following the defeat of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in the House of Lords on Oct. 25. Christians, religious groups, and other opponents also rejoiced as the governments proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was overwhelmingly defeated.
House of Lords peers voted by a majority of 149 to support a cross-bench move to implement freedom of speech safeguards into the proposals.
Opponents to the bill have been hugely diverse. From the Evangelical Alliance and Christian Party to comedian Rowan Atkinson and various Secular groups, all have condemned the bill as being drawn too widely and expressed concerns that it could outlaw criticisms of beliefs.
Speaking after the vote in favor of an amendment by Lord Lester, R. David Muir, Director of Public Policy at the Evangelical Alliance said, Peers have done the only sensible thing with this legislation and forced the Government to rethink its position. The strength of opposition to this Bill in the House of Lords is a timely reminder to ministers of the importance this country places on free speech, he stated.
Roger Smith, Head of Public Policy at CARE, said in October that the Government would still try and push ahead with the bill and that Christians should be more active than ever in writing to their local MP on the issue.
Smith said, The Government is ideologically committed to this Bill. They are bound to its passage because it is an election manifesto pledge. They also have the majority in the House of Commons to overturn these welcome changes.
Now it is for everyone who values freedom of speech and good community relations, not just Christians, to appeal to the good sense of Members of Parliament to support these new protections offered in the Bill when the Government does challenge them in the House of Commons.
The Evangelical Alliance and the ACEA is now encouraging all people that wish to preserve the right of freedom of speech to contact their MP before Tuesday Jan. 31, as a matter of great urgency.
The Alliances have also organized a rally for those committed to preserving free speech on Jan. 31 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Old Palace Yard in London.
The EAUK also has made a call for all Christian churches throughout the United Kingdom to take the Sunday preceding the rally to pray in their congregations regarding the issue of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.