Fundamentalist religious groups are claiming their members could face seven years in jail for expressing their views about homosexuality under proposed new legislation.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill gets its second reading this afternoon as Parliament reconvenes after its long summer break.

Gay rights activists are hopeful that the bill will introduce a new offence of incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation.

The Christian Institute claim that the proposed incitement law restricts free speech, targets Christians and will stifle debate about homosexuality.

The institute failed to stop the introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations which protect LGB people from discrimination in goods and services earlier this year.

It objects to the extension of incitement to racial hatred laws to sexual orientation as “homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle. Many ‘gay rights’ activists would say that their sexual orientation is a choice, not a genetic characteristic.”

Christians are already protected from incitement to religious hatred by law.

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, told The Times:

“In a democratic society people must be free to express their beliefs without fear of censure.”

Gay equality organisation Stonewall has been lobbying for the last six months for an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to outlaw homophobic incitement.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw will introduce the bill for a second reading in the House of Commons this afternoon.