Atheist threatens to use Scotland’s hate crime Bill to criminalise the Bible, sermons and church social media
An atheist activist has declared his backing for Humza Yousaf’s controversial Hate Crimes Bill because “it will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred”.
Ian Stewart, Convener of Atheist Scotland, told The Courier:
“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.”
Mr Stewart, whose anti-religious tirades are frequently published in the letters pages of the local and national press, is at odds with atheists at the National Secular Society and the Humanist Society Scotland who are campaigning against the Hate Crime Bill.
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said:
“This is a perfect illustration of why the dangerous new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences are such a terrible idea. They will give politically-motivated complainants like Mr Stewart a powerful weapon against their ideological opponents. Vexatious activists will be able to dial 999 and accuse someone of stirring up hatred and the police may have no alternative but to investigate.
“The threshold of the proposed offences is so low that Mr Stewart might well be able to persuade a police officer that certain unfashionable Bible verses or sermons are ‘hate crimes’. Does the Scottish Government really want to expose church ministers to the risk of prosecution at the instigation of anti-religious zealots?
“The Bill says you only have to show that the words are ‘abusive’ and ‘likely to stir up hatred’ for an offence to be proved. In the current political climate, all kinds of legitimate speech gets tagged as ‘abusive’ and ‘hateful’ by cynical activists who are just trying to shut down debate.
“This is the febrile climate into which the Scottish Government plans to inject its new hate crime law. Ministers are playing a dangerous game. The Bill is going to increase division and rancour. Meanwhile it will do little to help real victims of crime.
“How are the police going to have time to deal with ludicrous allegations from people who see hate crime legislation as a means to enforce their own authoritarian views? The new stirring up offences are dangerous, ridiculous, unpopular and unworkable.
“In England, the SNP voted to trim back stirring up offences so they only apply to threatening words that are intended to stir up hatred. Yet in Scotland they want to criminalise words that are deemed ‘abusive’ and merely ‘likely to stir up hatred’. Why do they want a law for Scotland that is worse than the law in England?
“The chorus of protests about the dangers of this approach has come from every part of the political and philosophical spectrum. Thankfully, Mr Stewart does not represent all atheists. The National Secular Society has even joined forces with The Christian Institute to defend free speech for all under the banner of the Free to Disagree campaign.”
Full text of Mr Stewart’s letter to The Courier:
Sir, – Atheists see some merit in Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Bill, as it will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred.
It is utterly unacceptable that in progressive, social democratic Scotland that squalid, Bronze Age village disputes, as described in the Holy Books, about control of women, goats or water should give Scotland’s “Holy Willies” authority to spout out vitriol against atheists, agnostics, apostates, sceptics, non-believers, women, trans people and homosexuals.
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.
Notes to editor
The Christian Institute is a non-denominational registered charity which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK. It was founded in 1991 by Christian church leaders and professionals and it currently campaigns on a range of issues including marriage and the family, child protection, pro-life concerns, drugs, religious liberty and education, as well as Christianity and the constitution.
The Free to Disagree campaign is supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Adam Smith Institute, former Deputy Leader of the SNP Jim Sillars, Peter Tatchell, academic Stuart Waiton, and writers Maddy Kearns and Emma Webb. It opposes the new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences in the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.
For media enquiries please contact Tom Hamilton Communications on 07836 603977 or Simon Calvert on 07802 796512