Both secularists and Christians have come out against a proposed hate crime law in Scotland, insisting the loosely worded law poses a threat to free speech.
The proposed legislation introduced by the Scottish National Party’s Justice Minister Humza Yousaf would criminalise “stirring up hatred” based on “age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.”
“Stirring up of hatred can contribute to a social atmosphere in which discrimination is accepted as normal,” Yousaf said. “Our legislation, if passed, would offer greater protection for those who experience this kind of behaviour.
After lobbying from feminist groups, instead of making a person’s gender a protected characteristic for everyone, the draft law — the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill — specifically makes misogyny a hate crime with no corresponding legal protections for men.
Scotland’s National Secular Society (NSS) came out against the law late last week, saying the proposed legislation creates “the risk that new offences relating to religious hatred will enact a de facto clampdown on freedom of expression.”
The title of the offence — “stirring up hatred” — is “vague and likely to be weaponised to restrict debate,” said NSS communications officer Chris Sloggett, since “accusations of ‘stirring up hatred’ are ten a penny on social media alone.”
“It also sends a confusing message about the reach of criminal law,” Mr. Sloggett noted. “It isn’t a crime to hate, so why should it be a crime to encourage others to hate?”
“Ministers would be better served ditching the idea of ‘stirring up hatred’ and relying on easily-defined, clear offences,” Sloggett declared. “Credibly inciting violence against a group of people should be off-limits. And if someone has been the victim of an existing offence – for example they’ve been harassed, attacked or threatened — on the basis of their religious identity, it should be an aggravating factor. Otherwise we should be wary.”
In a rare convergence of opinion, the UK-based Christian Institute has joined the National Secular Society in opposing the hate crime legislation, saying that it jeopardizes the exercise of free speech.
“Free speech clauses are included in relation to sexual orientation and religion, which will provide some protection for legitimate debate, but there are no such clauses surrounding transgenderism,” the group notes. “This raises the possibility that politically-motivated complainants might use the change to the criminal law to shut down critics of radical gender ideology.”
In a video recording, the Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Communications, Ciarán Kelly, said the bill threatens both religious liberty and free speech.
“This is a very concerning Bill. If it becomes law it could have implications for many areas of life,” Mr. Kelly said. “In this day and age, certain groups are far too quick to find offence whenever someone disagrees with them.”
“Biblical truth is offensive to many,” he continued. “Sadly, it is not difficult to see how the broad language of the bill might be used to suppress free speech.”
“The draft includes some welcome free speech clauses, but they don’t protect the freedom to disagree in every area that’s necessary, such as transgenderism,” he said.
“Intent to stir up hatred is not required for an offence to be committed, meaning people may become criminals simply because they didn’t realize how their honestly expressed views might be misinterpreted,” he said.