“A vote for religious freedom of speech for everyone” says Glenn Penner of Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

By February 2, 2006

United Kingdom (MNN) — Religious freedom of speech has been upheld in the United Kingdom in a close vote in the British Parliament on Tuesday.

The House of Commons voted against the government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and adopted the House of Lord’s amendment, which changed the wording to allow for greater freedom.

Glenn Penner with Voice of the Martyrs-Canada, says that Tuesday’s vote was, “a real vote for freedom of speech for people of all religious in Britain. The proposed legislation was drawn far too widely, and if passed, could have outlawed all criticism of religious beliefs in the United Kingdom.”

The difference in the legislation now, says Penner, is the burden of proof. “Now prosecutors must prove that offending parties intended to incite hatred towards another religion, and the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove incitement and not on the accused to prove that he did not mean to spread hatred. And that’s a subtle, but a rather significant distinction, because it supports the premise that someone is innocent until proven guilty.”

Penner says, “I think this is a significant piece of legislation that I think finds the right balance between absolute freedom of speech and censorship…And all of this was somewhat murky under the original proposed legislation.”

What this means for Christians is continued freedom to do ministry and evangelism, and Penner is thankful for that. “Quite gratefully, I don’t think it’s going to hinder them at all or affect them. They’re going to be able to continue to preach the exclusive claims of Christ. They’re going to be able to discuss and critique other religions. And like I said organizations like Voice of the Martyrs and partner organizations in the United Kingdom are going to be able to continue to draw attention to the persecution of Christians by other groups, like Muslims and Hindus, without fear that that reporting is going to be accused of being hatred.”

With such a tight vote and such a serious issue in the balance, Penner says, “I’m just grateful that the House of Commons took a good hard look at this and that many members chose to vote against their own government. And, like I said, I think this bill brings a fairly good balance. And I wish that other governments would take a good look at this legislation, and see the wisdom in it. Most anti-hatred legislation tends to draw the lines far too broadly and catch a lot of well-intentioned people without even intending to.”

Pray that Christians in the UK will make the most of this renewed support of freedom of speech to share the love and grace of Jesus.

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