A Scottish police force has launched a campaign to clamp down on ‘hate crimes’ and ‘hate incidents’.
But critics are concerned that ‘hate crime’ initiatives are straying into issues of civil liberty by confusing disagreement with hatred.
Earlier this month a report by the Civitas think-tank warned that Christians are being unfairly targeted for hate crime prosecutions.
The Civitas report noted Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christian hoteliers from Liverpool, who were prosecuted for a hate crime after a breakfast debate about Islam.
The Vogelenzangs, who were supported by The Christian Institute, were declared innocent by a judge at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court in December.
Earlier this year Christian street preacher Dale Mcalpine was arrested in Cumbria after he expressed his religious belief that homosexual conduct was a “sin” during a conversation with a Police Community Support Officer. The charges were later dropped.
The new initiative, which is being promoted by Central Scotland Police (CSP), is designed to combat crimes which are based on “race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity”.
The Multi-Agency Hate Response Strategy (MAHRS), which has been launched by a group specifically set up to combat hate crimes and incidents, includes public bodies such as colleges and councils.
A document from the MAHRS sets out that the bodies involved will do everything they can to “identify and eliminate” hate incidents.
CSP Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Samson said: “Anyone who believes they have been a victim of an incident motivated by hate can have confidence in reporting it to the authorities and of receiving a professional service.”
He also said: “Those who think it is acceptable to commit a criminal act against another individual because of homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, racism or disability related prejudice need to realise that this behaviour has no place within our communities.”
Another member of MAHRS is the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service. It was recently revealed that the Crown Office is among a number of public bodies who have partnered with homosexual rights group Stonewall to become “diversity champions”.
In England, a Civitas report on hate crimes was written by Jon Gower Davies. He said: “Some police forces and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] seem to be interpreting statutes in favour of ethnic and religious minorities and in a spirit hostile to members of the majority population, defined as ‘White’ or ‘Christian’.”
Many of the prosecutions have been for causing “religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress” under England’s Public Order Act.
In June the Scottish Parliament passed a law which criminalises ‘abusive speech’ in public or in private.
To breach the new law, a person must have spoken or behaved in a threatening or abusive manner, intentionally or recklessly causing (or likely to cause) a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm.
There are concerns about the law in regard to civil liberties, although it is an improvement on what the Scottish Government had originally proposed.
Last year a BBC investigation questioned Britain’s hate crime statistics.
Over 46,000 hate crimes were recorded in Britain in 2008 but a Radio 4 investigation found these figures may be massively inflated.
It suggested that the figures may overblown because “if the victim or a witness believes the crime is motivated by some kind of hatred, it will be recorded as a hate crime”.
Radio 4′s The Report concluded that this vague and very subjective definition of hate crime “may well explain why some police forces are seeing big rises in their recorded crimes and why the UK tops a list of over 50 countries for hate crimes”.