By Kathleen Gilbert

LONDON, March 20, 2009 ( – Comedian Rowan Atkinson, best known for his role as “Mr. Bean,” has urged the British House of Lords to ignore a bid to remove a clause protecting free speech in the UK’s “anti-homophobia” law.

The Blackadder and Mr. Bean actor told the Lords meeting Tuesday: “Do I think that I would risk prosecution because of jokes or drama about sexual orientation with which I might be involved if we don’t have the free speech clause?

“Not really – but I dread something almost as bad – a culture of censoriousness, a questioning, negative and leaden attitude that is encouraged by legislation of this nature but is considerably and meaningfully alleviated by the free speech clause.”

The Government is expected to delete a free speech protection added last year to rein in the law against “incitement to homophobic hatred,” which carries a maximum seven-year jail sentence. The protection reads: “For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”

If the Government succeeds, it would fall to the House of Lords to possibly recuperate the amendment. A similar scenario was played out last May, when the same words were deleted by MPs in Parliament, then reinstated by Peers in the House of Lords.

Atkinson, who has led criticism of “hate speech” laws in previous years, criticized such laws in general: “The last thing that any academic, or cleric, or practitioner in creative writing wants to hear, is of police officers walking round with a tool box bulging with sanctions against speech and expression that ‘could be useful one day’,” he said.

“I do not believe that legislation of such a censorious nature as that of Hate Speech, carrying as it does the risk of a seven year jail sentence for saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, can ever by justified merely by the desire to ‘send the right message’.”

Lord David Waddington, who inserted the amendment last year, said after Tuesday’s meeting: “Last year the House of Lords voted not once but twice to force the Government to accept a free speech clause in its controversial new ‘homophobic hatred’ offence.

“Many of my colleagues are shocked that the Government should be trying to repeal such a modest protection so soon after it was passed into law,” he continued. “However, I think the Government has got a fight on its hands.”

Waddington noted that “Christian groups are particularly concerned that the homophobic hatred law will be unfairly used against them” as “there have been plenty of examples of heavy-handed police intervention even before the new law.”

“In recent months there has been a growing sense that devout Christians are being marginalised in British society. Repealing the free speech clause will only make things worse,” he said.

See related coverage:

Tony Blair, Architect of Britain’s Anti-Christian Culture, Complains Christians Are Being Marginalized

Christian and Muslim Parents Facing Possible Criminal Charges for Opting Out of LGBT History Month

Funding Cut for U.K. Christian Care Home Accused of “Institutionalised Homophobia”