Anti-Homophobia Legislation Could Stifle Free Speech, Warn Bishops

French Prelates Express Concerns to Government

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ROME, JULY 19, 2004 ( A measure aimed at combating homophobia and backed by the French Executive Council could end up threatening freedom of expression, warn representatives of the Catholic Church.

«We think it is totally normal that attacks against homosexual persons be reported and condemned and I think that our legislative system already has an arsenal that allows this,» Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, president of the French bishops’ conference, told Agence France-Presse at the end of a meeting Friday with government officials.

There must continue to be «freedom of expression on issues that today are part of the debate in society, such as homosexual marriage and adoption,» the prelate added.

The Church delegation included Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris; Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, the apostolic nuncio; and Bishop Georges Pontier, vice president of the episcopal conference.

The government was represented by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, accompanied by Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, Justice Minister Dominique Perben, and Education Minister François Fillon.

The draft law would punish with a year’s imprisonment and hefty fines anyone who attacks, including verbally, homosexuals because of their sexual orientation.

Some critics fear that the measure could be used against someone who expresses the view of the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church on family or sexual issues.

During the meeting, the bishops also expressed their concern about the provision made for religious education in the educational system.

The «time allotted to religious teaching» is «important at this time when it is desirable that children and young people have points of reference, and be guided by strong values,» said Archbishop Ricard.

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