Education Equality Liberalism Politics Scotland The Church in Scotland

The Threat to Religious Freedom in Scotland – and a Response from the Humanist Society.

This week is a week of speeches.   Yesterday I was not only at the General Assembly but speaking at the Scottish Parliament – to their Freedom of Religion Committee on the subject of The Threat to Religious Freedom in Scotland.  Here is the speech.

The Threat to Religious Freedom in Scotland

 Religious freedom is the bedrock of all other freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press.

Religious freedom is not the freedom to disobey the law or be exempt from the law because of your religion. You are not free to abuse children if your religion permits you to do so.

Religious freedom must be for all. I argued for example that the Muslim community in Lewis, especially because of the Syrian refugees there, should, of course, be permitted to have a mosque. People thought that we would object.

Religious freedom includes freedom from religion. There should be no coercion in real Christianity. Certainly not by the State.

1) The threat to religious freedom in Scotland is largely not persecution

There is an increase in anti-Semitism. There are Muslims who if they change their faith have to go into hiding.  And we have already seen the Ahmadis speak here.  There are Christian people whose jobs are threatened because of their faith.

But overall religious people are not persecuted in Scotland today. At least not in the sense of being jailed, fined or executed for their faith. When we see what is happening in many areas of the world, especially to Christians, then it would be foolish to complain of persecution. However, you are all aware that the way to boil a frog is very slowly. Put it into tepid water and gradually heat it up. In the same way, my concern is that whilst we do not experience the kind of persecution that is so often the norm for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, there is a danger that through a ‘salami tactics’ slice-by-slice, discrimination is increasing against Christians.

2) The State determining doctrine and freedom of expression

Philip Nye writing in the Telegraph spoke of Christianity as being subtly “silenced” within the public sector in the UK because of a civil service culture that treats speaking about faith as “not the done thing”. On the Left, my favourite Marxist writer, Brendan O’Neil, gives the example of a Baptist Church in Norfolk in England that put up a poster suggesting that if you didn’t believe in God you would go to hell. Someone complained to the police who registered the poster as a “hate incident”. They launched an investigation, went to the church, spoke to the pastor, suggested he take the poster down, and so he took the poster down.   O’Neil writes these insightful words – “I found this really disturbing. For what we had here, in Britain in the 21st century, was a situation where the armed wing of the state put pressure on a church, a private religious association, to take down a public expression of its deeply held beliefs.”   He continues to summarise the situation – What we’re witnessing is a silent war on religion. In the 21st century, there is the creeping criminalisation of certain religious views and an undermining of religious groups’ right to organise themselves, and those who are voluntarily part of their community of faith, in what they consider to be the most fitting way. Religious people’s ability to express themselves publicly is being undermined, and their ability to organise themselves around their faith — such as by having schools and other agencies to propagate their views among their followers — is being undermined too.

I found the following words of our former Prime Minister quite chilling: ““For too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone” – David Cameron.   Since when was it the business of government to interfere in people’s lifes, outwith the law?   This is what happens when the proper relationship between church and state is not understood, and when the state thinks that it is God –with the ability and right to control the thoughts, words and actions of its citizens.   The following are some examples of where this is leading us.

3) Education –

The Scottish Parliament.

Mark Spencer, a Tory MP, argued that new banning orders intended to clamp down on hate preachers and terrorist propagandists should be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong. He called for those who use their position in the classroom to teach traditionalist views on marriage to be subject to “Extremism Disruption Orders” (EDOs), tough new restrictions planned by David Cameron and Theresa May to curb radicalisation by jihadi.

The plans drawn up by the Department for Education aim to combat extremism by giving Ofsted inspectors the right to carry out spot-checks on any group for under-19- year-olds that gives six hours of instruction to children per week. Inspectors would have the power to shut down any event which they deem to be out of step with “fundamental British values”.

4) Restriction of Speech –

Polly Harrow is the Head of Safeguarding and Prevent at Kirklees College in Huddersfield. She was asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, should a Muslim who believes that homosexuality is wrong be accepted. Her chilling answer? “ If that’s what you think and that what you want to believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law”.

In that regard I received this following tweet in the past week.  It is a stunning indication of where we could be going – when people think that the State has the right to control belief and make what we believe, illegal.

Screenshot 2019-05-19 at 13.05.07 5) Intimidation of Politicians

I did a debate here in Edinburgh at Charlotte Chapel with Patrick Harvie and Willie Rennie, in which I pointed out that there were MSP’s who disagreed with SSM but would either abstain or vote for it because they did not think it was that important an issue and they could not be bothered with the abuse, hassle and intimidation if they dared to vote against. Patrick Harvie disputed this but after the debate I was approached by a leading journalist who told me that what I had said was right and that he could name several who were in that position.

The bottom line is that it is not right that anyone who dares to disagree with the current zeitgeist, whether for religious reasons or not, is discriminated against, abused and effectively removed from the mainstream political process. Objecting to me being here…

What is the solution?

