Religious homophobes should not be exempt from law

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today briefed MPs on Clause 58 in the Coroners and Justice Bill, currently at Committee stage in the Commons.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, said, ‘Last year, Parliament created important new legal protections against incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation. That offence has a really high threshold, and would not include things like preaching that being gay is a sin or calling somebody names but would include really threatening language that would also have negative effects on social cohesion and public order.’

‘Unfortunately, right before the Bill the new offences were in became law, an amendment was made which exempts a minority of people with extreme religious views on homosexuality from the new offence. Clause 58 in the Coroners and Justice Bill, currently being scrutinised by MPs, removes that amendment.’

Ms Phillips continued, ‘Religious organisations or people with religious convictions who intentionally stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation on the basis of their beliefs must not be exempt from this new offence. The right to manifest a religious belief is not absolute, and it is acceptable for that right to be restricted in some circumstances. We have encouraged MPs to support Clause 58 and to resist any future amendments to change or remove it as the Bill progresses through Parliament.’

The BHA takes seriously any attempt to curtail freedom of speech and hold that people have the right to express their beliefs, even if they may seem peculiar or even abhorrent to others – that right is essential in a free society. However, language which is threatening and intended to stir up hatred against people on the basis of an intrinsic characteristic such as sexual orientation or race should be unacceptable in a society that values and respects freedom, human rights and equality.

Notes

You can read the BHA’s briefing on Clause 58 in the Coroners and Justice Bill here.

For more information contact Naomi Phillips on 020 7079 3585.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief. It is the largest organisation in the UK working for a secular state.