Bishops back anti-religious hatred measure
The Bishop of Manchester has pledged the backing of the bench of bishops in the House of Lords to the Government's proposals to outlaw incitement to religious hatred.
The news comes after conservative groups including the Barnabas Fund, the Evangelical Alliance, and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, signalled their opposition to it.
Bishop Nigel McCulloch said that the government could expect ìgeneral welcome and qualified supportî from the bench of bishops for the measure. While some religious communities like Judaism and Sikhism were protected against incitement to hatred he suggested, the law needed to be levelled to give protection to other religions.
ìEquality before the law is important, and all those who experience harassment and threats because of their religion, or lack of it, are entitled to protection.î
Addressing the concerns of Christian groups who object to the new proposals, the bishop said that new measures should allow rational discussion and criticism of religion, ìeven in sharp termsî and should also permit the activity of proselytising.
He welcomed the government's intention to include a requirement for the consent of the Attorney General before a case was brought, arguing that prosecution would only take place if it was in the public interest.
ìI hope and believe that the Government will be sensitive to anxieties about inhibiting free speech and the need to avoid penalising robust argument whether in promotion of or criticism of religious belief and practice.î
In a statement this week, The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship said it was still "concerned" that the measure could "threaten the freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ because people with other beliefs could be offended by the message."
The Conservative Party has also given its backing to the principle of the new measure.