This committee must defend and maintain the following:

a) Freedom of Speech – in reality as well as in words

b) Freedom of Ideas – there must be the freedom to discuss and to hear ideas that one disagrees with and others might find offensive.

c) Freedom of religion – which involves a whole lot more than an acknowledgement that we have the right to worship and serve God in private. We also have the right to be involved in the public square.

All political parties in this parliament should give an assurance that Christians and others are welcome to participate within them and in the political process, without discrimination. Political leaders should discourage the use of social media to intimidate and abuse those who are believers and who might have different value systems. Social media has become the 21st Century equivalent of the 19th Century mob.

The Humanist Society complained about me being here…and urged MSPs to boycott a discussion on freedom of religion!

The removal of the Christianity upon which our society is founded from the public square will result in either a secular authoritarian state or a religious authoritarian state.

If we do not defend, maintain and promote these freedoms whilst we have them, then we will find that once we have lost them, it will be too late.

The discussion that followed was fascinating, covering a wide range of issues. The Humanist representative was not quite convinced that we were heading to a secular authoritarian state!  It was interesting that the main denominational representatives were not present – doubtless heading the call to arms from their Humanist allies!


However earlier I was contacted by The Times who asked me to comment on a Press Release from the Humanist Society objecting to my speaking at the Parliament – ironically providing me with a great illustration of what I was speaking about.

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

“Freedom of Religion and Belief is an important right in any country just as freedom for LGBT people to live their lives without constant torment is equally important.

“David Robertson has previously branded Perth Pride festival “Perth’s shame”; claimed moves to LGBT inclusive education in Scottish schools is “demonic” and “child abuse”; and has frequently attempted to ‘other’ Scotland’s LGBT community by claiming they are just a “current in-group in society”.

“One of the greatest moments in the short history of Scotland’s Parliament was the passing of the law which allowed same-sex marriage – something David vocally campaigned against in an attempt to deny same-sex couples the same rights as others. 

“It is no surprise then that so many MSPs appear to be giving this meeting a wide berth given his toxic reputation on equality and personal freedoms.”

And they helpfully added these links…!


“state-sponsored child abuse”

“Perth’s shame”

“in groups”

A Response:

“The Humanist Society Scotland are a little confused.  They seem to think that ’freedom of religion and belief’ is only fine as long as it agrees with their doctrines – or at least that those who disagree keep silent and are not permitted a public voice. But those of us who don’t are immediately demonised.  It’s also richly ironic that they complain about ‘othering’ whilst at the same time othering me.

They also seem to assume that MSPs are as snow flaky and intolerant when they ask that MSPs give the meeting a wide berth.  I’m sure that MSPs who disagree with me are robust enough to be able to come and discuss the subject.  Unlike the Humanist Society I don’t seek to silence people by mocking, intimidation and ‘othering’.

To take just one issue, they complain about my view that a man cannot just become a woman simply by self-identifying as such.  I may be wrong, but then so are 90% of people in Scotland, including many MSPs – are they to be condemned too?   The final irony is that they claim to be for tolerance and equality and then urge people not to tolerate me or treat me equally.  It seems Orwell was right – ’some animals are more equal than others” in the Humanist Animal Farm. I thank God that most MSPs and most of Scotland’s people are more tolerant than the Humanist Society!”

The Fight goes on….

The Political Police and the Slide to an Authoritarian State











  1. Superb. Well done brother for speaking to the Scottish Parliament about these very important issues.

  2. We are going to miss you! Well addressed and really you keep it simple and nail it always. Thanks.

    1. I’m sure you will indeed miss David in Scotland, as it’s clear that you need people like him who have the ability to “speak truth to power” (although, in our Western democracies would more correctly be “speak truth to authority”)in such a clear & concise way: short, sharp, & to the point.

      But, as circumstances here in Australia are heading in the same direction, although our “frog” has just gained a reprieve, with our Conservative victory in last weekend’s election, & an openly Pentecostal Prime Minister, against a Left wing coalition which had policies which included federally funded abortion to full term, withdrawal of ability of church schools to hire staff who would abide by their core principles, removal of freedom of religion entitlements, etc., then perhaps David is coming here “for such a time as this”.

  3. Excellent,strong and reasonable !
    I look forward to seeing your contribution to the same growing threat in Australia.

  4. I say this as someone who would like to see more religious people in politics, but was not section 28 and the illegality of homosexuality effectively a curb on free speech supported by the Church? LGBT people are I think understandably concerned that with religious people holding more power, their hard won rights (remember that there are people alive who were around when homosexuality was illegal and policed) will be curtailed. The Church, which appears to have only suddenly started caring about ‘free speech’ since losing its political power over the last 50 years or so, has done little to allay these fears.

    What liberals should realize though is that trying to police belief is not effective in changing minds. Section 28 did not work, it makes no sense to try and impose a similar dogma in the opposite direction. Ideally we need a parliament that represents all views in society but Ian able to act with humility, respect and compassion!

