Scottish “Hate Crime” Bill Threatens Free Speech and Open Debate, According to Religious Leaders

A partnership between the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Free Church of Scotland, and the Evangelical Alliance has arisen in response to Scotland’s “Hate Crime and Public Order” bill, which they claim would be detrimental to free speech, open debate, and religious freedom.

In a letter to Humza Yousaf, the Scottish government’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice, the representatives say they disapprove of the bill because it includes “plans to create new offences without intent, offences related to inflammatory material and the protection of free speech.”

As Christians, we do not always agree with one another and know that many do not necessarily share or even understand our beliefs, but we are utterly committed to the free and open exchange of ideas in society,” the letter reads. “We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, including mocking and ridiculing us. We are convinced that our faith is true and has a sufficient evidential basis to withstand any criticism, we therefore welcome open debate.”

Despite previously meeting with the government and robustly discussing their concerns, the religious leaders still find themselves worried over the provisions and reach of the bill. One major concern relates to the bill’s approach to sexual orientation and transgender identity.

In both these areas we must be careful to distinguish between hateful, nasty, vicious, or malevolent attacks on the person on one hand, and disagreement or dispute with an ideological position on the other,” their letter says. “While welcoming the inclusion of protection for discussion of criticism of sexual conduct and practices, we urge the Scottish Parliament to extend this to also allow for discussion and criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to the marriage.”

The transgender issue in particular appears to be a sticking point for these representatives, who flatly refused to accept that “any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex (or gender) is fluid and changeable should not be heard.” Open, honest discussions on the nature of the human person “should never be stifled,” they said.

Back in July 2020 the Scottish Police Federation warned that this hate crime bill, if they were to enforce it, could “devastate the legitimacy of the police service” because it criminalizes speech—even speech uttered in private.

The federation claimed that an intended provision would grant police the powers of search and entry to investigate so-called speech crimes, and that the bill itself even goes so far as to criminalize “the mere likelihood of ‘stirring up hatred.'”

At the end of the day, according to the federation, the bill is “too vague to be implemented,” so even if it is passed, it does not sound like the Scottish police are too keen on enforcing it. That’s about as good of an outcome as you can have when a bill like this becomes law.

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