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Scottish Government must change Hate Crime Bill to protect free speech – Christians

(Photo: Unsplash/Kirsten Drew)

The Scottish Government must include “robust” provisions in its proposed Hate Crime Bill to protect freedom of religion, the Catholic Church has said. 

Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf was recently forced to amend some of the wording in the Bill following a backlash over its free speech implications from a wide range of groups, including Christians, secularists, the police, comedians and, in an unusual intervention, BBC Scotland. 

Mr Yousaf confirmed that the Government would be amending the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to raise the criminal threshold of stirring up offences from a “likelihood” to “intent”. 

Writing in the Scottish Herald, the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, welcomed this amendment but said serious concerns remained around the Bill’s impact on free speech. 

He said further changes were needed to make clear that religious texts, books and social media messages would not be considered “abusive” under the proposed law.

“In the hope that we will remain a country, where constructive dialogue flourishes, the Catholic Church will continue to argue for further change to this legislation to include more equitable and robust freedom of expression provisions; greater clarity around the definitions of ‘hatred’, ‘abusive’ and ‘insulting’, which remain precariously vague and urge consideration be given to appropriate defences which reflect the change to intent only,” the bishop wrote. 

The Christian Institute said the justice minister’s climbdown over stirring up hatred was “significant” but added that “for the freedom of the Gospel, a host of other serious problems remain”.

It has produced a briefing in which it calls the Bill a threat to free speech in the areas of evangelism and Christian comment on sexual ethics. 

“The strength of opposition has forced the Scottish Government to limit the offences to behaviour intended to stir up hatred rather than merely being likely to do so,” it reads.

“However, a host of problems remain. The offences still cover ‘abusive’ behaviour which is not defined. They apply to conversations in the privacy of the home. Vital clauses to protect freedom of expression are either weak or not included at all.” 

 

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