British churches have expressed concern that legislation punishing hate crimes based on sexual orientation could be used to silence Christian disapproval of certain sexual behaviors.
Both the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England have issued a memorandum concerning an amendment to the Public Order Act of 1986 that would make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation an offense punishable by law.
"Christians engaged in teaching or preaching and those seeking to act in accord with Christian convictions in their daily lives need to be assured that the expression of strong opinions on marriage or sexuality will not be illegal," the memorandum says.
The churches pressed for maximum clarity about what the law permits and forbids. They feared the law would restrict opinions and forbid criticisms about sexual behavior and lifestyles.Both churches affirmed the importance of protecting those vulnerable to attack on grounds of their sexual or gender identity. However, they pointed out that the present law already restricts “words, behaviour and display of written material which are intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress, or which occur in the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress."
The churches suggested legal safeguards to protect expressions of opinion directed against conduct, rather than opinions directed against persons themselves.