The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has called for a guarantee that quoting the Bible will not be treated as ‘hate crime’ under new laws.
The Department of Justice commissioned a review of the current hate crime law in Northern Ireland last June, and a public consultation on the issue closed last month.
PCI said that freedom of speech must be protected in any new legislation.
Revd Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly, said: “For many Christians, grounding their public conduct in the truth-claims of their faith forms a key element of their religious commitment.
There needs to be clarity that the legitimate use and exposition of scripture…does not constitute a hate crime
“There must still be space within society to express views with which others may disagree, recognising that this works both ways and allows people to express views about religion with which we may disagree.”
He added: “There needs to be clarity that the legitimate use and exposition of scripture, even in an online environment, is a protected right in itself and does not constitute a hate crime.”
Last week, former MLA Nelson McCausland also cautioned that the review must not threaten free speech.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, he said the issue has not received adequate public scrutiny given Northern Ireland’s complex political situation and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on everyday life.
McCausland warned that the process should not be rushed, “especially at a time when there is such an assault on free speech in our society”.