The Scottish Government’s proposed hate crime legislation is a threat to free speech, Christians and atheists have warned.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill seeks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ against particular groups. The Bill lists these as age, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sexual characteristics.
If it passes, words or behaviour considered to be “threatening or abusive” and “likely” to stir up hatred would constitute an offence.
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Communications Ciarán Kelly said: “This is a very concerning Bill. If it becomes law it could have implications for many areas of life.
“In this day and age certain groups are far too quick to find offence whenever someone disagrees with them.
“Biblical truth is offensive to many. Sadly, it is not difficult to see how the broad language of the Bill might be used to suppress free speech. The draft includes some welcome free speech clauses, but they don’t protect the freedom to disagree in every area that’s necessary.
“Intent to stir up hatred is not required for an offence to be committed, meaning people may become criminals simply because they didn’t realise how their honestly expressed views might be interpreted.”
Chris Sloggett, The National Secular Society’s Communications Officer, warned: “This vague law will undermine open debate, along with citizens’ confidence that they’ll be treated equally under the law and they won’t be prosecuted unfairly.”
He described the Bill’s terminology as “vague and likely to be weaponised to restrict debate”, adding: “accusations of ‘stirring up hatred’ are ten a penny on social media alone”.
Free speech clauses are included in relation to sexual orientation and religion, which will provide some protection for legitimate debate, but do not cover gender ideology.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Jackson Carlaw, the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, said that the Bill “promises to end in a very bad place – with the erosion of the most important freedom of all, that of speech.”
You cannot gag your way to a better society
He said: “The presumption of a free society is that people should be able to say what they think.” He added: “You cannot gag your way to a better society”.