      1. Except that this excerpt you wrote…

        “The plans drawn up by the Department for Education aim to combat extremism by giving Ofsted inspectors the right to carry out spot-checks on any group for under-19- year-olds that gives six hours of instruction to children per week. Inspectors would have the power to shut down any event which they deem to be out of step with “fundamental British values”.”

        Could have easily been written in the 80’s about the teaching of homosexuality when it wasn’t a fundamental British value. It doesn’t sound unfamiliar to your writing when teachers from the 80’s fearing losing their jobs for saying the wrong things because they weren’t allowed to ‘promote homosexuality’ and nobody knew what that meant.

        On balance I wouldn’t say the church has had a good record for standing for civil freedoms until it lost its civil power.

  5. ) Freedom of Ideas – there must be the freedom to discuss and to hear ideas that one disagrees with and others might find offensive.

    *Smile* And yet you seem to take a perverse delight in moderating all comments and releasing only the mildly contentious ones that you feel you can handle or denigrate with your perceived biting wit.

    Perhaps if you were obliges to submit ll your sermons etc for moderation before being allowed anywhere near a pulpit of any sort of media platform it might give a new perspective.
    Although I imagine you probably have a slick answer on hand for this eventuality as well, right?

    1. Ark – your analysis of my moderation is about as good as your understanding of biblical documents! I moderate comments because bitter experience has taught me that if I had an unmoderated comments section then it would become utterly pointless being taken over by people like you, who seem to struggle with basic concepts of life! And yes my sermons regularly are vetted….that tends to be what my congregation does! I allow some but not all of your comments. To be honest I allow way too much….

  6. A good article, but surprising that you did not reference the experience of Scottish Catholics anywhere to support your points.

    Persecution – there are regular anti-Catholic street parades in many places in Scotland, with the taxpayer paying for Police Officers to escort and protect these parades. The kind of sentiments carried along were again exposed recently when a priest was spat on and threatened outside a Church, while saying goodbye to his departing congregation. The same Police Officers are employed to prevent similar parades/demonstrations aimed at Muslims.

    Education – despite a faith/value based education being an acknowledged human right, Catholic education has traditionally been and remains under regular attack by people who wish to deny Catholics – and other taxpayers who desire a Christian education – this right. The state and others attempt to force anti-Christian material upon the schools (The TIE campaign recently failed to have material promoting disordered and harmful sexual behaviour added to the statue book).

    Restriction of speech – a Catholic University chaplain, Fr Mark Morris, lost his role after conducting prayers and advocating orthodox christian morality in a separate location (his own Parish Church, several miles away from the University). The University claimed their censorship and expulsion was to ensure “inclusivity” – Orwell, eat your heart out. The move was lauded by Scots politicians, such as (homosexual) Patrick Harvie.

    Just a few examples off the top of my head.

    Fraser Sutherland’s formal response to David was the typically puerile / petulant contribution one would expect from such quarters. He does not argue for anything – only seeks to portray David’s opinions as being unacceptable. This is because Fraser’s views are not built on anything. substantial.

    He is wrong to claim “LGBT” people in Scotland live (or have ever lived) in “constant torment”. He is also wrong to claim “gay marriage” (an absurdity) was the greatest moment in Holyrood to date. The public consultation didn’t want it, 2:1.

    1. Graham, the parades you allude to are, I understand, legitimate expressions of a Christian organisation celebrating its religion, culture and identity. If we are concerned about creeping repression of Christianity then we must ensure that we are not selective in who is entitled to protection and who is not. The person who spat on the priest was, again my understanding, not a member of this Christian organisation. He was identified, caught, charged, tried and sentenced according to the laws of the land for his illegal act. Not, I would have thought an example of persecution of Roman Catholics.
      Your conflation of this Christian organisation with anti-Muslim “parades/demonstrations,” is disingenuous and misleading. I am not aware of any such demos which this Christian organisation has participated in.
      On the other hand, I do acknowledge that these same police will have been used to steward pro Irish Republican marches in Glasgow.
      I do concur with your thoughts on Fr Mark Morris. His dismissal was outrageous and should be of concern to all Christians, not just Catholics. I believe that if Christianity is to resist and survive the persecution which is without doubt coming our way (indeed, as you observe is already here) then we must stand together as Christians, as the Lord’s children, saved and redeemed in Jesus and Christ and not be sidetracked by west of Scotland politics.

  7. I always have a wee chuckle when I see Fraser Sutherland’s name banded around. He was in my class at University and had all the charisma of a damp rag. The Humanist Society must be some set up for him to be Chief Exec.

  8. I would like to attend Franklin Graham’s rally. I would like to make up my own mind if he is spreading the gospel or spreading hate. Have all the rallies in Scotland been cancelled, or is there one that I can attend?
    PS I wondered at the statement that ‘his views are not mainstream’. Many Christians in Scotland, for example the Catholic Church and the United Free Church, believe that carnal knowledge between two men is a sin (falls short of God’s purpose for humans). I hope that the Church of Scotland will make a statement on this fundamental belief very soon.

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