Representatives of three large Christian denominations in Scotland have warned that the Hate Crime and Public Order bill jeopardises freedom of speech that is vital to the common good.
We are “utterly committed to the free and open exchange of ideas in society,” write representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Free Church of Scotland, and the Evangelical Alliance.
“We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, including mocking and ridiculing us,” they declare in an open letter to the Scottish government. “We are convinced that our faith is true and has a sufficient evidential basis to withstand any criticism, we therefore welcome open debate.”
This open and free exchange of ideas is threatened by the hate crimes bill, the Christian leaders note, especially regarding differences of opinion concerning gender identity.
“Transgender identity has been subject of extensive and emotional public discussion,” the letter states. “Such free discussion and criticism of views is vital as society wrestles with these ideas.”
“Open and honest debate on the very essence of the human person should never be stifled,” it declares. “We believe provision must therefore be made in the bill for discussion and criticism of views on transgender identity without fear of criminal sanctions.”
“A right to claim that binary sex does not exist or is fluid must be matched with a right to disagree with that opinion; and protection from prosecution for holding it,” the signers assert.
We must all “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,” they note.
Leading atheists in Scotland have already made clear their intentions to exploit the Hate Crime Bill as a way to target Christians for prosecution.
The bill “will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred,” said the convener of Atheists Scotland, Ian Stewart.
“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 last August 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.
The Scottish police have joined protesters of the bill, noting that the new legislation could “devastate” the public’s relationship with the police.
Last July, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) warned that the hate crimes bill would lead to the “policing of what people think or feel” and the “criminalisation of what is said in private.”
The SPF warned that the law — which criminalises even the likelihood of “stirring up hatred” and does not require intent to be demonstrated — is “too vague to be implemented” and would create much more work for officers.
“We are firmly of the view this proposed legislation would see officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public,” said Callum Steele, SPF general secretary.
“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,” he added.
“The Bill would move even further from policing and criminalising of deeds and acts to the potential policing of what people think or feel, as well as the criminalisation of what is said in private,” he noted.