The Islamic Human Rights Commission has condemned a proposed new offence of incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation, adding its voice to a chorus of complaints from evangelical Christians.
The IHRC, an “independent, not-for-profit, campaign, research and advocacy organisation based in London,” attacked the concept of a gay incitement law.
“If someone is reading the Bible and calls homosexuality an abomination, is that going to be incitement?
“There are similar passages in the Koran and the Talmud,” Massoud Shadjareh of the IHRC told the Daily Express.
“I was against the incitement to religious hatred legislation. Either you water it down until it becomes pointless or you have a situation where you deprive people the right to have access to freedom of speech.”
The Christian Institute, a group that has tried and failed to oppose a range of new laws protecting gay people from discrimination, claimed that the legislation proposed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw yesterday will stifle any criticism of gay people.
“In a democratic society people must be free to express their beliefs without fear of censure from the state,” the institute’s director Colin Hart said in a press release.
“A homophobic hatred law would be used by those with an axe to grind against Christians to silence them.
“There has already been high profile cases of the police interfering with free speech and religious liberty regarding sexual ethics.
“People shouldn’t face prison for expressing their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
The new law will target people who create an “atmosphere or climate” which fosters hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, which could include heterosexuals. Similar protections for trans and disabled people are also being considered.
Anyone found guilty could face up to seven years in jail.
The police will decide if a person’s comments or actions are serious enough to warrant prosecution.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice told The Guardian:
“The new law would not prohibit criticism of gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but it would protect them from incitement to hatred against them because of their sexual orientation.”
The Church of England did not raise the possibility of vicars going to jail for quoting from the Bible.
“We will be scrutinising any legislation to ensure that it safeguards the safety and rights of minorities without jeopardising wider concerns for freedom of expression, including the expression of religious faith,” a church spokesman said.
Gay equality organisation Stonewall’s chief executive rejected criticism of the proposed new law:
“These protections aren’t about preventing people expressing their religious views in a temperate way.
“However, we refuse to accept any longer that there’s no connection between extreme rap lyrics calling for gay people to be attacked or fundamentalist claims that all gay people are paedophiles, and the epidemic of anti-gay violence disfiguring Britain’s streets.
“Our traditional opponents are already spreading typically lurid misinformation about what the new law might mean and will try and get it overturned.
“We anticipate, as always, a tough battle in the House of Lords but remain determined to secure complete equality in the criminal law.”