By BosNewsLife News Center
LONDON, UK (BosNewsLife) -- The British Government was considering its options Wednesday, February 1, after parliament voted against its version of a religious hatred bill, amid pressure from evangelical Christians and others who feared the law could lead to religious persecution.
In what commentators described as "a blow to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s authority" the House of Commons voted by 288 votes to 278 to back a key amendment to the bill from the House of Lords, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The vote came after hundreds of Christians rallied outside the Old Palace Yard in London against what is known as The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, holding signs that said ”freedom to preach," and "freedom to chose and change religion."
"The victory is with us for sure,” Barbara Elele, 36, a member of the Christ Faith Tabernacle church in London who came to rally told the Christian Today website. "Where few are gathered, the Lord is there."
Under the law incitement to religious hatred would be an offense and would apply to comments made in public or in the media, as well as through written material. Supporters said the aim is to protect people from incitement to hatred against them because of their faith, especially following the September 11 attacks in the United States and more recently in London.
Ministers also insisted the law was not intended to ban people - including artists and performers - from offending, criticizing or ridiculing faiths. The maximum penalty for anybody convicted of the new offence would be seven years imprisonment.
But the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom (EAUK), an umbrella group representing one million evangelical Christians in the UK , had said it was concerned about "the dangers of the proposed religious hatred (law) and other legislation."
The EAUK suggested that the legislation was “a major threat” as it could make it more difficult for Christians to evangelize or preach certain sermons from the Bible. The law’s critics also included comedian Rowan Atkinson, of the Mr. Bean character, former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, and civil rights groups, who said it threatened free speech.
Analysts point out however that the proposals, which formed a key part of Blair's election manifesto last May, will still become law, but with restrictions imposed by the House of Lords.
The government already condemned Tuesday’s vote. "I regret that on the question of the level of the bar at which prosecutions can be brought ... that the government lost tonight," Reuters news agency quoted interior minister Charles Clarke as saying. (With reports from the United Kingdom and BosNewsLife Research).
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