The Scottish Government’s controversial law against sectarianism and religious hatred could be abolished, after every opposition party backed its repeal.
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (OBFA) was roundly criticised when it was being drafted, for endangering religious liberty and free speech.
Brought in after a spate of violence during the 2010-11 football season, the law has been hugely unpopular.
It came into force in spring 2012 under Alex Salmond’s majority SNP Government. All the other parties opposed the Bill.
As well as addressing football related conduct, the legislation included a religious hatred offence that threatened religious liberty.
It is now being reported that it is likely to be an early casualty of the new Scottish Parliament, after the SNP lost its overall majority.
The Scottish Conservatives, Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have vowed to back legislation to scrap it. If all MSPs voted on party lines the Government would be defeated by two votes, 65 votes to 63.
Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior sociology lecturer and author of ‘Snob’s Law’, a book on OBFA, said it was “arguably the most authoritarian piece of legislation in modern times in Britain”.
“That you can go to prison for five years for being offensive at a football match is insane”, he added.
Dr Waiton said it was time for a “revitalisation of basic liberal principles of freedom of speech”.
The Scottish Government first brought forward the legislation in June 2011 but it quickly created significant controversy .
Christians became very concerned about the legislation because it introduced a Scotland-wide religious hatred law with no robust safeguards for free speech.
However, because the new football season was set to begin, the Government attempted to rush it through Parliament within two weeks of it being published.
This also meant rushing through the religious hatred clause.
The Christian Institute lodged a judicial review which led to the Bill being delayed by six months.
Later, after further pressure from the Institute, a free speech clause was introduced to the religious hatred offence ensuring that evangelism, discussions about faith, and criticism of other religions would not be caught within the remit of the Bill.
Colin Hart, Director of the Institute, said: “We campaigned for and won substantial safeguards for free speech in this law but there is nothing safer than abolishing it altogether.”
In practice judges have not been in favour of the Act and it has rarely been used.