The Bible could be considered “inflammatory” and subsequently seized and destroyed under the current wording of the Scottish hate crime Bill, The Christian Institute has warned.
The Institute, which submitted a response to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, said the proposed law risks creating a “chilling effect on free speech”.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill is set to criminalise words or behaviour perceived as “abusive” against particular groups but lacks sufficient protections for free speech.
Ciarán Kelly, Deputy Director (Staff and Communications) at The Christian Institute, told the Daily Express: “We’ve already been helping street preachers wrongfully arrested for preaching the Bible in public.
“There may not even be a prosecution never mind a conviction, but it risks creating a chilling effect on free speech – something that the ‘stirring up hatred’ offences would exacerbate.
“The new offences cover ‘abusive’ behaviour intended to ‘stir up hatred’ but no explanation is given as to what these terms actually mean.
“Would it be ‘abusive’ and ‘hateful’ to quote the Bible’s teaching on marriage, gender or sexual ethics? Some groups would say yes. There is a real risk of malicious reports from activists who wish to stop Christians expressing their beliefs.”
If the Bill is passed as drafted, police would have the power to enter premises and take “forfeited material” to “be disposed of in such manner as the court may direct”.
Mr Kelly continued: “Provisions on ‘inflammatory material’ could be used against Christian books, sermons by church ministers – even the Bible itself. The potential reach of the offences is enormous, affecting religious practice in public and in private.
“Christians should not live in fear of expressing their beliefs.”
The Free Church of Scotland agreed in their own submission to the Justice Committee with Revd Stephen Allison saying that ministers would “need to have their lawyer on speed dial to check that their sermon each week does not fall foul of the offence of stirring up hatred”.
Senior lawyers have recently slammed Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s lack of a ‘dwelling defence’ in the Bill.
Yousaf claimed “a dozen far-right activists” could meet in a house “intent on stirring up hatred against Jewish people” but could avoid prosecution.
However, legal experts have warned that such a situation was already covered by existing abuse laws and that the example failed to specify “how they are stirring up hatred”.
Former Sheriff Kevin Drummond QC said: “All the example does is to show us how absorbed the proposals are with what people are thinking rather than with what they are doing.”
In August, Convener of Atheist Scotland Ian Stewart told The Courier that he welcomed the Bill “as it will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred”.
He added: “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.”