The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament has called for views on the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill:
According to the Scottish Government, this Bill provides for the modernising, consolidating and extending of hate crime legislation in Scotland. In extending hate crime legislation in Scotland the Bill seeks to introduce two new offences - one of stirring up hatred and one of possessing inflammatory material.
The Free Church of Scotland is committed to following the teaching of Jesus which includes condemning genuine hatred and promoting the good of all people. In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus tells his disciples, “ You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” However, we do not consider that the new offences are the way to secure this end and we are very concerned about the Bill’s significant detrimental effect on free speech within our society. In particular we are concerned that there is a lack of clarity about what is meant by stirring up hatred and both offences are incredibly subjective in terms of deciding when material is actually abusive or inflammatory.
The offence of stirring up hatred can be committed even when you don't intend to stir up hatred. Accordingly, we believe there is a real risk of Christians and others falling foul of this legislation. For example, when a minister preaches and touching on aspects of Biblical ethics they could inadvertently commit the offence. If the offence becomes law will our ministers have to have every sermon vetted before they can preach it for fear of committing an offence?
And the offence of possessing inflammatory material could lead to books and other materials being confiscated and destroyed by the police if they are seen as inflammatory. This is deeply worrying to us as it could lead to certain books and publications essentially being banned. As Christians, we are deeply concerned that the Bible could fall foul of this offence. Given people have been reported to the police for potential hate crimes for displaying verses from the Bible could the secular courts decide that the Bible itself is inflammatory material which should be confiscated and destroyed.
We accept that our beliefs are not shared, nor necessarily understood by everyone. We welcome challenge, debate and open discussion of our beliefs both from within our Christian community and the wider community. The effect of the Bill is that, notwithstanding the fact that we do not undertake preaching and discussion of our beliefs with an intent to stir up hatred (whatever that means), normal activity becomes criminalised and debate of any sort is closed down by individuals who simply disagree with our views. Accordingly, the Free Church of Scotland has responded to the Justice Committee's Call for Views on the Bill to express our concerns about the potential impact of this legislation.
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