The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill poses a “serious threat” to free speech, a new campaign has warned.
Free to Disagree, a campaign supported by SNP veteran Jim Sillars, the National Secular Society, The Christian Institute and criminologist Dr Stuart Waiton, marked its official launch this morning, Friday 17 July.
The campaign opposes ‘stirring up of hatred offences’ in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. These would make behaviour deemed “abusive” and “likely to stir up hatred” a criminal offence.
Free to Disagree is calling for the draft offences to be scrapped or amended to protect freedom of expression.
It argues that the “vague and subjective” proposals could see legitimate speech criminalised if it is merely considered offensive. Journalists, playwrights and academics, as well as members of the public, could be prosecuted.
Spokesman Jamie Gillies said: “Passing the Bill in its current form would divorce Scotland from its proud free speech heritage and undermine freedoms that were centuries in the making.
“This simply cannot be allowed to happen. MSPs must hold the Government to account and protect free speech.”
Jim Sillars, former Deputy Leader of the SNP, added: “Freedom of thought, articulated by one’s speech, is so fundamental to the civic and intellectual life of our nation that any attempt by the government to restrict that freedom has to be robustly opposed.”
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said the new campaign had united voices from “across the political and philosophical spectrum”.
“In the current hyper-sensitive political climate, it is vital that politicians don’t add fuel to the fire by legislating badly-drafted speech laws that will cause further division, while doing nothing to help real victims of crime.”