Equality Ethics Justice Online Articles Politics Scotland

Scotland’s Hate Crime Bill is a charter for the suppression of free speech

This weeks column in Christian Today


There are laws on the statute books which are largely redundant because they have not been used or implemented. The Scottish blasphemy law is one such. The last time it was used was 178 years ago, when Edinburgh bookseller, Thomas Paterson, was prosecuted for advertising: ‘that the Bible and other obscene works not sold at this shop.’

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the Scottish Government has delayed its proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act, but has still found time to seek to repeal the blasphemy law. But the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) bill is in effect going to create a new secular blasphemy law – one which will be far more encompassing than its predecessor, and one that will have the crucial difference of actually being used.

Age and sex are to be added to the protected characteristics of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity. The intention seems to be good. But the Bill is drafted in such a way that it is a charter for the suppression of free speech. It talks about the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’, criminalising anyone who ‘behaves in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner’ or ‘communicates threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person’.

Even more extreme, the question of ‘intent’ can be bypassed.  If behaviour or material is ‘likely’ to stir up hatred against any protected groups, then whether the accused intended to do so is considered not relevant. Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government Justice Secretary, may intend his law to be good, but as his own law states, intention can be bypassed – because the effects of the law will make Scotland into the most authoritarian and anti-free speech state in the Western world.

If an actor plays a racist character on a stage or in a film, they could be prosecuted – there is a whole section of the Bill devoted to the public performance of a play. If a comedian such as Billy Connolly makes a joke about a religious group, they could be prosecuted. Christian clergy could be prosecuted for even owning a Bible, never mind reading it in public! Why? Because the law forbids owning ‘inflammatory’ material and the Bible has often been seen as such.

Humza Yousaf, in a tweet defending the proposed legislation, stated: “Opposing ScotGovt policy, including GRA reforms, is not going to be a criminal offence. Just don’t behave in a threatening or abusive manner that will stir up hatred – that should be a statement beyond contention!”

That is a meaningless statement. In and of itself it all depends on what is meant by ‘stirring up hatred’ and who gets to determine that. There are numerous statements that could easily be construed as ‘stirring up hatred’. Should carrying a banner saying ‘Tories out’ be illegal? What about writing an internet post complaining about Catholic priests being involved in child abuse? Or Free Church ministers in Lewis being accused of being the Tartan Taliban? Would atheist groups be punished for stirring up hatred against religious groups? The list is endless.

Humza Yousaf says the Bill protects free speech, but it takes a special lack of awareness to make that claim for a Bill which threatens seven years in jail for ‘insulting’ speech. The proposed law is so bad that it has gathered opposition from the Scottish Police Federation, who have warned that this will turn them into thought police. The Law Society of Scotland regards it as a threat to freedom of expression. Even the former moderator of the Free Church (yours truly) and the former head of the Scottish Secular Society, Spencer Fildes, have united together to oppose the Bill.

We have written to Humza Yousaf and amongst other things have asked this basic question:

“Under the new law would an Edinburgh bookseller be free to advertise ‘the Koran and other obscene works not sold at this shop’? We are not stating that such a statement is correct or wise – but we are asking simply if it would be permitted. If the answer is no then we have in effect gone back to the 19th century blasphemy law.” We have received no answer.

Christians are opposed to hate speech. We are opposed to hate actions. But we also recognise that hate is a matter of the heart. No government or for that matter, religious organisation, can legislate hate away. Any attempt to do so will only result in more hatred. There is only one solution for hate – that is the One who is love, the One whose commands are love, the One whose Spirit gives us love.

If the Scottish Government are serious about dealing with hate, perhaps they should ask the Church to help? Meanwhile they should ditch this ill-advised and ill thought out bill.

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com

Views and opinions published in Christian Today are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


Note:  The Free Church and the Catholic bishops (and others) have also spoken out on this – https://www.christiantoday.com/article/hate.crime.law.will.have.detrimental.effect.on.free.speech.warns.church/135270.htm

Also see these earlier blogs….

Scottish Hate Crime Bill

The New Scottish Blasphemy Law

Police Scotland and the Scottish Government Reported for Hate Incident

Why the Chinese Communist Party is a threat to the West


  1. The woke SNP have gone so far down the rabbit hole that it is difficult to see them accepting any criticism or comment, be it very balanced, which challenges their “virtuous” world view. They seem to think that they can legislate for “goodness”, and that by passing a law they can change the human heart, or punish it if it does not conform.

    Perhaps they should open some history books. Or read St. Paul’s letter to the Roman church, ch. 7. (Sorry I am being fanciful).

    Lord have mercy.

  2. There is an additional aspect to this that I think is worth keeping in mind. There is a precedent in Scottish courts that says that the intent of what someone says can be ignored. The case of Mark Meechan (Count Dankula/Nazi pug guy) ended going against Meechan due to the judge saying that his stated intent (something that he stated in the video that got him arrested and has continually stated since then – that it was a joke) was irrelevant.
    If intent is irrelevant then I can go into a mosque and listen to an imam preach and if he says that Jesus was only a man I can claim that he is speaking hate against my beliefs, because as a Christian I hold Jesus to be the Son of God. And likewise, a Muslim can go to a church and hear a sermon on John 14:6 and declare that they have just heard hate speech, because this verse effectively declares that Mohammed is a liar and that Islam is false. You can do the same for atheists and what they say about religion and them hearing that all non-believers will go to Hell, both sides are potential hate speech. And without intent, which Sheriff Derek O’Carroll has judged to be irrelevant, all that matters is how the “victim” feels about what was said. Effectively, anything other than the most diluted of belief systems are allowed, even from atheists.

  3. I wrote to my local constituency MSP (Gil Paterson, SNP) about this and got no response whatsoever. In my letter I gave a link to one of David’s earlier articles about the Bill and highlighted the SNP Conference decision banning any public criticism of group decisions. For the SNP loyalty to the leadership seems to trump all other considerations.

  4. Having been on the receiving end of a “disability hate crime” recently I could use existing hate crime law for my protection against what I consider to be a malicious act. And as the only thing a bully understands is strength then this is something I could use to strongly act against the online bully. And if he experiences the literal fear of God on reading me assert this in an email then all the better!

    But in principle I also hear your concerns. Weren’t blasphemy laws and the like used in witch hunts, more often treated with drowning than being burned at the stake? So the idea being if she drowned she wasn’t a witch but that if she survived she was a witch?

    The truth is that all laws have been used to oppress – just consider the Jewish Law and the religious authorities that delighted in swallowing a camel and straining a gnat – being seated as they were in high places and greeted in the marketplace. And so such hate speech legislation will be subject to similar given that human nature hasn’t changed and there is nothing new under the sun.

    The battle is as it has always been, not against the flesh but rulers and authorities in this dark world and evil forces in the heavenly realms. Thankfully there is the “armour of God” available for anyone who would decide to make use of it and in doing so become more than a conqueror!

  5. Good but sad article by Neil Oliver presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, on this. (ST August 16)

    “I am writing this to the sound of a ticking clock, counting down the hours when it’s still safe …to air an opinion here. ……… I have a lot of thoughts about what’s going on but I can sum them up by saying that my heart is breaking for the land of my birth…. I feel deep sadness for Scotland – the divisions, the hatreds and, worst of all, the drift into joylessness”.

Leave a Reply to Tom GOODFELLOW Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *