Responding to the scottish hate crime bill

Responding to the Scottish Hate Crime Bill

A letter sent to the Scottish Government on behalf of FIEC churches in Scotland, responding to amendments to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.

This letter was sent on behalf of FIEC churches in Scotland to The Convener, Justice Committee, Scottish Parliament on 21 February 2021.

Dear Convener

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill – Freedom of Expression Amendments

In response to your call for views on the above, I am writing on behalf of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (a network of churches, stretching from Dumfries to Lerwick, representing over 60 local church leaders).

We would be grateful if the following comments and concerns on the proposed draft amendments were taken into account by the Committee.

Anex – Overview Notes (Humza Yousaf, 17 January 2021)

We note the reassurance given by the Justice Secretary that each of the possible amendments are designed to protect “discussion or criticism” and “that criticism, including very robust criticism, is in itself not a matter for prosecution under this Bill”.

The examples noted are helpful, and as general principles we would be supportive of them, i.e. protecting the freedom to publicly discuss and criticise religious beliefs, sexual orientations and transgender policies (including protecting the belief in the immutability of biological sex). We would also share the Justice Secretary’s concern that such discussion or criticism should not be seen as a license for personal attacks, threats or the vilification of individuals.

Concerns

Inconsistent free speech protections

  • We note in Draft Amendments Options 1&2, the protection of both ‘proselytising’(c) and of ‘urging of persons to cease practising their religions’ (d).
  • However, unlike the previously proposed Free Speech clauses there is now no equivalent clause protecting ‘discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify sexual conduct or practices’. We would therefore ask that such a clause be re-included in the amendments, in order to ensure consistency of free speech protections across all the categories listed.
  • We also note that while the Free Speech protections in regard to the discussion and criticism of religion in Options 1 & 2 are detailed (e.g. protecting expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult’ towards religions), there is no such specific detail regarding discussion or criticism of other philosophical beliefs (such as the nature of human sexuality or gender fluidity). Our concern being that such a discrepancy will result in certain beliefs and practices being open to discussion and criticism in ways that others will not.
  • The need for clear detail, such as those contained in Options 2(b) & 3(b), is especially needed in regard to transgender issues. As noted in previous submissions, transgender identity is a subject of enormous consequence for our society (especially for women and children). It’s therefore vital that it should not, in effect, become a no-go area for public debate and comment, including robust disagreement.
  • We therefore ask that the Freedom of Speech protections, are at the very least, consistent in their detail as applied to all the categories contained in the proposed Amendments.
  • Further, we fear the minimal content of Options 3 & 4 will not provide sufficient freedom of speech protections. The Bill in general contains a worrying lack of definition as to distinctions between ‘discussion and criticism’ and ‘hate speech’.
  • The Justice Secretary notes in his overview the ‘reasonable person’ test in deciding when free speech becomes hate speech – however, in our increasingly fragmented society populated by multiple narrow interest groups, what one person regards as ‘reasonable’ may differ widely from another. In such a scenario, it will not be free speech that wins but the more socially powerful.
  • Indeed this likely imbalance of power will be all the more prejudicial to those who actually believe in free speech – as they will be less likely to wish to silence or seek sanctions against those who disagree with them.

General observations

We are grateful to the Committee for the opportunity to comment on these latest developments.

As Christians we believe in ‘truth’ - that is, that some ideas are objectively good and right. They therefore do not need to be ‘protected’ by coercive means – they will look after themselves! Throughout human history noble ideals and beliefs have persisted – even though at times they were persecuted or ‘banned’ by seemingly all-powerful regimes. Such is the indomitable power of truth and indeed the human spirit.

That confidence in ‘truth’ has been the bedrock of free speech in our society. It is the conviction that bad ideas and falsehoods can be overcome with better ideas and truths – rather than just being outlawed. The latter always suggesting a lack of confidence or fear in the prohibitors. Thus if someone believes they have the ‘right views’ let them argue for them and defend them against counter-views – but don’t let them simply silence their fellow citizens.

We, like so many in society (in academia, the media, the arts and even the police), feel that this is an unnecessary Bill – one that threatens much more than it protects. However, if it is to become Law, we urge that your Committee does all that it can to ensure robust and detailed freedom of speech protections are included for all groups in society without favouritism.

With grateful thanks for all your work.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew T. Hunter, Scotland Director, FIEC

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