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Detailed analysis of the Religious Hatred Bill reveals the incredible manner of the Government’s defeat

Printer-friendly version An analysis of exactly what happened on the day the government suffered their dramatic shock defeat over the Bill reveals new details of the true extent of the miraculous result.

An analysis of exactly what happened on the day the government suffered their dramatic shock defeat over the Bill reveals new details of the true extent of the miraculous result.

In all, 565 men and women voted on the fate of the government’s Religious Hatred Bill. The Bill which threatened religious freedoms and looked set to cause division and increase religious intolerance in Britain, was finally beaten by just one single vote.

Almost every single Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP turned up to vote against the Bill. William Hague and his team who had been in Europe on EU business flew back that evening just in time for the vote. The Lib-Dems thought the vote was so important that they brought back MPs Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten for the vote (both had previously been keeping a low profile after periods of bad press). Every single Lib-Dem and Conservative MP that turned up to vote, voted against the Bill.

In total, 21 Labour MPs had the courage to vote against the Bill. Each of those 21 people defied the Labour Party ‘3 line whip’ which is the strongest possible demand from the government that Labour MPs do as they are told and vote for the Bill. Defying a 3 line whip comes with a cost - the 21 MPs risked their careers being permanently damaged.

Dramatically, 48 Labour MPs did not even vote on the night. For many of them, this will have been because they decided, on conscience, that they could not support the Bill, but nor could they go the whole way and vote against their own party. For between 15 and 25 MPs, the sole reason they were not present was because their own party had told them to go to Scotland to fight in a by-election (which Labour lost in another shock defeat last week) because it was thought that Labour were going to win the Religious Hatred Bill by such a large margin.

Undoubtedly contributing to the victorious outcome was the tactic of the Conservative Party, who made it appear that only a few of their MPs were in Westminster at the time of the vote and that they were not treating the Bill as a priority. This lulled Labour into a false sense of security. Behind the scenes the Conservatives worked hard so that at the last minute all their MPs turned up to vote against the Bill.

As was mentioned in the last e-mail, the most notable person absent from the vote was Tony Blair. He was apparently told by the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, that his vote was not needed because it Labour were going to win easily!

The fact the Bill was defeated by one vote means that every single vote was significant. Thus it was invaluable that many of the smaller political parties courageously opposed the Bill. Technically Scottish and Northern Irish MPs should not have voted on the Religious Hatred Bill because it only directly applied to England and Wales, not Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, the parties realised the dramatic significance of the legislation and voted anyway, helping defeat the Bill. The Northern Irish DUP contributed 9 votes against the Bill. The SDLP contributed 1 vote. Plaid Cymru contributed 3 votes, the SNP 5 votes, and Dr Richard Taylor, an Independent, also contributed 1 vote.

Only half an hour before the debate on the Bill started, Christians working for Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Institute were inside the House of Commons working hard to convince MPs to oppose the Bill. Within that last half an hour, those Christians managed to secure a further 9 votes against the Bill by explaining the dangers of the legislation and the threat to freedom of speech. Again, without the last minute confirmation of those votes, the government’s Bill would have become law.

Without any one of these contributions to the campaign and to the vote, the law would have been passed, and today, Christians would be facing the threat of police arrest, investigations, imprisonment, and negative media coverage simply for expressing their faith. If the vote had even been tied then the Speaker of the House of Commons would have had the casting vote. By convention he would have gone with the government and the Bill would have been passed.

The fact that the vote was so close, and yet was won, shows the value of the dedicated prayers, lobbying, leadership and action of so many Christian organisations and individuals. Ultimately, the closeness of the vote means that no one group or individual can claim the victory – the victory was incontrovertibly in God’s hands.

The media coverage in The Times and The Metro the day after the vote mentioned ‘hundreds of protestors’ outside Parliament, referring to the Christian rally. The Guardian carried a quote from the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship website and an article inside The Times drew attention to the fact that during the debate, inside the House of Commons, MP Bob Spink had called a ‘point of order’ to bring the attention of all the other MPs to the fact that there were Christians outside Parliament protesting by singing ‘what a mighty God we serve’! Photos of the protestors and the fantastic banners which had been made by a dedicated team from local London churches, were seen in a number of papers. How often is it that the national media carry such positive images of Christians peacefully united by a common cause?

The BBC news website contained the following remarkable coverage of Christians standing up for what they believe:

It was one of Westminster's more tuneful demonstrations, said one police officer as evangelical groups belted out hymns in protest at planned religious hate laws. "They've been singing quite happily, it's very pleasant," mused the officer. Indeed, the beltway opposite Parliament seemed to have transformed into a gospel choir stall in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. "Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss," they sang. And with it, a sea of banners from about 400 protesters were lifted high, bearing such slogans as: "the blood of Jesus Christ", "the holy spirit and fire" and "woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees". In other words: MPs, watch out.”

What a great day to be a Christian and to witness first hand the sovereignty of God over this nation, whilst the future of our ability to speak openly and publicly about Jesus Christ was protected.

But what should our response be?

Firstly, we must not fall into the trap of forgetting to properly give thanks to God. For over a year, many of us prayed, implored and petitioned God to deliver us from the threat of this law. For over a year, meetings were held, Church prayer groups met, articles were written and many many MPs and Lords were visited and sent letters or e-mails by concerned Christians. We must not forget that God honoured that long struggle. It is so important that we remember how we prayed and campaigned on this, and that God heard our prayers and saw our campaigns, and delivered us from the dangerous law. Praise God!

Secondly, we must not rest on our laurels. So much unity between Christians was achieved over this issue. So many Christians who would usually not embroil themselves in political issues stood up and made their voices heard. And it worked! But this needs to be a lasting change. Please keep checking the CCFON website for other Bills which need the input of Christians.

We have seen that God answers the prayers of his faithful servants. Let us press on and ‘stand up stand up for Jesus’ as ‘soldiers of the cross’.