This Government seems determined to abolish freedom of speech. It has made it a criminal offence to incite religious or racial hatred and, as of last year, there is also an offence on the statute book (but not yet in force) of inciting hatred
based on sexual orientation. If this legislative trend continues, telling someone you don't like their slacks could soon land you in the slammer.
Bucking this trend, the House of Lords inserted a "free speech" exception to the gay-hate offence, which protects people who discuss or criticise sexual conduct, or urge others to refrain from it. Now, though, the Ministry of Justice
has added a clause to the current Coroners and Justice Bill which, if passed, will repeal that "free speech" exception. The justice secretary, Jack Straw, said that there were no circumstances in which the right to freedom of speech
could justify homophobic behaviour.
When seeking to outlaw homophobic acts, Mr Straw is thinking of extreme political groups and nasty rap lyrics. He probably doesn't have in mind the "only gay in the village" sketches from Little Britain. But his political opponents fear
that that kind of comedy could fall foul of his new law
During the dark days of Soviet oppression, there was a joke that did the rounds in Russia. Homosexuality is a crime and the punishment is seven years in prison locked up with other men. There is a three-year waiting list.
Don't laugh too loudly. It could soon be illegal to repeat a joke like that.
I'm not kidding. In the name of challenging homophobia , the Government is planning to push legislation through Parliament that will make it a serious crime to use any language which could be construed as offensive to gay men and women.
The new law will even override the basic requirements of freedom of speech, one of the pillars of our democracy.
The Government has been defeated in the House of Lords over its attempt to repeal a free speech protection from a sexual orientation 'hatred' law.
Peers voted by 186 to 133 to keep the protection in place. The matter will be passed back to the House of Commons where MPs voted for repeal.
The protection makes clear that criticising homosexual conduct or encouraging people to refrain from such conduct is not a crime.
The Government says the protection is not necessary, insisting that the homophobic hatred offence would not catch the expression of such beliefs.
Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: Genuine supporters of free speech will be pleased with this result. Democracy depends on the freedom of people to challenge ideas, to dispute with each other, to contend for
what they believe. Too many Christians have already been intimidated by over-zealous police action because they gave voice to their views on sexual ethics. Surely the world is big enough to allow all sides to express their beliefs about sexual
behaviour without fearing a knock on the door from the police. [But I wonder of he is so keen to defend free speech when it is religion that is being criticised]