The Scottish National Party’s proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill is currently being scrutinised by Scotland Justice Committee. Largely unpopular with the public, it has managed to unite everyone from Catholic priests to the National Secular Society into warning that it could criminalise free speech.
Now, an ‘Ian Stewart’, supposed convener of Atheists Scotland – a seemingly fictional group – has written to the Dundee newspaper, The Courier, promising to target Christians for ‘hate crimes’ and outlaw sections of the Bible.
‘Watching out for religious hatred’
In light of the proposed new powers to police, Mr Stewart wrote (seemingly tongue-in-cheek),
“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.”
Although this might be an attempt at satire, the threshold for the proposed offences is so low – criminalising any speech that is ‘likely’ to “stir up hatred” – that it may well be possible to persuade police that sections of the Bible are ‘hate speech’.
The Bible already being outlawed?
Even if this letter was never meant to be taken seriously, the fact remains that Christians in the UK are still being censored and silenced for expressing their faith. Christian Legal Centre clients such as Keith Waters, Kristie Higgs and Seyi Omooba are already testament to the fact that quoting and paraphrasing passages from the Bible are viewed as ‘hateful’.
Hate Crime Bill is intolerant
Former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, Rev. David Robertson, replied to the supposed threats in Mr Stewart’s letter, saying it “illustrates perfectly why Humza Yousaf’s new blasphemy law (otherwise known as the Hate Crime Bill) should not be passed.” He continued to point out why arguments like these don’t stand:
“There are two problems with [these arguments] – firstly Mr Stewart regards any disagreements with any of his fundamental beliefs as self-evident ‘hate’ and we must be dealt with.
“He is, in effect, saying that we should all be closed down unless we accept his authoritarian morality.
“Secondly, I regard his letter as full of hate speech and therefore under the new criteria Mr Stewart should hand himself in to the police and confess his crime.
“But tolerance and logic are not what this new blasphemy bill is about.
“Rather it is intended to reinforce the self-appointed thought police of the Brave New World the Scottish Government is seeking to build.”
United against the Scottish Hate Crime Bill
Many have come out in opposition to the Hate Crime Bill since it was first published in April of this year. In July, a group of Catholic bishops warned that the Bible could be outlawed thanks to the bill. Similarly, the National Secular Society has warned that the bill would seriously limit freedom of speech and effectively censor anyone with ‘unpopular’ opinions.
A new campaign, Free to Disagree, launched by the Christian Institute, has attracted a diverse range of supporters, including Jim Sillars MP, former Deputy Leader of the SNP, Peter Tatchell, non-profit group Index on Censorship, and Emma Webb of the think tank Civitas.
New measures are not needed
In reality, says the Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska, speech is already sufficiently regulated – even over-regulated – by public opinion. After launching our submission to the consultation on the bill, Roger commented:
“At its heart, this bill poses an existential threat to freedom of expression. The fallacious premise that underpins ‘hate’ speech laws has also eroded free speech in any number of other areas within the public square and has had a particularly deleterious effect on Christian speech. What is equally evident is that no matter what exemptions are put in the bill to protect religious speech, overly sensitive local authorities and law enforcement will nonetheless continue to arrest otherwise innocent civilians for exercising their lawful right to speech. The cost of this bill to our democracy is far too high a toll to pay. For the sake of our fundamental freedoms, Scotland deserves better.”