Christians risk being prosecuted for quoting from the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church if Scotland passes new hate speech legislation, the Scottish Church has warned.
A bill that would criminalise behaving in a “threatening, abusive or insulting manner” or communicating “threatening, abusive or insulting material” that either intends to stir up hatred against a protected group or is “likely” to cause hatred is currently before the Scottish Parliament.
However, critics say the bill could lead to people being charged for expressing traditional Christian teaching or even simply possessing material deemed to be offensive.
The Times Scotland reports that Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, warned the legislation could enshrine “cancel culture” in law.
“A new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church inflammatory,” Horan said.
“The Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, could potentially fall foul of the new law.
“Allowing for respectful debate should mean avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society.
“The courts have noted that the freedom to shock, offend and disturb, as well as the contentious and unwelcome, are protected by the right to freedom of expression, and the bishops have declared that freedom of expression provisions must be robust enough to protect everyone’s freedom to disagree.”
The legislation could lead to Scotland becoming an “intolerant, illiberal society”, Horan added.
“Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behaviour the Scotland’s Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offence, which they fear, could lead to a deluge of vexatious claims,” he said.
He added that the Church decries “cancel culture” and the “hunting down of those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse often with callous disregard for their livelihoods.”
“No single section of society has dominion over acceptable and unacceptable speech or expression,” Horan said. “We urge our MSPs to ensure that these new laws are proportionate and fair and allow for respectful debate and tolerance.”
The National Secular Society has also criticised the broad wording of the bill, and the Law Society of Scotland said it has “significant reservations regarding a number of the bill’s provisions and the lack of clarity, which could in effect lead to restrictions in freedom of expression.”
The Scottish government defended the legislation.
“The bill continues to allow people to express controversial, challenging or offensive views, as long as this is not done in a threatening or abusive way intended or likely to stir up hatred,” a spokesman said.
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