A sloppily worded hate crime bill in Scotland could undermine free speech and unfairly stigmatize people of faith, the Christian Institute has warned.
The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director Ciarán Kelly said on Friday that the proposed legislation “risks creating a chilling effect on free speech” because of the ambiguity of its language and lack of protections for basic freedoms.
“The new offences cover ‘abusive’ behaviour intended to ‘stir up hatred’ but no explanation is given as to what these terms actually mean,” Mr Kelly said.
“Would it be ‘abusive’ and ‘hateful’ to quote the Bible’s teaching on marriage, gender or sexual ethics?” he added. “Some groups would say yes. There is a real risk of malicious reports from activists who wish to stop Christians expressing their beliefs.”
“Provisions on ‘inflammatory material’ could be used against Christian books, sermons by church ministers – even the Bible itself,” Kelly noted. “The potential reach of the offences is enormous, affecting religious practice in public and in private.”
These fears are not without basis and atheist groups have already threatened to use the new legislation to target Christians.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) August 12, 2020
Atheists see some merit in the Hate Crime Bill, said the convener of Atheists Scotland, Ian Stewart, “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,” Stewart declared in the Dundee newspaper The Courier.
Stewart said that his group intends to “monitor all Holy Books, sermons in places of worship and the social media accounts of the various religions” and will report any offenders to police to be criminally prosecuted.
This past summer, the director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, Anthony Horan, warned that the bill could enshrine “cancel culture” in law.
“A new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church inflammatory,” Mr Horan noted. “The Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, could potentially fall foul of the new law.”
“Allowing for respectful debate should mean avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society,” Horan said.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) October 29, 2020
Scotland’s courts have ruled that the freedom to shock, offend, and disturb are protected by the right to freedom of expression, Horan said, while the nation’s bishops have argued that freedom of expression must protect everyone’s freedom to disagree.
The legislation could lead to Scotland becoming an “intolerant, illiberal society,” Horan added underscoring the dangers inherent in a law that leaves so much room for interpretation.
“Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behaviour,” he said, “Scotland’s Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offence, which they fear, could lead to a deluge of vexatious claims.”
Meanwhile, Scottish law enforcement officers have warned that the hate crime bill could “devastate” the public’s relationship with the police.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 20, 2020
The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said that the proposed legislation would lead to the “policing of what people think or feel” and the “criminalisation of what is said in private.”
The SPF said the law is “too vague to be implemented” and would create much more work for officers.
This proposed legislation “would see officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public,” said SPF general secretary Callum Steele.
“That can never be an acceptable outcome – and we should never forget that the police in Scotland police only with the consent of the people,” Steele said. “Police officers are all too aware that there are individuals in society who believe that to feel insulted or offended is a police matter.”
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) November 14, 2020