The Scottish Government’s controversial anti-sectarianism legislation was passed earlier this week, but it includes a robust clause to protect freedom of speech.
On Wednesday the Scottish National Party used its majority to force the legislation through by 64 votes to 57.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, welcomed the addition of a free speech clause to the Bill but expressed reservations about future changes to the legislation.
Mr Hart said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government has moved to protect freedom of speech in its new religious hatred law. This major victory follows a huge letter writing campaign.
“We remain concerned that Ministers have awarded themselves the ability to add additional grounds to the religious hatred offence at a later date.
“Such amendments would not be subjected to thorough parliamentary scrutiny. We will be watching this area closely.”
Following Wednesday’s vote Holyrood’s opposition parties reiterated their commitment to ending sectarianism but questioned the need for new legislation.
In a joint statement they said: “We believe a far more effective response is to focus on education and young people, working with the churches and football authorities on positive, practical, evidence-based measures that tackle the root causes of sectarianism as well as robust application of existing laws.”
The aspects of the Bill which govern football matches largely remain as originally drafted but always presented less of a threat to religious liberty than the new religious hatred law. Many have raised concerns about their workability.
Earlier this year The Christian Institute played a pivotal role in slowing down the Scottish Government’s lightning-fast timetable for the anti-sectarianism Bill amidst concerns that it was being rushed.
The Christian Institute and CARE for Scotland launched a legal action warning that the Bill could damage civil liberty and freedom of speech.