An atheist activist has welcomed the Scottish Government’s controversial hate crime Bill as an opportunity to report the Bible and church sermons for so-called hate speech.
Ian Stewart, Convener of Atheist Scotland, told The Courier atheists saw “some merit” in the SNP’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill “as it will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred”.
He said: “We fully intend to monitor all Holy Books, sermons in places of worship and the social media accounts of the various religions and report any hatred to Police Scotland for criminal investigation.”
If passed, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill would criminalise words deemed “likely” to “stir up hatred” against particular groups. It would not require any proof of intent.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, warned against “the dangerous new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences”, saying that “they will give politically-motivated complainants like Mr Stewart a powerful weapon against their ideological opponents.”
He commented: “The threshold of the proposed offences is so low that Mr Stewart might well be able to persuade a police officer that certain unfashionable Bible verses or sermons are ‘hate crimes’. Does the Scottish Government really want to expose church ministers to the risk of prosecution at the instigation of anti-religious zealots?
Mr Calvert also pointed out that “Thankfully, Mr Stewart does not represent all atheists. The National Secular Society has even joined forces with The Christian Institute to defend free speech for all under the banner of the Free to Disagree campaign.
Revd David Robertson, a former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, said that Stewart’s letter “illustrates perfectly” why the legislation should not be made law.
Robertson said that Stewart incorrectly “regards any disagreements with any of his fundamental beliefs as self-evident ‘hate'”.
He added: “He is, in effect, saying that we should all be closed down unless we accept his authoritarian morality.”
Last month, Roman Catholic bishops warned that possession of a Bible could be considered an offence under the SNP’s proposed hate crime Bill.
In its submission to the Justice Committee’s consultation on the Bill, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said that the “low threshold” for offence could prohibit the Bible on the grounds of being classed as “inflammatory material”.
The bishops stated that any new law “must be carefully weighed against fundamental freedoms, such as the right to free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.