Hate Crime Bill – Concerns

Edinburgh Secular Society in conjunction with The National Secular Society has for some time now led the concern of many groups about the overzealous new Hate Crime Bill proposed by The Scottish Government.

The bill would make it a criminal offence for speech to “stir up hatred” against a variety of protected characteristics including religious belief, or indeed for it to be “likely to stir up hatred.”

Chill Free Speech

It is this bypassing of intent which has raised eyebrows through Scotland as it would chill free speech here more than anywhere else in the UK.
Humza Yousef, The Justice Secretary, in dealing with concerns about intent, is now saying that intent would need to be proved in court.

To discuss these issues Neil Barber ESS Communications Officer represented The National Secular Society and gave evidence to The Parliament on a panel comprised of representatives all of Scotland’s major religions.

He made the following points.

• Neil told the Committee that The Justice Secretary’s decision to revise the legislation in light of concerns to limit the stirring up hatred offences to ‘intent’ was “a step in the right direction” but “would provide no comfort to writers who might find themselves anticipating stressful and expensive investigations and court cases.”

• He warned the vagueness of the wording of the bill, particularly regarding ‘abuse’ would lead to vexatious accusations of ‘stirring up hatred” and how that ambiguity would be the very nuance on which ambitious legal sophistry would seek to turn.

• He urged the Committee to build in more robust freedom of expression provisions to protect “expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices” as is the case in England and not simply the polite “discussion and criticism” proposed to be allowed in Scotland.

.• When asked by the Committee to suggest alternatives to legislation to combat hate and intolerance, Neil pointed out that it was a gross exercise in bolting the stable door to criminalise silly laddies for hate speech on football terraces when they had just spent 16 years in “them and us” faith schools.

• The session ended with all contributing faith, belief and secularist groups expressing universal support for abolition of the blasphemy law.

Interestingly all of the Christian groups shared our concerns.
It seemed they were as worried about being criminalised for their well-known views on gay and trans equality as we are for our views on religious ideas and privilege. Strikingly however, the Muslim and Jewish reps were eager supporters of the bill and hoped for as much new hate speech legislation as possible. We must reflect on that.

Much of this debate stems from the welcome abolition of Scotland’s anachronistic blasphemy law: no ideas are beyond scrutiny.
It must not be replaced by another set of laws which will reach far into an unknowable future and have serious implications for free speech.

Here is the link to a recording of the meeting.
There are two meetings. Both are worth watching but the religious one starts at about 10:50. Neil contributes to answering the questions throughout the discussion but makes his opening comments at 11:21:30

Here is how The NSS reported the meeting:
https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2020/11/nss-gives-evidence-to-parliamentary-committee-over-hate-crime-bill

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